The traditional Formula 1 silly season activity has kicked off already, which is not surprising given that some of the big F1 seats are up for grabs in 2017. One driver who has received a great deal of virtual ink is Nico Rosberg, with all manner of suggestions about his future, but the boss of Mercedes Benz Dieter Zetsche says Rosberg is under contract with the team for 2017, and if anyone should know, it is Zetsche.
Thus, any talks that Rosberg is having is for an extension beyond 2017, in other words from 2018 and beyond.
Jenson Button is definitely out of contract at the end of the current season, as is Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas. It is not likely that there will be any changes at the two Red Bull teams because the Austrian drinks company does not not have any youngsters read for F1 at the moment. The only plausible candidate would be Pierre Gasly, and he has still not managed to win a race in GP2. In fact, he has not won a race since he was competing in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 in 2013, so there is no guarantee that Red Bull will keep him in the future, unless dramatic things start to happen this year.
Among the others who will be on the market are Romain Grosjean, while Renault will have at least one seat up for grabs. The most competitive car available is thus the second Ferrari and the signs are that Kimi Raikkonen could be retained. He is currently a point ahead of Sebastian Vettel on paper but that is not really a reflection of what has been happening on the race tracks. Ferrari, however, wants stability to help it get more competitive and Raikkonen is experienced and deemed to be “cool” by a percentage of the F1 fans around the world. The available choices are limited, but the names of Bottas, Ricciardo and Grosjean have all been mentioned. Ferrari does not generally take on drivers who have not won races, the last such hiring being Felipe Massa in 2006, and there were other reasons for that. The signs are that Kimi’s charmed F1 career will continue at Maranello.
If we assume stability at Red Bull, the next best cars would be the two Williamses, and these are both up for grabs. There has been talk for some time that Jenson Button might move to Williams to finish his career. In the past the team has generally gone for cheap youngsters and it does not have the budget to bid for the big names, but if a big name driver is willing to work cheaply, in order to stay on in F1, then the team would probably accept him. Bottas has nowhere to go at the moment and thus will probably re-sign with Williams. That could leave Felipe Massa looking for work. The latest suggestions in the Brazilian media is that Massa might be a good recruit for Renault, as his experience might help to build up the battered Enstone operation. It is clear that the team does not have huge amounts of cash, which is why it is doing deals with folk like Sergey Sirotkin, and a man with Massa’s experience might be a good idea.
The next in the pecking order is Force India and no change is envisaged there, beyond any fallout as yet unseen from Vijay Mallya’s messy situation. Toro Rosso was not seem to have many options while McLaren has too many with Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne all on the books.