F1 2015’s silly season is proving to be a let down, but who could yet spice it up?


Maybe we’ve been spoiled in recent years.

Maybe we’ve become accustomed to at least one World Champion jumping ship to a rival team in all of the past three seasons.

But whichever way you look at it, Formula 1’s silly season in 2015 has been a complete letdown.

For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon that is silly season, it can be defined as “the period in which every available driver on the F1 grid (or outside of the sport) is linked with every available seat”.

It lasts until the grid is completed and every team has set its line-up in stone, and ordinarily unfolds like a set of dominoes falling. One driver moves, another takes his place, thus freeing up a seat, and so on.

It happened in 2012 when Lewis Hamilton chose to leave McLaren. It happened in 2013 when Mark Webber announced he would be retiring (although ultimately moving into the FIA World Endurance Championship with Porsche for 2014), and when Ferrari dropped Felipe Massa to re-sign Kimi Raikkonen.

It happened in 2014 when Sebastian Vettel announced he would be leaving Red Bull, moving to Ferrari in place of Fernando Alonso, who returned to McLaren after seven years away.

And so we come to 2015. It was a silly season with much promise that largely revolved around Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen.

In the middle of July, reports in the Italian press claimed that Ferrari had struck an agreement with Williams to sign Valtteri Bottas for 2016 as Raikkonen’s replacement, sending the rumor mill into overdrive.

Williams appeared to have a number of options if they needed a replacement. Nico Hulkenberg from Force India? Jenson Button from McLaren? Romain Grosjean from Lotus? Felipe Nasr from Sauber? GP2 driver Alex Lynn? The possibilities were endless.

Ultimately, Ferrari stuck with Raikkonen for 2016 in spite of his so-so form this season. On his day, the Finn remains a fearsome competitor, and – perhaps more importantly – retaining him gives the Italian marque effective control of the 2017 driver market.

Nevertheless, there was still the possibility for change on the grid. Hulkenberg had been linked with every seat going, including one at the new Haas F1 Team (talks were held), only to confirm earlier this week that he had signed a new two-year deal with Force India. Sergio Perez revealed today that he is also likely to stay on for 2016, with a new contract set to be announced soon.

It’s only September, and silly season is already fizzling out. Ferrari, Williams and Sauber have officially confirmed their line-ups for 2016. Mercedes won’t make any changes and doesn’t need to make an official announcement. Force India looks set to be the same again. Red Bull is unlikely to make a change, as is Toro Rosso.

So can anyone spice up silly season in the coming months?

The situation at Lotus is certainly worth monitoring. The team is struggling financially, but is close to being rescued by French manufacturer Renault, which is keen to return to F1 with a works operation for the first time since 2010.

Given Romain Grosjean’s good form and links with Renault, the Frenchman would unquestionably be retained. The same cannot be said of Pastor Maldonado, though, whose backing from Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA is unlikely to be as valuable to Renault as it is to Lotus.

Should Renault opt to drop him, there are a number of options, but most of them are outside of F1. If a top-line driver is desired, the team could follow Ferrari’s example and stick with their current driver before taking advantage of the open market for 2017 when most of the grid is available.

Manor is in a class of its own for silly season. Basically, whichever driver is willing to stump up the most cash will get the nod. That said, both Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi have been quietly impressive at the back this season, so there’s no reason why they would not be kept on.

Haas’ number one target was Hulkenberg, suggesting that ‘plan a’ was for him to partner Esteban Gutierrez, who is understood to be closing in on one of the seats. As such, we can safely assume that there is just one drive on offer there now, for which Jean-Eric Vergne is the favorite.

If Haas is keen on an American, then Alexander Rossi appears to be the leading candidate after a strong season in GP2. IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden’s name keeps being banded about, but due to the new FIA superlicence rules is unlikely to stand much chance.

That only leaves McLaren. McLaren is the team that now is the main focus of silly season.

Or, more precisely, Jenson Button is now the main focus of silly season.

Button came close to exiting McLaren at the end of last year when the team signed Fernando Alonso from Ferrari. The Spaniard’s arrival left the team with two options: ditch Button or ditch Kevin Magnussen. Button was saved (only just), leaving Magnussen to take up a reserve role with the team for 2015.

Button signed a one-plus-one year contract with McLaren, giving the team an option on his services for 2016. As a result, we’re in the same position again. This time around though, there are three drivers in the running.

Magnussen may have spent a year in the background for McLaren, but he is still highly rated by the management at Woking. The Dane impressed in his debut F1 season under difficult circumstances, and remains a serious contender for the seat.

The third driver involved is Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren’s other bright young protege. After being told to remain in GP2 for 2015 and win it “as a boss” by racing director Eric Boullier, Vandoorne is on course to do exactly that. He leads by over 100 points, and should wrap the title up in Russia next month.

So who do McLaren plum for? Button, the experienced head? Magnussen, the driver who deserves a second chance? Or Vandoorne, the driver banging hard on F1’s door?

Whoever the team picks, it will have ramifications on the rest of the grid. Both Magnussen and Vandoorne want to be in F1 next year. McLaren may try and slot either into a seat elsewhere on the grid, but the early announcements have made that an impossibility. Could Manor be an option?

Should Vandoorne get the nod, then Magnussen will be left with a tough decision to make: sit it out and wait for Alonso to move on, or cut ties with McLaren after being leapfrogged in the junior pecking order. He could be a contender for the Haas seat in the event of the latter.

For Button, it is hard to see a future in F1 for him should McLaren choose to drop him. As Mark Webber told MotorSportsTalk last week, the FIA World Endurance Championship is a very lucrative option, and a factory drive would be attainable for Button.

Silly season has been a let down in 2015. Perhaps it is therefore fitting that McLaren is now the team to watch in the driver market.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.



Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III