The frontrunning teams will field virtually identical driver line-ups in 2016, following the news at the Italian Grand Prix that Williams will keep Felipe Massa alongside Valtteri Bottas.
Given Bottas was himself at the centre of ultimately unfounded rumours that he was in line to replace Kimi Räikkönen at Ferrari, Williams was at pains to trumpet that it was retaining Bottas as well.
The truth of the matter was that the Finn was locked in on a multi-year contract to the end of 2016 anyway, and if Ferrari was indeed courting Bottas – who hasn’t exactly blown the doors off Massa in their year-and-a-bit together – Williams was asking for far more than Ferrari was willing to pay to break his contract.
Should Bottas have been prised away from Williams’ clutches, then that could have opened the door for Nico Hülkenberg to return to Grove. As it was, he was re-signed by Force India as he clearly didn’t have any better options and decided not to take a gamble and join the new Haas F1 Team.
McLaren has Fernando Alonso on a long-term deal and is making all the right noises about extending Jenson Button’s contract into 2016. Given its dire problems with the new Honda engines, it doesn’t need the added complication of changing its driver line-up around.
It does, however, face the serious headache of what to do with reserve driver Kevin Magnussen and its hotly-rated protégé Stoffel Vandoorne, who is set to sweep to a dominant GP2 Series championship title next time out in Russia.
Force India itself looks likely to keep Sergio Pérez, and the team has an option on his services – and his millions in Mexican sponsorship – which it will have to exercise soon.
It is expected that its re-signing of Pérez will be announced in time for the next Grand Prix in Singapore, but there are rumours that Pérez is holding out and keeping an eye on the situation at Lotus while it is being courted by Renault. A move to a factory team would do his prospects no harm, as he is once again proving to be a very capable driver judging by his form this year.
The situation at Lotus is very up in the air, and who drives for it will be determined by whether Renault is able to buy out the team. Pastor Maldonado’s only saving grace is the $50 million a year he brings in sponsorship from the Venezuelan government, although almost all of that is going towards his repair bills. The only reason he remains on the grid is because of his money; no other team will take him unless they need the cash.
Grosjean, meanwhile, was very publicly trumpeting his future as a Renault driver in a series of interviews at Monza, but there are also very strong rumours that he is keeping an eye on the situation at Haas and could well have signed a letter of intent with the new American team.
While risky, it would be a smart move. Haas is very much being set up as a Ferrari ‘B’ team, and a strong showing with the team could put his foot in the door for a drive at Ferrari if it eventually sends Räikkönen packing at the end of 2016.
Haas is at the top of the list for a number of drivers on the fringe, although the strongest suggestions are that the team will accept either one or both of the Scuderia’s reserve list, Esteban Gutiérrez and Jean-Éric Vergne. American GP2 Series race-winner Alexander Rossi is another driver rumoured to be in the frame for a Haas drive, but those stories seem to have gone cold of late.
The driver market is anything but stable at the moment, and it will be fascinating to see who is left without a chair when the music stops.
Image via XPB Images
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