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.

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 RACER.com “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).