As the F1 world rapidly heads towards the winter break. The sport finds its self in a highly unusual position of having for seats still to be confirmed on the 2017 grid.
Whilst it is not out of the ordinary for seats at the lower end of the field to still be open at this point on in the year, for a seat to be open with the championship winning team is almost unimaginable. Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement from the sport has effectively stalled the driver market with no driver or team wanting to make a commitment before Mercedes conclude a deal with whoever their new driver will be.
At the time of writing favourites for the drive alongside Lewis Hamilton with the Silver Arrows in 2017 are; Valtteri Bottas, Pascal Wehrlein, and my own favourite Sergio Perez. Which ever driver is awarded the drive will have a knock on effect for the teams they are currently or likely to be driving for.
Should Mercedes manage to agree terms with Williams and they release Bottas, the team will be left with serious lack of experience in their driver line up as they head towards one of the most technically challenging regulation changes in two decades., As such working with Pascal Wehrlein who has only taken part in 21 races in unlikely to be their first choice. More likely would be development driver Paul Di Resta taking the role or recently retired Felipe Massa or Jenson Button making an unexpected return.
In the scenario in which Mercedes take the brave move of putting Pascal Wehrlein in the second seat of the W08, Manor Racing will be left with two seats to fill. The team are likely to be secure drivers with funding, which could lead to a return of a funded Rio Haryanto to the grid. Anther option could be Felipe Nasr should, a driver Bernie Ecclestone has commented he is keen to keep on the grid to assure Brazilian interest in the Championship. Manor Racing development driver Jordan King is likely to find a role within the team. Dependant on the budget he brings this could be in the role of reserve or second driver.
Moving to Sauber, with Marcus Ericsson confirmed the rejuvenated Swiss team have one seat still to fill. 2017 will be a season of rebuilding for the team, as such their focus will be on ensuring consistency and strong feedback. In an ideal world I can imagine the team would like to work with a driver already familiar with the world of F1. Critics may dismiss this option but I would not rule out Pastor Maldonado finding a new home in Hinwil. Should the team head down the rookie route GP2 vice champion Antonio Giovinazzi would be a bold move and one demonstrating the team’s commitment to the future.
Sergio Perez moving to Mercedes would cause Sahara Force India a great deal of pain. Of course Mercedes would compensate the team, but over the past 3 seasons Force India have focused the majority of their business development efforts around building a profile in Mexico. To loose Perez would be a major blow. As such I can see them looking to replace one Mexican for another and signing Esteban Gutiérrez to the team.
One thing is for sure, the F1 silly season is far from over and it still has a few surprises in store!