Valtteri Bottas’ long speculated potential move to Ferrari is bound to set pulses racing – if you pardon the pun. Not just in Maranello, but for at least four other teams as the F1 silly season begins to get serious.
That is, because as soon as Ferrari announce their second driver for the 2016 season – around 31 July when their option on Kimi Raikkonen runs out – there will be little time to keep up with driver movements.
So where is the biggest shifting and shaping going to take place? Current Williams and Ferrari spots are a good place to begin, but the lineups of teams further down the grid appear tricky at best to predict.
Nasr to make Williams return?
If the 25 year-old Finn is to jump ship as predicted by Italian publication Corriere dello Sport, Sauber’s Felipe Nasr is heavily tipped to move back to Williams – where he carried out test and reserve duties last season.
Bottas is thought to have agreed a €12 million per year deal with the Maranello squad as a replacement for countryman Kimi Raikkonen. The deal is unconfirmed but is expected to be announced around the time of Raikkonen’s option on his contract running out (31 July).
It is believed that the Brazilian has been in talks of a possible return to the Grove team ever since rumours began to circulate over Bottas’ future. A race seat would both make sense and be meritted for the former British F3 champion and GP2 Series race winner after an impressive start to his F1 career.
Raikkonen heading for the exit?
Despite a more encouraging start to 2015 for Raikkonen, it seems the Finn is once again on a slippery slope. His impressive performance in the Bahrain Grand Prix in April – where he finished a close second to Lewis Hamilton – certainly pleased new Ferrari chief Maurizio Arrivabene. But since then his form has wavered and has not had the same level of consistency as illustrious team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
Arrivabene has repeatedly told the media that Raikkonen’s future is determined by performances. The Finn holds the cards to his Ferrari future, but the 31 July deadline – for the 1 year contract extension option the team holds over Raikkonen – is approaching at an uncontrollable pace.
If Raikkonen does leave Ferrari for the second time in his career, staying in F1 is looking increasingly less likely. Raikkonen may find other ventures outside the sport – perhaps a crack at Le Mans. Switching to a new team is improbable. The 35 year-old needs a competitive team to remain interested. Mercedes is out of the question while a move to Williams may be possible if they pass up on Nasr. Gene Haas’ new team – with Ferrari engineering and engine – is an outside bet, although McLaren Honda have more chance of winning a race this year than Kimi joining aboard.
The curious case of Nico Hülkenberg
Since entering Formula One, the German has struggled to secure a deserved top seat in the sport. Often linked with Ferrari, Hülkenberg has been anchored to the midfield with Williams, Force India and Sauber respectively. Winning the Le Mans 24 Hours on his first attempt with Porsche has helped increase his resume. However, the Gods of the sport seem to have deserted him once more.
So what does he do?
The smart man says he should stay at Force India, where both he and team-mate Sergio Pérez are beginning to flourish in the middle of the year. The new updates are bringing more performance and Hülkenberg remains confident of further improvements.
The upcoming Haas project has also linked the German with a change of scenery. Recent history shows that a fresh start will not be easy – ask Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli. It remains to be seen whether this is something Hülkenberg wishes to pursue.
The alternative is a future away from F1. Hülkenberg admitted that his experience with Porsche in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) 6 Hours of Spa and Le Mans had whetted his appitite for endurance racing. He failed to rule out a move to the series and by ‘keeping his 2016 options open’, the move towards a move remains highly possible.
McLaren’s dillema – part two
Not for the first time, McLaren find themselves in a tricky situation. Under contract they already have two F1 world champions in race seats, a Formula Renault 3.5 series winner and 2014 F1 driver Kevin Magnussen and GP2 Series leader Stoffel Vandoorne.
Magnussen and Vandoorne are the stars of the future with the latter creating a storm in GP2 this season, winning four out of five feature races. However, unless McLaren can land one – if not both – of these drivers at another team, a further year as test and reserve driver seems probable.
That is, if the Woking team retain both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.
Button narrowly secured his 2015 seat ahead of Magnussen last December after frantic negotiations within the team. His seat is not guaranteed for next season which may pave the way for either Magnussen or Vandoorne to step up to the team.
Either way, both the Dane and the Belgian will remain part of the McLaren setup. If Button leaves, sportscars may prove too attractive to turn down for the 2009 world champion.