This year’s summer break has already seen some major moves within the Formula One driver market, as the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Fernando Alonso have all confirmed their plans for the foreseeable future.
And with many seats still to be claimed, here is a look at where the remaining drivers could end up for 2019.
Ferrari – Who will partner Sebastian Vettel: Rӓikkӧnen or Leclerc?
In recent years, the debate has raged on regarding when Kimi Rӓikkӧnen would take off his helmet for the very last time and say goodbye to F1.
The Iceman’s initial return to the Scuderia in 2014 saw him struggle to adapt to the car’s lack of front end grip, but over time he has shown signs of progress.
Last year’s race in Monaco saw Rӓikkӧnen claim his first Pole Position in nine years, and he has been much closer to team-mate Sebastian Vettel in terms of qualifying and race pace in 2018, having appeared on the podium eight times.
At age 38, now would seem like the perfect time to retire given that there is a driver in the Ferrari Driver Academy who has the potential to challenge Vettel in the famous scarlet red racing car; Charles Leclerc.
The 2017 Formula 2 Champion has impressed many with his performances for Sauber this year, and recorded five points finishes in six races, with a best finish of sixth in Azerbaijan.
During this period, word spread around the paddock that the Monégasque driver had a Ferrari contract lined up for 2019, but the recent death of the team’s CEO Sergio Marchionne have put this in doubt.
Furthermore, some still believe that Leclerc should race another year at Sauber before getting promoted, such as 1997 Formula One champion, Jacques Villeneuve.
“Charles is still making a few mistakes, it would be great for Leclerc [to join Ferrari}, the Canadian stated in an interview with Motorsport Week.
“It would be amazing for him, but it would be two years of Ferrari preparing him.”
Ferrari is like Mercedes, it’s not a team to prepare drivers. It’s a top team. Top teams, they buy and they the drivers as when they’re at their best and when they want them.”
“That’s why you have junior teams to prepare them.”
Verdict: Ferrari will stick with Rӓikkӧnen for one more season, before drafting in Leclerc for 2020.
Red Bull – Gasly Gets the Green Light
Following the recent announcement of Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz Jr. joining Renault and McLaren respectively, Pierre Gasly’s promotion to Red Bull is a no brainer.
The Frenchman has experience using the Honda engine this year with Toro Rosso, which will be valuable to the team as they look challenge for the championship once more.
Furthermore, Gasly has easily outscored former Le Mans winner Brendon Hartley, claiming 26 points to the Kiwi’s two, and even finished fourth in this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
And with no other drivers in their Junior programme close to getting the necessary points for a Super Licence, Gasly will be an excellent addition to partner Max Verstappen in 2019.
Verdict: Pierre Gasly gets promoted to Red Bull
McLaren – Out with the Old and In with the New
After Fernando Alonso confirmed that he would be retiring from Formula One on Tuesday, it didn’t take McLaren long to announce that Carlos Sainz Jr. would be joining the Woking based team for the 2019 season.
Before this took place, McLaren’s Executive Director Zak Brown stated that the team wanted an experienced driver in its 2019 line-up; something Sainz Jr. fits into, having been in F1 since 2015.
This put the future of Stoffel Vandoorne in doubt.
After the Belgian scored eight points across the first four races of 2018 season, Vandoorne has failed to keep up with Alonso and is currently the only driver to have been outqualified by their team-mate in every race so far.
The lack of form wasn’t helped by the downforce issues he suffered at Silverstone and Hockenheim, but the team have been disappointed that Vandoorne hasn’t been able to challenge Alonso on a regular basis.
Because of this, McLaren could turn to their development driver Lando Norris.
Norris has tested for the team frequently and is currently second in the 2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship.
A top three finish this year would be more than enough to make him eligible for the FIA Super Licence, having won the European Formula 3 Title in 2017.
Like Vandoorne before him, the Briton has impressed many in the junior categories, with dominant performance and breath-taking manoeuvres.
Verdict: This one could go either way, but McLaren may like a fresh start and therefore give Lando Norris his F1 debut next season.
Force India – Money Talks
Force India’s recent financial troubles have been well documented within the Formula One community and briefly saw the team’s future put in doubt before a consortium brought in some much-needed money, saving 405 jobs in the process.
Part of that consortium was Lawrence Stroll, the Billionaire father of current Williams driver Lance Stroll, and has put a spanner in the works regarding who Force India will choose for 2019.
At this stage though, it is unknown how much influence Lawrence has on the team.
Barring Sergio Perez’s third place finish in Baku, Force India have lacked pace and are currently locked in a battle for fourth in the Constructors’ Standings with Renault, Haas and McLaren.
Perez and Esteban Ocon haven’t done much wrong this year and have calmed down compared to 2017, which saw the two collide on several occasions.
However, the fact Perez has seeked legal action over his unpaid salary could be a deciding factor to what his future at Force India holds, which would then pave the way for Stroll to join Ocon for 2019.
Verdict: Esteban Ocon will stay because of the Mercedes engine deal, and Lance Stroll will join him
Toro Rosso – Anything Can Happen
The team with the most mystery surround their potential 2019 line-up is Toro Rosso.
With Pierre Gasly off to Red Bull and no upcoming junior drivers on the immediate horizon, Brendon Hartley could be retained to fill one of the seats for 2019.
Both Stoffel Vandoorne and Lando Norris have been linked with the team, given that there is only one seat left at McLaren and both have been touted as future World Champions.
However, if the head of Red Bull’s driver programme, Helmut Marko, feels he wants to bring in some fresh blood, then Toro Rosso may turn their attention to former junior prospect Alexander Albon.
The Thai-British driver is on course to finish third in this year’s FIA Formula 2, which would give him enough points for the FIA Super Licence, but a lack of F1 testing could see Albon miss out.
Verdict: Hartley will stay for another and will be joined by either Vandoorne or Norris, depending on McLaren’s 2019 line-up.
Haas – No Changes for 2019
Haas’ drivers have experienced contrasting fortunes so far in 2018.
Kevin Magnussen has had a great season and currently sits eighth in the Drivers’ Championship on 45 points.
On the other hand, Romain Grosjean lost his cool at times, echoing his bad run of form in 2012 and failed to score points in the first eight races of the campaign.
Since then, Grosjean has seemingly got his mojo back and ended his drought with a fourth-place finish in Austria, before adding further points in Germany and Hungary.
Despite reports that Charles Leclerc could replace the Frenchman next year, it seems that Team Principal Guenther Steiner is happy with his drivers to retain them
Verdict: Both Magnussen and Grosjean stay with Haas next year.
The 2018 season has been nothing but disastrous for the former World Champions.
Off the track, title sponsors Martini stated that they wouldn’t be renewing their contract, whilst on the track, Williams have been constantly at the tail end of the field.
Lance Stroll’s eighth place in Azerbaijan is all that they have to show thus far, and given that the Canadian could be off to Force India next year, this will free up a space on the coveted Formula 1 grid.
Despite his critics at the beginning of the year, Sergey Sirotkin has done a solid job for Williams and was in contention for points at the Monaco Grand Prix before he received a stop-go penalty at the start of the race.
The Russian hasn’t been far off Stroll in race trim and given that he brings a significant amount of financial backing with him, it is likely that Sirotkin will stay with Williams in 2019.
Williams’ second driver is up for debate.
Stoffel Vandoorne could be made to look elsewhere if his form at McLaren does not improve quickly, with Williams being an option.
Another alternative for the Grove outfit is Formula 2’s George Russell.
Russell currently leads the FIA Formula 2 Championship standings and having won last year’s GP3 title, a top three would be more than enough to grant him a FIA Super Licence.
The British driver is also part of the Mercedes junior programme, which could subsequently lead to the German marque offering Williams a discounted engine deal.
A similar was allegedly agreed with the now defunct Manor team in 2016 for fellow Mercedes juniors, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon.
Verdict: Sirotkin stays, Russell debuts
Alfa Romeo Sauber – If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
Surprisingly, Sauber have managed to fight amongst the established midfield teams, and although they are ninth in the Constructors’ Standings on 18 points, they are only ten behind Toro Rosso in eighth spot.
As mentioned before, Charles Leclerc has put in some impressive performances and will be certain of a seat at Sauber in 2019, should Kimi Rӓikkӧnen be retained by Ferrari.
In the second Sauber, Marcus Ericsson has had his moments as well and scored the team’s first points of the season after taking ninth in Bahrain.
The only thing that has let the Swede down in 2018 is his lack of qualifying pace, but has managed to match Leclerc at times in race trim.
Verdict: Sauber stick with Ericsson and Leclerc