The news that Nico Hulkenberg is switching from Force India to Renault (despite having earlier been confirmed at Force India) means that there are two F1 seats in 2017 which are now in focus, as the dominoes fall. With Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari already filled, the next best drives, at least in terms of points scored, are the Force India which Hulkenberg will vacate, and the second Renault. There is also, in principle, a second Williams. However, it is almost certain that the Grove team will be taking on Lance Stroll, the Canadian who has won the European Formula 3 Championship this year and has a billionaire father. In theory the team is keeping Valtteri Bottas, even though he has had a big offer from Renault and might wish to move on. The truth is that Williams cannot really afford to lose him in the sense that it needs a proper contender and some stability with Felipe Massa retiring. Bringing in two new drivers would not be a grand idea. However, if someone is willing to pay enough to buy Valtteri out, the team might accept the cash and then go fishing for a Felipe Nasr or a Kevin Magnussen. Williams may be under performing, but it still has a Mercedes engine. It might also be willing to accept a Mercedes junior, such as Pascal Wehrlein – if the money is right.
Force India is a similar story. The team will find the driver with the right balance between talent, money and experience. The operations works miracles given the budget it has, but has been let down by its ownership, who seem to have huge amounts of talent when it comes to ducking and weaving – but both the major shareholders have managed to get into trouble with the Indian authorities which means that their time in F1 is limited. Harry Houdini would be hard-pressed to keep Force India in the long term. The team is for sale. The problem for the moment is that the price being asked to sell the team is slightly higher than Mont Blanc and, oddly enough, no-one is keen to don the financial crampons and potential buyers are waiting until the Indians slide down the mountain. In the interim, the team will no doubt be facing a veritable fashion show of candidates in the weeks ahead, flashing their cash and their talent in the hope of getting a deal alongside Sergio Perez. The same names pop up but I don’t see Banco do Brasil wanting the Mallya association, so Nasr is at a disadvantage in this respect. Wehrlein, Magnussen, Palmer and others will be in the running. Renault wants Bottas alongside Hulkenberg but may not get him, so the choice will be from the same midfield gang with Esteban Ocon on an option.
Haas is expected to keep the same duo, but Renault might knock on Romain Grosjean’s door if Bottas is not available.