As the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship heads to Barcelona, silly season is kicking into high gear. At present, when looking towards the 2019 season, the state of play for the likely top four finishers in the Constructors Championship this season is as follows:
Mercedes: both drivers out of contract
Ferrari: One seat open
Red Bull Racing: One seat open
Renault: both seats open
Being only four races into the 2018 season it may seem a little premature to be talking about 2019, but the events of Baku are likely to play a pivotal role in the decision-making process across the market.
With 99% certainty, it can be expected Lewis Hamilton will or has already renewed his commitment to Mercedes for 2019 and beyond in what will likely be his final contract as a driver in Formula One. Leaving a single seat with the Silver Arrows. Whilst many have questioned his outright ability to take the fight to his competitors, Bottas has proved to be a reliable second driver for the team. Lewis’ response towards his teammate after being gifted his first win of the year, illustrates a team working in cohesion. Management would have to think long and hard about what they were trying to achieve in looking to replace Bottas. I expect he will be retained for a third season unless Ocon finds himself without a seat at Force India.
Over at the Scuderia, Kimi has been in his final season since he rejoined the team in 2014. Whilst never stella, he again creates an environment in which his teammate can thrive. Arguably he weakens Ferrari’s ability to challenge for the constructor’s championship, but I personally believe he will either be renewed on another single year agreement, or make way for Charles le Clerc, who finally started to prove his strengths with a fantastic performance in Baku. I do not believe Ferrari are considering Ricciardo as a possible partner for to Vettel.
Then to the curious case of Red Bull Racing. In Baku, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo broke the golden rule of motorsport and took each other out. The incident was a long time coming, after a race in which multiple passes between the two had already resulted in contact, the drivers compromised their own strategies and slowed each other down. With the team standing by their philosophy to “let them race”. In the short term, I don’t believe this will destroy team harmony, but it went some way to sowing the seed in Riccardo’s mind that a team not willing to favour one driver over the other may not be the team in which he achieves his ambition of securing a world championship. This coupled with the widely expected announcement that Red Bull Racing will switch to Honda power for 2019, which whilst much more competitive with Toro Rosso than it ever was with McLaren may not quite be at the level to compete for championships.
Then to Renault, a team whose 3-year plan to reinvigorate the Enstone facility and rebuild a once championship contending team, is now starting to come to fruition. From 2019 onwards Renault should expect to be challenging for outright wins and comfortably challenge the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari. In Hulkenberg and Sainz the team have a formidable but unthreatening lineup. As the team look to challenge for wins, they need a superstar driver. Could Ricciardo become Renault’s next superstar? As a works team, they are in a position to offer the salary driver of Ricciardo’s calibre should command, and they can offer something no other team can, the ability to shape the team around him. Some will say it would be risky for Ricciardo to give up a race-winning seat for a team which hasn’t won a race in over a decade, but the same could be said for Lewis Hamilton when he walked away from McLaren. Renault presents opportunities Red Bull Racing simply can’t offer.
Should the top four teams be covered by four manufacturers, it would be fantastic to see the top four drivers of the current era; Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen, and Ricciardo behind the wheel of different cars each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Daniel Ricciardo racing for the Renault Sport F1 Team for 2019 is my prediction for the big shift this silly season. Sainz may well return to Red Bull fold as a result, but I personally believe he will remain with Renault with Hulkenberg heading to life after F1 and Gasly moving into the Red Bull Racing team.
Image Source: Red Bull Media Pool