Inside Line: Big teams key to 2017 driver line-ups
Traditionally end of summer seems to trigger the early Formula 1 silly season blossoms but looking out of the window into the Formula 1 paddock and silly season is blooming all over the place and summer is just kicking in!
Starting with the world champions, Mercedes, where Lewis Hamilton is well ensconced and why would he even want to know if the grass is greener elsewhere. The Silver Arrows love him and he is comfortable with the team that has allowed him to collect two world titles and have given him a car that is the class of the field.
In the pit box alongside him there appears to be some sort of stalemate between Nico Rosberg and Mercedes management, but from the outside it seems to be a touch of showboating between the two camps. It is highly likely that Nico will sign on the dotted line, and if he does not his only real option is Ferrari. But I personally do not see him heading to Maranello where Sebastian Vettel clearly rules the roost.
Furthermore, in the modern era of sport as a marketing tool, why would Sergio Marchionne have two Germans in the same team? From where I stand Nico going anywhere else would be career suicide and an ill advised move which would play into the hands of Pascal Wehrlein and/or Valtteri Bottas.
Pascal because he has been mentored by Mercedes and Valtteri due to the fact that a certain Toto Wolff is his manager.
Expect Nico to sign soon.
The big silly season question mark is: who will replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari? How long will the Reds keep faith in a driver who, though greatly loved by most, is simply not delivering on a regular basis anymore. His biggest allies in the Scuderia are his mate Seb and team chief Maurizio Arrivabene who extended the Finn’s F1 lifespan by signing him for 2016.
But right now Arrivabene himself is on dodgy ground and will not put his neck on the block for anyone other than to save himself.
Seb’s ‘friendship’ with Kimi is well documented, but having the grumpy old guy in the team provides the quadruple world champion with a comfort zone. But in truth what Seb sorely needs is someone to keep him on his toes as a certain Daniel Ricciardo did not too long ago.
And yes Daniel would be a top candidate for Ferrari. Forget the Italian heritage and all that stuff, they would want him because he is a proven winner and would give them an extra edge that is currently lacking. Put it this way, Ferrari would have two world title candidates as opposed to one.
Other contenders for the prized seat of course are plentiful with the likes of Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean, Carlos Sainz and of course Valtteri all supposedly in with (what I believe) is an outside chance.
Outside chance because if they can get the real deal Daniel – and Ferrari can get whoever they want, when they want – why settle for any of the above mentioned quintet?
Sure Sergio has a connection to the Italian team thanks to his FDA days, but really the connection is more his verbose father mouthing off to Mexican media after his celebration dance on the streets of Monaco where his son performed so well last time out.
The Hulk? I have always rated the guy highly, he went to Le Mans and won it on his debut which is rather special. But have too many years in midfield teams taken it’s toll? He seems to run hot and cold, and this year Sergio has been better. And again two Germans at Maranello seems unlikely…
Romain has made it quite clear that his Haas tenure is a stepping-stone to Ferrari and his early success with the F1 debutants has definitely lifted his shares. I think he is prone to mood swings dependent on the performance of his car and he may well be too emotionally vulnerable in the Ferrari cauldron.
Personally I would like to see the Frenchman in a top team, but I am not sure Ferrari is the place for him. Maybe McLaren when Fernando departs…
Carlos to Ferrari is an interesting one. Consider what Max Verstappen has achieved stepping up into a big league team.
Did Max wallop Carlos? No way, in fact some believe that Carlos is as good as the sensational Dutchman. Therefore Carlos alongside Seb would be a very attractive option, which I think could go the distance if Ferrari break with tradition and opt for a young gun.
Valtteri to Maranello grabbed chunks of headlines last season and apparently it was nearly a done deal. Why the young Finn is so coveted I do not know, but maybe I don’t know things that others do.
What has he proved in his three and a half years with Williams? Has he trounced Felipe? Nada and no would be my answers.
There was a revolution at Red Bull with the ousting of Daniil Kvyat and promotion of young Max. Compounding matters in the aftermath of the upheavals is the fact that the teenager went on to win his first race with the team in Spain, at the expense (some think) of ‘team leader’ Dan the Man.
Then add to the equation the team’s Monaco debacle – which did cost big smiling Daniel the race plus his smile – and thus you have a very uneasy and volatile scenario unfolding in the energy drinks camp.
Throw in some naughty speculation that Ferrari are sniffing around with not only Danny in mind, but also eyeing team boss Christian Horner to replace the Marlboro Man. All intriguing stuff, but only time will tell if the stories have any wings. But they are not as daft as they may appear…
Let’s say that Daniel goes to discover his roots in Italy, and Red Bull stick to their policy of promoting their homegrown talent. Then Carlos would be promoted to partner his nemesis, which would be a yummy scenario.
At McLaren, the last but not the least of the big teams (yes they are still a big team), the Jenson Button saga is bubbling along.
After being well trounced by young Stoffel Vandoorne in Bahrain, when the highly rated Belgian replaced injured Fernando Alonso. He then went on to out-qualify and out-race his veteran teammate and proceeded to score the Woking team’s first points of the season.
Vandoorne wants a place ion the F1 grid in 2017, and McLaren want to keep him. Fernando has an extra year to his contract and busting that means McLaren will have to sell a huge load of road cars.
Jenson is out of contract, so guess who gets the boot? Anyway talk is that the deal is already done: Stoffel in at McLaren for 2017, Jenson out.
Let’s face it Jenson has had an excellent run at the pinnacle of the sport and he is hardly bothered if this year or the next is his last. However a swansong at Williams, where it all began over a decade ago, would be a cool end to his movie.
This in turn would trigger Felipe Massa’s ousting from Williams – apparently a done deal – and it is highly unlikely a top team will take the Brazilian, who is already making noises about WEC and Formula-E.
Thus Jenson would slot in alongside Valtteri who might be there or else would have moved on to Ferrari.
For sure there will be major changes among teams and their drivers when the season kicks off in 2017, with the big teams key to most of the driver moves.
Whatever the big four do with their driver choices, will inevitably trigger repercussions down the field where the smaller teams will consider the rejects or (more likely) opt for the big buck pay drivers that wait in the wings.
Predicting who gets what drive with the minnows, right now, is impossible because everyone is waiting for the big four to make their moves.
Inside Line by Paul Velasco