Who will sign who in the midfield pack?
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Following the announcement that Nico Hulkenberg will be joining Renault in 2017 after Force India allowed the German to move to the French Manufacture, it begins the driver merry-go-round which will begin in the coming weeks. But who has seats up for grabs and who is in danger of losing theirs.
We shall start with Hulkenberg’s former team Force India who now have a seat available. It will come as a shock for the Silverstone based team, as Hulkenberg was contracted for 2017 with top figures confirming that they intended to keep their driver duo and remain stable going into major 2017 rules changes.
But who could replace Hulkenberg? A major contender must be Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein who has had a very impressive debut season, scoring a point in Austria being a highlight. Wehrlein is a Mercedes junior driver, a team Force India has strong connections with and has test drove for the team on multiple occasions. However Wehrlein’s seat may depend on where Mercedes opt to place him so this deal may be out of the team’s hands.
Another option would be Felipe Nasr. Nasr boasts the prospect of further funds, funds which has aided Sauber hugely in the last two seasons and has also shown signs that he can develop into a top driver. Nasr, like Wehrlein, has also been rumoured to be in contention for the second Williams seat, should the team retain Bottas, following Felipe Massa’s announcement that he would retire at the end of the 2016 season.
A driver that may have a chance of being in contention for the second Force India seat is Brit Jolyon Palmer, currently at Renault. With Renault seemingly perusing the opportunity to add Esteban Ocon to their driver line up, it would mean Palmer would be left without a drive. Similar to Wehrlein, Palmer has also driven for Force India in the past, having tested for the team in Abu Dhabi in 2014.
However Force India’s final option would be to effectively swap with Renault and opt for Kevin Magnussen. It has been rumoured that representatives of the Dane have met with Force India regarding a proposed move.
Moving onto Renault now, and to who could partner Hulkenberg. Renault currently have two very fast drivers on their books in Magnussen and Palmer and both will be vying for that second seat however it is known Renault are looking at all possibilities.
As mentioned previously, one driver that Renault is considering is Manor’s Esteban Ocon. Like his current teammate, Ocon is a Mercedes junior driver and is highly regarding amongst the F1 contingent. He is well liked at Renault, having tested for them in their previous guise of Lotus and is currently Renault’s test driver, having appeared in Friday practice sessions for the manufacture before his race debut at Spa.
Renault’s second option other than their two current drivers is Finn Valtteri Bottas. The Williams driver has the option to extend his contract with his current team however it is understood this clause includes a hefty pay rise, something that is proving a stumbling block. It is known that Renault was talking to Bottas before the Hulkenberg announcement and may still be interested to partner the duo together.
Other options for the French manufacture may come from outside the current crop of Formula 1 drivers. Currently, Renault has Sergey Sirotkin and Oliver Rowland on their junior driver books as well as Ocon and both are proven drivers in the lower formulas, with Rowland being the defending Formula Renault champion. Although these are options, both are currently unlikely to get the odd over other drivers in contention.
Williams also have a large influence on the F1 driver market following the Felipe Massa news and the possibility of Bottas leaving the team. It is likely that current Formula 3 Europe champion Lance Stroll will get one of the two Williams drives up for grabs, but who will get the second?
Other than Bottas, Williams have a few options. As mentioned previously, both Felipe Nasr and Pascal Wehrlein have spoken to the team regarding their 2017 prospects with Nasr the more likely due to the funds that he brings with him and his previous experience with the team, having been a test driver for them in 2014.
However Marcus Ericsson has also confirmed that he too has spoken to Williams about the possibility of a 2017 drive, with the guarantee of funds being bought to the team. Although Ericsson would be an unorthodox move by Williams, it may make financial sense if they are in need of funds. Ericsson now has plenty of F1 experience and this may work in his favour.
Like Renault, Williams has a junior driver programme, with Stroll being on that however another driver in the programme is current test driver Alex Lynne. Lynne is currently racing in GP2 and although his results have not been outstanding this season he could see himself in the running for the second seat, though if Stroll is to be confirmed imminently the chances of Williams hiring two rookies is slim.
The final team that may see changes is Haas as they have only got both Esteban Gutiérrez and Romain Grosjean on one year contracts. Although it has been unofficially announced that Grosjean will be remaining with the team in 2017, Gutierrez has not had such news. Although it appears likely the Mexican will remain with the team next year, Haas may find themselves with additional options.
One option will be hiring any driver that finds themselves without a drive. Drivers such as Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen have been rumoured with the team as one will definitely be dropped for next season. Another current F1 driver who has been linked with the American outfit is Daniil Kvyat, as he is likely to be replaced at Toro Rosso by Frenchman Pierre Gasly, who is currently second in GP2.
Haas may also look at drivers outside of F1 to fill their second seat. The two that currently stand out both have links with Ferrari which will continue the connection between Haas and the Italian manufacture. These are Antonio Giovinazzi and Charles Leclerc. Giovinazzi is currently leading the GP2 standings in his debut season whereas Leclerc has just dominated the GP3 Championship as well as being a Ferrari junior driver. Both are talented however it all depends whether Haas are willing to employ a rookie going into major rule changes next season.