Roll up, roll up! The circus is back in town! It’s been away since the end of 2014, but it is back and back with a vengeance.
That’s right folks – today, July 17, marks the beginning of F1 Silly Season 2015. And boy does this have the makings of an exciting one.
Silly season, ordinarily lasting from Hungary to Abu Dhabi, is the portion of the F1 year that sees every driver on the market get linked with every seat on offer.
Some moves are well-reasoned and possible – look at Fernando Alonso’s switch to McLaren last year – whilst other theories are merely a result of putting two and two together and getting five.
The firestarter this year is Valtteri Bottas, who is bound for Ferrari as Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement according to a report in the Italian press that emerged on Friday.
Ferrari has called the report “bulls***”, whilst Bottas’ manager has also called for a little caution. However, the move seems to be a dead cert given Ferrari’s courting of the Finn and the financial gain on offer to Williams.
The end result for Kimi Raikkonen is likely to be retirement. The Finn has made clear in the past that he would most probably quit F1 once his time with Ferrari was up, and after 18 months and just one podium finish, it looks to be game over for him at Maranello.
Raikkonen’s monosyllabic nature has always made him a target for rumors stemming from a lack of motivation. In this case, that is not true. Raikkonen remains motivated, but has quite simply lacked the pace out on track this year. The 59-point gap to Sebastian Vettel is evidence of this.
He is also the last remaining big figure of the old regime at Maranello. Raikkonen’s signing for 2014 was nothing more than a ‘marriage of convenience’; someone who would act as a stop gap until Vettel and, ultimately, Jules Bianchi would be signed. Had it not been for his accident, Jules would most probably be the man replacing Raikkonen for next season.
So with Bottas at Ferrari and Raikkonen out of the picture, attention now turns to Williams, who will have a seat to fill. The original report suggested that Felipe Nasr may make the move back to the British team, having spent 2014 as its test and reserve driver.
Nasr would present a financially sound option given his backing from Banco do Brasil, but lacks the track record or ability of Nico Hulkenberg, another man tipped to be Bottas’ replacement. After spending his entire F1 career making sidesteps, for the first time, he could be able to move up the grid. It would also turn his F1 career moves into a palindromic sequence: Williams, Force India, Sauber, Force India, Williams.
Another option for Williams is its current test driver, Alex Lynn. The British driver won GP3 last year and is a race winner in GP2 this season, and certainly represents the future. He would be more of a gamble for Williams than the others, given his lack of experience, but as witnessed by other raw youngsters moving up like Daniil Kvyat and Max Verstappen, it’s not entirely out of the question.
The man with the most experience who could be up for grabs in 2016 is Jenson Button. The McLaren driver narrowly avoided the exit at the end of 2014, with the team eventually opting to drop Kevin Magnussen after just one year to make way for Fernando Alonso.
Button signed a two-year deal in a ‘one plus one’ package – the team has an option on his services for 2016. Given the team’s struggles so far this year, it is hard to see what the worth of retaining Button would be. The experience he provides is on offer thanks to Alonso, and with junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne destroying the field in GP2 at the moment, planning for the future may be wiser.
So if Button were to be shown the exit, Williams may present a nice way for him to finish his career. At 35, he will undoubtedly be thinking about retirement and life after F1, so one final hurrah with the team at which he started out back in 2000 would give him some good closure instead of exiting under the cloud of McLaren’s 2015 woes.
The FIA World Endurance Championship is certainly on Button’s horizon. The British driver was linked to a potential Toyota or Porsche switch last year; Porsche, of course, famously won this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with Hulkenberg as part of the driving lineup. The WEC would be a natural landing place if Button’s F1 future becomes all the more uncertain.
Whatever Williams does will then set the rest of the dominoes in motion. If the team plums for Nasr, a seat is free at Sauber, most probably for Ferrari junior Raffaele Marciello. If Hulkenberg gets the nod, a space at Force India is created for Mercedes youngster Pascal Wehrlein, who is a big part of the Gemran marque’s future plans.
Another name linked with both the Ferrari and Williams seats is Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian driver is hot property, but his contract with Red Bull appears to be water-tight, meaning he will be sticking around for another season. If Williams wanted to hold out for him, though, a one-year deal with Button may be an ideal stop-gap.
Romain Grosjean’s situation at Lotus is also worth keeping an eye on. The Frenchman has established himself as one of the top midfield drivers in the past three years, but with a lack of bumper sponsorship that many of the teams crave, remaining with Lotus seems the most likely course of action. Reserve driver Jolyon Palmer may have been told that there could be an opportunity at Enstone for 2016, but in all likelihood, Pastor Maldonado will most probably join Grosjean once again.
For Red Bull and Toro Rosso, a change is only going to happen if the bosses cruelly jilt Daniil Kvyat after just one season, which is unlikely. Otherwise, status quo should remain.
The final factor in all of this is Haas. The arrival of another team does release some of the pressure on the driver market, given that there are two extra spots. And they’re not seats to be sniffed at, either, given the extensive amount of involvement Ferrari will have with the team.
Esteban Gutierrez seems to be a sure-fire shout for the team given his Ferrari links and experience in F1, whilst the second slot will largely depend on what Gene Haas wants. Jean-Eric Vergne, who’s also Ferrari-affiliated, would also make sense. If Haas wants to give a young driver a shot, Alexander Rossi would be the obvious choice. An American driver in an American car is the dream for many in the sport who crave a better foothold in the United States.
However, the shake-up in the midfield could give Haas a chance to pick up a big name driver for his team’s debut season. Hulkenberg and Grosjean would certainly be of interest, but would either be willing to take a gamble on a new outfit?
It’s all food for thought. What we do know for sure is that Silly Season 2015 is going to be as unpredictable and ludicrous as ever.
And that’s just the way we like it.