Just two rounds remain – this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix (July 24) and the German Grand Prix seven days later (July 31) – before the sport rests for the European summer, but for driver managers the vacation will be anything but relaxing.
Of the notionally vacant 13 seats, the extension of Nico Rosberg’s contract is considered a formality, as neither side wants to split from the other, and though Kimi Räikkönen’s signature on a Ferrari contract earlier this month poured cold water on the sport’s most hotly contested seat, competition for drives in the midfield remains febrile.
Williams, Haas, Manor, and Sauber are all likely to retain at least one of their drivers, amongst whom Valtteri Bottas, Romain Grosjean, Pascal Wehrlein, and Marcus Ericsson are considered favourites.
Speculation in Budapest suggests that new Sauber owner Longbow Investment comprises Swede Ericsson’s sponsors, which would put him in pole position to keep his place at the team, though he refused to confirm.
“It’s not something that I know about,” Ericsson said when asked yesterday (July 21) in Hungary. “I’m not involved in these kinds of things anyway.”
Felipe Nasr is backed by Banco do Brasil, but economic turmoil in Brazil may see Ferrari place its promising young driver Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari-powered Sauber car to bring him up to speed.
Haas’s Esteban Gutierrez is the alternative candidate to make way for Ferrari’s driver development programme – of which he is also a member – but his Mexican sponsorship money may prove to be his safety net.
“I know what I will be doing next year,” Gutierrez said when asked if he was “100 per cent” sure about his future, despite his Haas team not committing to confirming either driver until September.
Romain Grosjean will stay with Haas as a stepping-stone team to a possible Ferrari contract in 2018, Pascal Wehrlein is almost certainly guaranteed his seat at Manor as a Mercedes-certified junior driver, and Valtteri Bottas remains one of the paddock’s best-rated drivers with an affordable price tag.
Of the remaining seats, one may fall as early as next week, as Rio Haryanto’s grasp on his Manor contract remains questionable.
Haryanto’s seat is reliant on the funding he brings to the team, and though his management has worked hard to find more money, the sport’s only Asian driver couldn’t guarantee his presence on the grid for so much as one more race.
“If you see me in Hockenheim, then I think I have secured the season,” Haryanto said in Budapest , but added. “I think [you will see me].”
Possible replacements include Esteban Ocon, current Renault reserve driver and member of the Mercedes driver development programme.
Joining Haryanto in the unemployment queue could be Jolyon Palmer, who has failed to set the world alight in his first sixth months and admittedly poor Renault machinery.
“The summer break is when people start to think about next year,” said Palmer. “[But] for us I don’t expect there’s going to be any decision here until much later in the season.”
The key to Palmer’s survival is whether McLaren continues with Jenson Button or opts for 2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne. If the latter driver proves successful, Button is tipped to seek refuge at Williams, displacing Felipe Massa.
Massa may in turn take what Brazilian sponsorship money he has left to Renault to boost its team rebuild, knocking out Palmer.
Palmer’s current teammate Kevin Magnussen would be safe – unless Rio Haryanto holds his seat, which would leave Renault as Esteban Ocon’s only option.
The future of Daniil Kvyat’s seat at Toro Rosso is also unclear given his unceremonious axing from the senior Red Bull Racing team in May.
Pierre Gasly is the only Red Bull junior driver experience enough to step up to Formula One, but his GP2 win on 16 July was his first victory in any category in 1022 days, leaving many to question whether the energy drinks company will give him another season in the junior ranks, buying Kvyat a reprieve in the process.
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THE TEAM'S DRIVERS
* (Nico Rosberg expected)
RED BULL RACING