July 30, 2016

2017 F1 driver market still far from settled.

While 2017 drivers at top teams, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull,  have been locked in early this year,  many seats further down the grid are still very much in play.

Both Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas are rumored to be out at Williams.  Felipe is said to have been told in Monaco his contract option would not be picked up and Bottas is likely paying for the disappointing season Williams had in 2016.

Replacing the two at the Martini sponsored team would be Jenson Button and Lance Stroll.   Stroll,  is an ex Ferrari Academy driver who this year signed on to be Williams' development driver. His seat is contingent on his European F3 series results being good enough to obtain points needed to qualify for a Super License.  But it's also contingent on the $60 Million his father Lawrence Stroll (Michael Kors-Tommy Hilfiger among other investments) is said to be prepared to spend on his son's career.   
At one point Stroll was rumored to have bought into Sir Frank's team though the team denied he bought in.  What is certain is that he's hired ex-Ferrari race engineer and Ferrari Driver Academy chief Luca Baldisserri to be Lance's personal mentor. 

Jenson Button will finish his career where he started his F at age twenty, sixteen years ago.  Jenson is super marketable and, by all accounts, great at sponsor events. 
Button's seat at Mclaren will got to Stoffel Vandoorne with Alonso riding out the third year of his contract "evaluating" if the new regulations are to his liking before deciding if to continue beyond 2017.

Renault's lineup will also change with the team not needing to rely on pay drivers after this season.   Bottas and Esteban Ocon, on loan from Mercedes, are top contenders for the French team but Perez is still hoping to jump ship from Force India  along with his considerable sponsorship backing.

Haas too is up in the air,  Grosjean said not to Renault this year with the hope he might get a call from Ferrari but that was dashed when Raikkonen's contract was renewed.  The chance of his moving to the Scuderia now in 2018 look slim and that seat at Renault looks quite inviting.   But after turning the team down this season, his future does not look yellow.
The second seat at Haas may got to Charles Leclerc,  a driver Ferrari wants to evaluate for future consideration.   Leclerc would need to win the GP3 championship to score the points needed for a Super License in which case Esteban Gutierrez might land at Sauber or at Force India.

Of course no Silly Season would be complete without juicy rumors.  The one floated during the NBC broadcast of Friday practice, that Mercedes would leave the sport in 2018,  seems unlikely for a team party to the Concorde Agreement expiring in 2020.  
The other, floated by Autosprint, is more plausible: Vettel "procrastinating" on any early discussions of a post 2017 renewal because he's evaluating McLaren Honda's progress versus the Scuderia's long term prospects.

That should warm a few seats at Maranello.

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