It’s that time of year where talk in the world of Formula 1 increasingly turns to the driver market and the expected line-ups for next year.
And there are some big decisions to be taken in the coming months, involving some well known names and some less well known.
Teams such as Mercedes (Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg) and Red Bull (Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo) have got their drivers under contract for next year but there remains a number of possibilities in the air at many teams and others who have stalled on announcing their plans.
Chief of those is McLaren, who have failed to commit yet to either 2009 world champion Jenson Button or rookie Kevin Magnussen.
The team is a very attractive prospect with Honda coming on board from next season and they will be keen to turn their fortunes around having produced two successive cars which have not been capable of challenging for race wins. They have made no secret of their desire to recapture Fernando Alonso, but for all that they may have forgotten the past, it’s hard to see Alonso wanting to work with Ron Dennis again.
Button has said he has no desire to race in any category other than Formula 1 next season and is keep to stay with the team when his deal expires at the end of the season.
Magnussen, meanwhile, has had some highs and lows in his rookie season, but has been steadily improving in recent months and looks an exciting prospect, but the Dane and Button will face internal competition from highly-rated GP2 racer and McLaren’s reserve Stoffel Vandoorne, as well as possible external competition too.
At Williams, Felipe Massa signed a “multi-year” deal starting this season, so is expected to stay. His team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who has been exceptional this season, is also on a “multi-year” deal, which began in 2013.
The Finn is mentored by Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff and could be in-line at some point in future for a seat at the works Mercedes team – based on his development – when one becomes available, although that won’t be next season following Nico Rosberg’s recent contract extension and Lewis Hamilton’s existing 2015 deal. An extension with Hamilton is being discussed.
Over at Ferrari, both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have deals for next year (and 2016 for Alonso), but speculation as to whether they will both stay continues to swirl around the paddock following a hugely disappointing season for the Italian outfit.
Alonso has been discussing an extension, but progress is slow as the Spaniard has requested a higher salary in return for his commitment; perhaps to compensate for the uncompetitive cars he has been provided in recent times.
Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo said yesterday in a Twitter interview that he was sure both drivers would continue next season and dismissed the “inflated” figures being mentioned around Alonso’s demands,
Raikkonen has said that he will stay for the remainder of his two year deal and Ferrari is reluctant to pay him off again, having done so at the end of 2009.
Waiting in the wings is Jules Bianchi, who has continued his development this season, with some high points; the Frenchman producing a brilliant performance to score Marussia’s first points in Monaco.
He was also impressive when stepping in for Raikkonen at Ferrari for the Silverstone test, which the Finn skipped following a high-speed crash in the race.
In the absence of a 2015 Ferrari, the Frenchman has to weigh up whether it makes sense to stay at Marussia for a third season or to look for a seat further up the grid.
Lotus are set to switch to Mercedes power units next season, which makes the outfit a more attractive prospect. Pastor Maldonado has already signed to stay for next season, the deal was done soon after the Mercedes deal was agreed, but Romain Grosjean’s future is less secure.
The Frenchman said after Hungary that he will use the summer break to think about his options next season, adding he “wants to win races in the near future”. With the seats available, Lotus – with in-coming Mercedes power – may be his best option to do that.
Russian Daniil Kvyat has been highly impressive this season, so providing he maintains that form in the second-half of the season, he is likely to stay at Toro Rosso for a second season. His team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne’s future is not so certain, though.
Now in his third season with the Red Bull junior team, based on the team’s approach in past seasons his time may well run out, with no opening at the main Red Bull Racing team.
Admittedly, the team have been severely hampered with reliability issues, but in the competitive world of Formula 1 and in a team such as Toro Rosso, which has a bunch of drivers, like Carlos Sainz and now Max Verstappen in its junior programme itching to get their shot, two-and-a-half years without a significant result does not bode well for Vergne.
Dutch media is suggesting that Verstappen may be drafted in next season, but as he will turn 17 next month, despite his F3 results, it’s hard to see him being accepted in F1 at such a young age.
Sauber have an interesting decision to make. They’re on course for their worst ever season at the sport, but have shown improved pace in recent races.
Adrian Sutil has been unspectacular since moving from Force India, while Gutierrez has looked to have the upper hand in recent races and will be desperate to be on the grid next year and contest his home race in the returning Mexican Grand Prix.
However, the face competition for their seat from Giedo van der Garde, Russian Sergey Sirotkin and Simona de Silvestro.
Force India are having a strong season and sit in fifth place in the constructors’ one place ahead of McLaren. Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg are well matched and the engineers appreciate their qualities, so unless there is a financial imperative to change and as both signed multi-year deals when they joined this season, so look set to stay.
It’s difficult to stay what could happen at Caterham , who are restructuring after Tony Fernandes sold the team to a Swiss and Middle Eastern consortium.
They do have a pool of junior drivers to choose from depending on whether they want Kamui Kobayashi or Marcus Ericsson to stay – or indeed if those two want to sign up for another year.
Red Bull’s Helmut Marko seems to have some influence behind the scenes with the new Caterham management and there has been talk of Sainz getting a few Grands Prix under his belt at the end of the season as a contra-deal for gearboxes which Red Bull supplies to the team.
Marko placed Ricciardo with HRT for 10 races in 2012 and it did him a lot of good.
What line-ups would you like to see in F1 next season? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below