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F1’s midfield set for potential musical chairs carousel in 2017

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The week in-between the Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday and the next race, the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 13, figures to be as good a time for at least one or potentially more dominos to fall in the Formula 1 silly season.

The following seats remain unconfirmed for 2017:

  • Force India 2
  • Haas 2
  • Renault 2
  • Manor 1 and 2
  • Sauber 1 and 2

Williams is due to confirm new signing Lance Stroll alongside Valtteri Bottas officially later this week. Stroll will thus be the first Canadian in the sport since Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 World Champion who last raced in 2006.

The drivers then that remain as-yet unsigned for 2017 who’ve raced full-time in 2016 are:

  • Esteban Gutierrez, Haas
  • Kevin Magnussen, Renault
  • Jolyon Palmer, Renault
  • Pascal Wehrlein, Manor
  • Esteban Ocon, Manor
  • Marcus Ericsson, Sauber
  • Felipe Nasr, Sauber

Motorsport.com reported Magnussen had been offered a two-year deal from Haas. Palmer, meanwhile, has been among the five linked to the vacant Force India seat along with both Manor drivers – owing to their Mercedes connections – and both Sauber drivers.

Force India management has said a decision will come once Vijay Mallya sorts through the candidates this week. Sergio Perez said in Austin this was the “best available” seat on the grid and on current team performance levels, he’s not wrong.

Gutierrez has been coy about where in the future he’ll be if not at Haas, but the Mexican seems confident he’ll be on the grid next year. As he told NBCSN on Sunday in Mexico City, “I am confident I will be back. We’re pushing all the way and we’ll find out more in the next two weeks.”

The Manor teammates are in a head-to-head battle, theoretically, for one seat at Force India. A week ago, it looked as though the Renault teammates were actually in a head-to-head battle for the second seat at Renault, before the Magnussen report arose.

Nasr’s future will likely be a topic of speculation at Brazil, given it’s his home race, he has funding available via Banco de Brasil and with Felipe Massa’s impending retirement, he’d be in line as the only Brazilian left on the grid next season. Yet of late, he’s rarely been as on form as Ericsson.

The usually overlooked Swede has instead been on a good run of form in recent races in qualifying, and was perhaps unlucky to come up with only P11 in Mexico, one spot away from what would have been a crucial first point of the season.

This then doesn’t factor in any potential wild card drivers who could enter the frame later on. Either of Pierre Gasly, who’s been passed over by Toro Rosso, or GP2 Series points leader Antonio Giovinazzi has the talent to be considered for a drive. Giovinazzi also has an LMP1 test to look forward to later this month.

The third-through-fifth-placed drivers, Raffaele Marciello, Sergey Sirotkin and Jordan King are high on GP2 experience as well, and King is positioned nicely at Manor should one or two of that team’s seats open up, as they figure to.

The Force India and Haas second seats appear to be the first two dominos to fall. If a Mercedes-backed driver is signed to Force India and Magnussen takes the reported offer from Haas, then that leaves the rest of the drivers fighting over the remaining vacancies.

It all seems like it’s about to get busy here and with two races to go in 2016, those not yet signed for next year will be keen to deliver important drives.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.