As the Bottas to Ferrari story kicks off F1’s silly season, how might the driver market dominoes fall?


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.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).