The 2015 Formula 1 driver market is set to be subject to one of the most biggest shake-ups in years. Fernando Alonso is leaving Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel is leaving Red Bull, and Jenson Button may be leaving F1 altogether. Three of the five champions on the grid look set to move for next season.
However, the domino effect means that their decision have wide-reaching impacts on those further down the field. Daniil Kvyat has been given the chance of a lifetime for 2015, joining Red Bull for his sophomore year in F1, whilst a number of other drivers are jostling for position, be it with their existing teams or elsewhere.
One such driver is Romain Grosjean, whose situation is a little more complex than the others. In essence, he should be fighting further up the grid than he is with Lotus, yet he may not even have a place with his current team for 2015.
Grosjean’s F1 career has been a funny one. After stepping in at Renault as a replacement for the sacked Nelson Piquet Jr. at the end of 2009, he was not retained beyond the end of the year, and bravely elected to take a step back down the ladder.
After winning GP2 in 2011, he returned to F1 in 2012 with Lotus for a season that saw him make the headlines for all of the wrong reasons. A one-race ban for causing a dangerous collision in Belgium was the lowlight of a difficult first full season in F1, but he was able to atone for these mistakes in 2013 with a fine second half of the season that yielded five podium finishes. He had gone from crash kid to shining star.
And so for 2014, great things were expected of the Frenchman and Lotus. However, financial difficulties blighted much of the team’s preparations, and the results have been clear: sixteen races, eight points, all courtesy of Romain Grosjean. He has put teammate Pastor Maldonado firmly in the shade?
So why is Maldonado the man with a firm deal for next season? Quite simply, money. The Venezuelan has financial backing that is the envy of the motorsport world, meaning he can ease into a seat at Lotus for next year. His presence is crucial to the future of the team.
It will also have played a role in securing the new engine deal with Mercedes for 2015. After a long-standing partnership between Enstone and Renault, the switch to Silver Arrow power was finally announced in Russia last weekend. Given that Mercedes has produced the best power units on the grid in 2014, it appears to be a great deal for all involved.
Except Grosjean, that is. As part of the deal, Lotus confirmed that it would be switching to Petronas oil for next season. Petronas has been a long-running partner of Mercedes, and is an integral part of its success. McLaren’s insistence on using Mobil 1 is widely believed to be at the root of many of its problems in 2014 – the engines are made for Petronas.
Currently, Lotus works in tandem with Total, who also happens to be Grosjean’s main partner. So unless Lotus decide they can live without this backing, it appears that Grosjean’s future is far from certain at Enstone.
It may seem quite cynical to suggest that Romain could be forced out of the team, but it could also present some very interesting opportunities. Speaking to us in Italy, he was quite coy.
“There are always talks and that’s for the managers,” Grosjean said. “Yes, there have been a few talks, but so far you just have to wait.”
The two big seats going? Ferrari and McLaren. And both teams would undoubtedly have been thinking about Romain as a possible option if their prime targets – Vettel and Alonso, respectively – failed to come good.
While Vettel’s place at Ferrari is a done deal, Alonso is still dithering. He claims his future is “so obvious”, but in reality, that’s only true in his own head. There are two options we can see: McLaren or a sabbatical. He wants to drive for Mercedes (and it would appear to be an ill-judged risk to bank on Hamilton leaving), a place at McLaren-Honda could yet be created if the team decided to still drop Button and hire Grosjean.
Romain’s future is far from certain, and he may be the missing man of the 2015 driver market, but his talent is such that few would seriously expect him to not have a place on the grid in Australia next spring.