As F1’s 2018 grid nears completion, who will get the final seats?

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With Lewis Hamilton clinching his fourth Formula 1 World Championship last weekend in Mexico and Mercedes wrapping up the teams’ title one week earlier, there are no major honors left to play for in the 2017 season.

The final two races in Brazil (November 12) and Abu Dhabi (November 26) may be dead rubbers in the championship, yet the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull will be aiming to finish the year on a high to build momentum heading through to 2018.

One of the usual conundrums in the closing stages of the year is the driver market, and while 2017’s silly season has been something of a let down with Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso all staying put, there are a few seats left to be decided.

Here’s how the grid is currently looking for F1 2018.

Formula 1 2018 – Drivers and Teams

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas
Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen
Red Bull: Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen
Force India: Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon
Williams: Lance Stroll, TBA
Toro Rosso: TBA, TBA
Renault: Carlos Sainz Jr., Nico Hulkenberg
Haas: Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen
McLaren: Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne
Sauber: TBA, TBA

Five seats remain, but where will they go?

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 29: Helmut Marko of Austria and Red Bull chats with Brendon Hartley of Scuderia Toro Rosso and New Zealand during the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2017 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

TORO ROSSO ALL BUT SET WITH GASLY, HARTLEY

Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley may have only enjoyed their first race as teammates last weekend in Mexico, yet the pair will need to get used to one another as they prepare to race together full-time in 2018 at Toro Rosso.

The chain of events that has led to the current driver situation at Toro Rosso is complicated, with Gasly’s pointless visit to Japan for the Super Formula finale that never was opening the door for Porsche LMP1 driver Hartley to get a chance in F1 as part of the Red Bull setup, some seven years after being dropped from its junior program.

Hartley has adjusted well to life in F1 already, while 2016 GP2 champion Gasly has also done a solid job, putting them both in the frame for a seat in 2018, as confirmed by team principal Franz Tost in Mexico.

“Both are Red Bull drivers, both are high skill drivers, fast drivers. I want to test them for the rest of the season,” Tost said.

“There’s a high possibility this will be the driver line-up for 2018.”

The lack of alternatives certainly helps both be sure of their position, but keep an eye out for Red Bull’s recruitment push to its junior program over the winter. Any change at its senior F1 team for 2019 could have a knock-on effect reaching back to Toro Rosso.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 29: Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams on the drivers parade before the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2017 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

FAREWELL FELIPE? (FOR REAL THIS TIME)

The writing appears to be on the wall for Felipe Massa at Williams. Almost 12 months on from his emotional farewell to F1 at Interlagos, Massa looks set to be on his way out for good this time, with no chain of events like those at the end of 2016 set to save him this time.

Williams has stressed it will not rush into any decision about who will partner Lance Stroll for 2018, safe in the knowledge it holds the most attractive seat remaining. Massa is still in contention as per the team’s management, but NBC Sports understands a return for next year is highly unlikely for the Brazilian.

As no call is forthcoming, his home race in Sao Paulo next weekend will be an awkward one without the label of being his final outing at Interlagos. Ironically, this is similar to countryman Rubens Barrichello’s ultimately final home race, also for Williams, in 2011.

While Williams may have the most attractive seat available, the list of drivers leaves much to be desired.

Paul di Resta impressed when he had to stand in at very short notice for an unwell Massa in Hungary, but the Mercedes DTM driver has not been in F1 full-time since 2013 – and even with Force India, he was solid but far from spectacular.

Robert Kubica has completed two private tests with Williams and is under consideration, offering a story that has captured the F1 world’s attention through 2017 in his bid to return to the pinnacle of motorsport some six years after a rally accident that appeared to end his career.

But as Renault passed on Kubica amid reservations over his capabilities due to the extent of the injuries to his right arm, would Williams be satisfied? Could Kubica really lead the team alongside Stroll? While he is the most exciting option, he is also the riskiest.

Another candidate for the seat is Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein. The Mercedes youngster is on his way out of the Swiss team due to its enhanced partnership with Ferrari for 2018, leaving Williams as his only possible landing spot.

Wehrlein has occasionally impressed with Sauber and Manor last year, but has never really got the chance to prove what he is really capable of. A chance with Williams would allow him to do so.

Wehrlein was thought to be out of the picture give the need for Williams to have at least one driver over the age of 25 due to a requirement from title sponsor Martini, yet this looks navigable. It is merely a question of whether Williams wants to take a punt on the Mercedes driver.

A recent addition to Williams’ shortlist is Daniil Kvyat following his exit from Toro Rosso and the Red Bull program after the United States Grand Prix. Kvyat has shown flashes of speed, particularly during his time with Red Bull’s senior team, yet a points haul of just four points this year is unlikely to do his chances much good.

Wehrlein perhaps acts as the most balanced option for Williams to partner Stroll next year, giving its line-up a youthful, fresh feel. But right now, it’s hard to see any of the above names being a strong favorite.

AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 20: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (37) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 20, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

ONE FERRARI JUNIOR OR TWO FOR SAUBER?

Following a turbulent year featuring two team principals, two 2018 engine deals and – unlike Melbourne 2015 – two full-time drivers, things are looking up for Sauber heading into next year.

An enhanced technical partnership with Ferrari should do wonders for the team, given it has been racing with year-old power units through 2017, acting as a chance to move forward and latch onto the back of the midfield.

Spearheading this charge next year should be Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc. The 20-year-old has been a revalation in junior categories in recent times, having also won the GP3 title in 2016, and has featured in practice for Sauber in Malaysia, Austin and Mexico.

How Leclerc fairs upon stepping up to F1 full-time next year will be fascinating as he is tipped for a future drive with Ferrari, perhaps as a successor to Kimi Raikkonen.

The real question at Sauber is who will partner Leclerc. Will the team have one Ferrari youngster in its line-up next year, or two?

Antonio Giovinazzi is firmly part of Ferrari’s plan for the future, and was drafted in by Sauber to replace the injured Wehrlein in the first two races. Despite a crash-filled weekend in China, Giovinazzi impressed on debut in Australia, and is in definite contention for a seat in 2018.

The incumbent Marcus Ericsson may have failed to score a single point this year, and may have amassed more penalty points than actual points during his time in F1, but with links to Sauber’s team owners, his position is much stronger than his racing record would have you believe.

The second seat really comes down to who has the bigger influence: Sauber’s owners or Ferrari’s chiefs. But while Ericsson may be a favored son of those with the money at Sauber, no shareholder wants to sustain a loss.

Were Giovinazzi to offer a performance boost that could lift Sauber up the constructors’ championship order, thus resulting in more prize money and a greater income for the team, the team’s backers could opt to act with head over heart.

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.