Overview: Assessing the 2019 driver market
26 September 2017 – It may only be September 2017, but the short-term deals and static nature of the driver market means posturing is already taking place for 2019, as GPUpdate.net explains.
Formula 1 is currently blessed with an abundance of talent, especially at the sharp end of the grid, but as it stands only one driver has a contract which will still be active on January 1, 2019.
Elsewhere, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are a perfect fit. Hamilton is Mercedes through and through, while the Briton is the perfect ambassador for the manufacturer on a global scale. Not to mention being one of the quickest Formula 1 drivers in history. Hamilton has spoken of his desire to remain with Mercedes for the long-run, and expects a deal to be concluded in the next few months. Barring an improbable Nico Rosberg-style mic drop, these are the only two certainties for 2019.
Both Ferrari and Mercedes will have choices to make, in which Vettel and Hamilton respectively may have an influence.
Kimi Räikkönen has been on rolling one-year contracts since his return to Ferrari in 2014, and tellingly his retention for 2018 was confirmed mere days before Vettel's deal was announced. The combination of Vettel and Räikkönen ensure a harmonious environment, with Räikkönen only occasionally quick enough to trump Vettel, who is the favoured son. Mercedes, similarly, after three years of a tense atmosphere, has enjoyed the improved scene with Valtteri Bottas alongside Hamilton.
Mercedes, meanwhile, has Bottas on a one-year contract, a detail which was stressed several times in the press release. '2018' appeared four times in five intro bullet points. Bottas has assimilated well to Mercedes, displaying encouraging pace, taking good results, and contributing to a healthy atmosphere. However, his one-lap deficit to Hamilton, after the early stretch of races, has been alarming, while he has yet to prove that he is consistently on Hamilton's level in race trim. Therefore, Mercedes will want to assess how Bottas performs in 2018, and whether it is happy with the status quo or desires an alternative for 2019.
In both instances, it could depend on one driver: Max Verstappen.
These are the primary dominoes to watch, for once the top teams are sorted the rest tend to fall into place, as has been evident this season, with very little movement across the grid.
Several midfield teams will have fascinating battles; Nico Hülkenberg against Carlos Sainz Jr. at Renault promises to be an enticing duel. Hülkenberg and Sainz Jr. both have something to prove, with Hülkenberg attempting to spearhead Renault's renaissance, and Sainz Jr. determined to show his value in a factory environment, while still tied to Red Bull as a 2019 insurance option if Verstappen or Ricciardo vacate the premises.
Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon will duke it out at Force India, Pérez still retaining hopes of a seat at a leading team, with Ocon keen to show his suitors at Mercedes that he is a viable candidate if a 2019 vacancy arises. They have come to blows in 2017, and the situation will only ratchet up a notch in 2018.
Then there are the likes of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen at Haas, while Williams (evaluating Robert Kubica), Toro Rosso (preparing for Honda's arrival) and Sauber (amid talk of an expanded relationship with Ferrari) have yet to determine their 2018 pairings, as bartering continues towards the lower end of the grid.
Even though the start of the 2018 campaign is still six months away, the early stages promise to be influential in the make-up of the 2019 grid.