Formula One may have headed for its traditional summer hibernation, but the future for a number of its star drivers remains unclear.
Here, we look at next year’s market, and who might end up where in 2018.
Lewis Hamilton’s three-season deal expires at the end of next year. Mercedes expect him to stay, but the triple world champion has suggested on a number of occasions that his future is far from certain. Would he be tempted by a switch to Ferrari? Or could he even consider a sabbatical or retirement? The likelihood is that he will stay for 2018. As for Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas, it is probable he will be handed an extension to his one-year deal after a string of encouraging displays.
The market hinges on Sebastian Vettel, who is out of contract at the end of the year. Mercedes could be an option for Vettel, but it is unlikely they will want to risk pitting the German with Hamilton. Vettel’s preference could be for a one-year extension at Ferrari, so he would be available if Hamilton and Mercedes split at the end of 2018. For now, it seems unlikely Vettel will leave – particularly as he leads the championship – and with Kimi Raikkonen proving to be an able deputy, expect an unchanged line-up at the Italian team.
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen both have Red Bull contracts for next year. Ricciardo’s deal however, expires at the end of next season. Do not be surprised if he ends up at Ferrari in 2019. Verstappen could also be on the move if Red Bull fail to take the challenge to Mercedes and Ferrari next season.
Sergio Perez could be of interest to Williams after the they failed in their pursuit of his services last year. But with Force India continuing to out-perform the British team, expect Perez to stay put next year. Esteban Ocon has impressed, and with the backing of a multi-year deal, it is likely he will partner Perez in 2018, too.
Lance Stroll, whose career has been bankrolled by his fashion billionaire father Lawrence, brings enormous backing to the British team. The 18-year-old has been off the pace for large parts of his rookie year, but landed a surprise podium in Azerbaijan. Williams were forced to recall Felipe Massa after ditching him in preference of Stroll. The Brazilian has said he is happy to continue for 2018. Carlos Sainz, 22, has impressed at Toro Rosso, but Williams must have at least one driver over 25 due to their tie-up with drinks company Martini.
Fernando Alonso is the other big name soon to be out of contract. Mercedes and Ferrari have both seemingly ruled out a move for the double world champion leaving Renault as his only other alternative to McLaren. Alonso has said his future at McLaren will be determined on who their engine partner is next year following Honda’s troubles. Could British teenager Lando Norris replace Alonso if the Spaniard leaves? He will be handed his first audition on the second of this week’s two-day test in Hungary. Toro Rosso’s Sainz is another in the frame. Stoffel Vandoorne is set to stay for a second season.
Sainz said that it is unlikely he will remain at Toro Rosso and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner claimed they are prepared to listen to offers. If Sainz moves on, Frenchman Pierre Gasly, the reigning GP2 champion, will be top of the list to replace him. Russian Daniil Kvyat has endured a mixed campaign, but is likely to stay at Toro Rosso next year.
Nico Hulkenberg signed a multi-year deal and is set to be retained by Renault, but the identity of his team-mate is under scrutiny. Robert Kubica, who will be handed his first taste of this year’s Renault at the Hungaroring on Wednesday, could make a sensational comeback after partially severing his right arm in a 2011 rallying crash. Alonso is also in the frame if he chooses to leave McLaren. Either way, it seems highly likely that Britain’s Jolyon Palmer, yet to score a point this season, will be moved on.
Team owner Gene Haas confirmed last month that Frenchman Romain Grosjean and his Danish team-mate Kevin Magnussen will be retained for a second year together.
Charles Leclerc, the runaway leader of the GP2 championship, is testing for Ferrari this week and given their relationship with Sauber, he is in contention for a seat at the Swiss team next year. Italian Antonio Giovanazzi, another of the Ferrari driver academy, could also be handed his chance after deputising for Pascal Wehrlein in Australia. Wehrlein is on the books at Mercedes, but his Sauber future is very uncertain. Wehrlein’s team-mate Marcus Ericsson could also be sidelined.