F1 makes its anticipated return: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

After a summer break that always feels like a lifetime, Formula One is back, and the circus this time arrives at the 7 kilometre Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest.

The summer has seen a couple of changes. Pierre Gasly, who has endured a horrible season at Red Bull alongside the imperious Max Verstappen, has been dropped by Red Bull axe-man Helmut Marko and placed back at Toro Rosso. His replacement is Anglo-Thai driver Alexander Albon, who moves up from the junior team having impressed in his rookie season alongside Daniil Kvyat—although the Russian, having scored a podium in Germany and more points this season than his younger team-mate, will feel as though he should have been with the Austrian team heading into Belgium.

Albon joins the team for a race at which they are not expected to pull off the spectacular heroics that Max Verstappen has displayed in the first half of the season. Spa is very much a power track, but the tricky, twisty middle sector will provide somewhat of an opportunity for the Bulls to make up time on Mercedes and Ferrari.

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking of them, Ferrari need to establish some kind of foothold in this season’s championship, having failed to win a race in the first half of the season, with Charles Leclerc falling agonisingly short of victory in Bahrain and Austria, and Sebastian Vettel losing the win in Canada due to a penalty. The prancing horses, who have thus far been cantering ponies, are generally better in a straight line than Mercedes this year, and this weekend is a great chance to grab that first win.

As for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton certainly cannot be counted out of a win, and it is not as if the Mercedes is tremendously slower than the Ferrari on the straights. However, Hamilton will surely have one eye on the title with a 62 point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas, and may opt to play the long game.

Bottas is in a different boat. Following a blistering start to the season, winning in Australia and Azerbaijan, the Finn has fallen back, and has since started to show the cracks that we have seen in the last two seasons partnered with Hamilton. No wins since race four, a crash in Germany and a clumsy incident with his team mate in Hungary has left his future in doubt, with Esteban Ocon among a couple of names potentially being lined up to replace him next year. Bottas is running out of time in the harsh climate of Formula One, and he needs a strong result at Spa to kick off the second part of the season and salvage his future at Mercedes.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Further back, Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen both need strong weekends themselves. Several incidents between the two drivers have frustrated their demanding team boss Guenther Steiner, and neither of them currently have a safe seat for next season.

It was at this race 12 months ago where Racing Point, undergoing their transformation as Racing Point Force India, came close to a podium with Sergio Perez. A podium will not be expected this time, but points will certainly be the objective. So too will be the case for Renault’s drivers, who both failed to score points here last year after Nico Hulkenberg catapulted Fernando Alonso, and Daniel Ricciardo was caught up in the ensuing melee.

George Russell was hopeful that Williams were taking steps in the right direction following the last race in Budapest, but we should not expect them to be able to lift themselves off the bottom of the time sheets this time around.

Hamilton is back to defend his championship lead, Bottas and Ferrari need to bounce back, and Formula One is back, as is Eau Rouge, I mean Raidillon, oh forget it…

Follow full live text commentary of free practice, qualifying and the race on our Twitter account, @PitCrew_Online.

Header image by Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG

German Grand Prix: Kvyat “readier than ever to fight” for podiums

Daniil Kvyat says he is “readier than ever to fight” for podiums after his P3 finish at last weekend’s chaotic German Grand Prix.

The Russian one of the first drivers to switch from intermediate to slick tyres when the track began to dry with 20-odd laps to go, and it was this decision that allowed him to leapfrog much of the grid and go from 12th to third when those around him pitted on the next lap.

It was his first podium in what Kvyat himself has dubbed his “second career”, with his last coming at the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix when he was still racing for Red Bull. It is also Toro Rosso’s first podium since Sebastian Vettel won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.

Dan Mullan/Getty Images

“It’s incredible to be back on the podium in what could be called my ‘second career’,” Kvyat said. “I thought it would never happen again in my life, so I’m incredibly happy. There’s so many emotions, I still need some time to let it all sink in!

“This achievement is so great for us since it’s 11 years since Toro Rosso’s last podium with Sebastian in Monza. It was such an amazing day and I’m so happy. Thank-you to everyone in the team, it was just an incredible day.”

2019 marked Kvyat’s return to F1 after a year’s absence that saw him act as development driver for Ferrari. He had been unceremoniously dropped from Toro Rosso in the later stages of 2017 after a turbulent few years that saw him promoted to Red Bull for 2015, only to be pushed back to the junior team not even mid-way through 2016 after a series of incidents in the early rounds of that year.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

With the unwelcome nickname ‘Torpedo’ no doubt still ringing in his ears, Kvyat feels that he has matured significantly in recent times, and embraced the opportunity to once again prove his worth at a time when the security of Pierre Gasly’s position in Red Bull is more in doubt than ever.

“I was readier than ever to fight for this kind of position,” Kvyat said. “This year I feel more mature, my head is cooler, and I’m readier to fight on top, so I think I proved that today to myself and everyone around here. I hope this will become a habit soon!

“These kinds of races aren’t easy, it was a tough call to pit that lap earlier, but it’s a 50/50 call between the team and me, we win and lose together and today we won together.”

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

How Hockenheim affects the F1 driver market

With the summer break just around the corner, the German Grand Prix was always going to be a key race for those drivers chasing new contracts for 2020. And when the rain came down on race day, the crazy conditions allowed some to shine and left others dreadfully exposed.

Pierre Gasly

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Already under pressure just to keep his Red Bull seat for the rest of this year, Pierre Gasly’s German Grand Prix was a nightmare he just didn’t need. After starting the weekend with a chassis-wrecking shunt in FP2, Gasly then spent most of the race once again mired in the midfield pack, before retiring in ignominious fashion after rear-ending (ironically, some might say) Alex Albon’s Toro Rosso.

With his teammate again excelling across the weekend to take Red Bull’s second victory of the season, Hockenheim might just be the final nail in the coffin for Gasly.

Daniil Kvyat

Peter Fox, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Gasly’s error-strewn weekend was bad enough by itself, without Daniil Kvyat putting in arguably the drive of his career to steal an unlikely third place for Toro Rosso.

Helmut Marko was quick after the race to say Kvyat’s podium didn’t guarantee him Gasly’s seat for the rest of the year—after all, a podium wasn’t enough to keep Kvyat himself in that seat back in 2016. But even if Red Bull don’t give him another chance at the senior team, Kvyat’s Hockenheim performance will have certainly raised his stock ahead of a potential midfield reshuffle.

Valtteri Bottas

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Toto Wolff said at the start of the German Grand Prix weekend that Valtteri Bottas needed “two solid performances in Hockenheim and Budapest” to be sure of a contract extension for 2020.

Judging by Wolff’s table-banging and audible cry of “Damn it, Valtteri!” as Bottas spun into the wall on lap 56, the Finn’s chances of keeping his seat from Esteban Ocon have been considerably reduced. Add to that his lacklustre early race pace and qualifying defeat by both Max Verstappen and an unwell Lewis Hamilton, and this becomes a very costly weekend for Bottas’s future.

Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen

Haas F1 Media

Gunther Steiner was visibly furious with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen after they hit each other late on at Hockenheim, just one race after taking each other out on the first lap at Silverstone.

A driver change now looks like a certainty, though whether Steiner and Gene Haas have enough patience left to wait until 2020 is still up for debate. If not, Ferrari simulator driver Pascal Wehrlein is thought to be the most likely to slot into one of the cars after the summer break.

Toro Rosso expecting “tough” Hockenheim weekend

Alex Albon has said he’s expecting this weekend’s German Grand Prix to be “another tough event” for Toro Rosso, as they try to get on top of the latest developments to its car.

The team enjoyed a competitive outing at the last race at Silverstone, with Alex Albon qualifying in the top ten and Daniil Kvyat rising from P17 on the grid to score points in P9.

But that was Toro Rosso’s first points finish since Canada as the team have struggled for pace in the intervening rounds, and in Austria they saw their lowest finish of the year with Albon in P15 and Kvyat P17.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking about the team’s prospects in Hockenheim this year, Albon said: “In Silverstone, we were definitely more competitive than at the previous two races…and the car generally felt good. We have made progress and we know which parameters we need to work on.

“However, that doesn’t mean I expect an easy weekend in Germany, which will be another tough event for us.”

Albon identified tyre management as a particular issue for Toro Rosso in Germany, due to Hockenheim’s rough track surface: “Even in qualifying, you have to make sure you look after them on a single lap, or the tyres can be shot by the last couple of corners. It’s something we will be keeping an eye on.”

Kvyat was similarly wary about expecting a strong race in Germany after returning to the points in Britain: “It’s a bit too early to tell if our performance in Silverstone was the start of an upward trend, as…conditions at Silverstone were quite different to those in France and Austria.

“Germany will be an interesting challenge for us. I’m not expecting it to be easy, but we will try our best as always to be in a position to score points.”

Toro Rosso scored a point at last year’s German Grand Prix, courtesy of Brendon Hartley finishing in P10.

Peter Fox, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Daniil Kvyat: a rise from the ashes

Russia, 2016. The third running of Sochi’s very own Grand Prix. This article doesn’t begin there, nor does it click into gear a race prior, when Shanghai played ringmaster. You’d be expecting those, given the point of discussion. The destination, for those wondering, is actually the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Mexico, 2015.

If Red Bull’s junior academy is the seeding bed, and Toro Rosso the tomato plant, then Daniil Kvyat’s career path was one of the fruit being picked, placed in a bag and chopped up for the salad bowl a little earlier than the gardener would have liked. Not that it was apparent in this race – the Russian was ripe, for both a second career podium and a mission statement for next year, first sentence: ‘I’m the boss now’.

As it turned out, after a mid-race safety car restart, Kvyat would be nailed on the entry to Turn 1 by Valtteri Bottas’ Williams. The taste of champagne trickled away, replaced by his inner choice words, and so did the opportunity to prove he didn’t need a whirlwind of madness to clear his route to a rostrum. I’ve not just harked back to this race to avoid treading down a popular path, dissecting those moments – I’ve done it to pinpoint where Kvyat really began his fall.

Kvyat’s career (arguably, given his opportunism the next year in China) never reached those heady heights again. It was the last time he was placed atop F1’s ‘next best thing’ shrine, the last time he was hailed as the clean-cut superstar about to take a top team by the scruff of the neck. The last two races of his 2015 season weren’t alarming, but left much to be desired, and then came the intense beatdown he received at the hands of Daniel Ricciardo in 2016’s first four races.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

And we all know how the story goes from here. From edging his teammate, a star burning ever so bright in himself, to a path towards humiliation, Kvyat was javelin-launched out of the Red Bull first team for their next pack of motorsport chewing gum, Max Verstappen. While his 18-year old successor held aloft the winner’s trophy in his very first race, Kvyat was given a rude awakening by his new partner Carlos Sainz.

His stint at Toro Rosso was painful for us all, but especially so for him. His interview after qualifying at the 2016 German Grand Prix symbolised the most desolate side of Formula One, that of a man fighting not only 22 drivers but his own mental health. And after a 2017 season littered with mistakes, culminating in a crash in Singapore while Sainz romped home to 4th and more ‘Vamos!’ than a Peruvian football stand, Kvyat was dropped. A superb cameo in the US, earning a point for 10th, couldn’t save him. And that, looked like that.

But amazingly, given the cascade of humiliation he was made to endure in his unconventional F1 career, Kvyat didn’t let that weekend in Texas be the end of it. A year as development driver under the tutelage of Ferrari allowed him to take reprieve from the right-at-you cannon fire of a 21 race season, every Grand Prix spent under the sea of microphones, cameras and expectations.

And it’s done him the world of good. When Kvyat was announced for a return to Toro Rosso in September – a move borne out of necessity given how sparse the Red Bull academy was at the time – to replace the man who ironically replaced him to begin with, Pierre Gasly, I’m sure we all feared the worst. Like the close friend who picks up the phone to a toxic remnant of the past, we wanted to tell him no. Don’t do it. They’ll only hurt you again. But from where I’m standing, five races in and a slew of European races still in the distance as blank canvases, Toro Rosso have sent him on his way with paintbrushes in his hand, art on his mind and hope in his heart.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

And this time, I really don’t think the hope will kill him. Because he’s too busy killing it, as he proved to such eye-widening effect in Barcelona. A 9th on the road, which should’ve been so much more were it not for a botched pitstop, signalled a performance beyond the sum of its parts. The overtakes were masterful, the racecraft was impeccable and the confidence was brimming. And it’s no flash in the pan, because it was much the same in Australia, where he strong-armed Pierre Gasly into staying behind, and qualifying in Azerbaijan, when he waltzed it into 6th on the grid as if he was Baku’s ruling king.

To conclude, I’ll throw a little fact here that puts all of this into context: three years ago in Spain, Kvyat began the weekend having been told, while watching Game of Thrones, he was surplus to requirements at Red Bull Racing. In the race, all he could muster was 10th place while his teammate wooed the crowds a half-minute up the road in sixth. Three years on, he’s forced the F1 door open, reclaimed his lost seat, and been the main cause for outcry over Spain’s Driver of the Day vote. Fans are beginning to wonder if he can once again reach the top, and rejoin Red Bull. Winter came, and Kvyat prevailed. And that can surely warm even the most icy of hearts.

 

[Featured image: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

Who is Brendon Hartley?

Here is the lowdown on the newest motorsport driver to attempt the thrills and spills of Formula 1.

Dean Tremi/Red Bull Content Pool

Brendon Hartley

Age: 27
Nationality: New Zealand
Current Drive: Porsche WEC Driver

Notable Achievements:

2007: EuroCup Formula Renault 2.0 Champion
2015: FIA World Endurance Champion
2017: Le Mans 24 Hours Winner

History:

Brendon Hartley is an out-and-out racer, whether we say open wheeled racers or prototypes. Hartley’s F1 debut by all means has come to a shock to the New Zealander, after he was dropped by the Red Bull Junior driver program in 2010. The reason he was dropped was after poor results compared to his team mate in Formula Renault 3.5. His team mate at the time was Daniel Ricciardo.

Andrew Ferraro/GP2 Media Service

Hartley fluttered in and out with GP2 between 2010 and ’12, but without anything set in stone it was difficult for him to gain a rhythm in the series. Without a full-time drive in 2012 he moved towards LMP2 in his Le Mans 24 Hours debut. In 2012 and ’13 he continued to have his foot still in the door at Formula 1, performing some shakedown tests for the pre-dominant Mercedes team.

From 2014 onwards, he then dedicated his full time to the World Endurance Champion when he signed with the up-and-coming Porsche LMP1 team. He won the 2015 Drivers’ Championship, coming on leaps and bounds in that category of motorsport.

The Kiwi is in good form: he won the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours and, including that event, has won the last four races, ironically his most recent win being at the Circuit of the Americas. In endurance racing he hasn’t finished off the podium since Le Mans last year.

Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

Chance at 2018?

Daniil Kvyat has now been demoted twice but has been given a reprieve with Carlos Sainz moving to Renault in-season and Pierre Gasly attempting to win the Super Formula Championship in Japan.

If Brendon Hartley impresses could he replace Kvyat when Gasly returns? The World Endurance Championship and Formula 1 do not clash for the remainder of the year. Brendon Hartley on the 2018 Formula 1 grid—something I wouldn’t have thought would even be in discussion few months ago.

Renault split could be beginning of the end for Red Bull

Red Bull Racing could be looking at the final years of its Formula One tenure, following reports that Renault has signalled its intent to cease its supply of engines to the Austrian team after the 2018 season.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Renault’s relationship with the Red Bull company has been fraught for some time now. The two parties came close to ending their association in 2015, before an absence of alternative suppliers forced Red Bull to recommit to its Renault contract for the time being.

And although an engine rebadging by TAG-Heuer seemed to improve relations last year, this season has seen a return of Red Bull’s public criticism of Renault, as a combined lack of horsepower and reliability has seen the former champions slump to a distant third-fastest team.

Now, if the current reports are true, it appears that the Red Bull-Renault alliance has at last reached its conclusive breaking point.

That the news comes at the same time as Renault has finally confirmed its new supply agreement with McLaren is no surprise—with Red Bull believed to be using Toro Rosso’s Honda deal to evaluate a future switch to Japanese power, it seems Renault is electing to jump before it is pushed. Having both a factory team on the rise and a grateful customer in McLaren, there is no longer any incentive for Renault to extend its fractious Red Bull relationship beyond its final term next year.

Such a break-up would leave Red Bull with little choice but to become Honda’s de facto works team in 2019. And with the way the next few seasons of F1 are already shaping up, that deal could well prove the first step in Red Bull Racing’s exit from the sport.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

For starters, a premature Honda alliance would go down like a lead balloon in Red Bull’s driver stable.

Daniel Ricciardo has already stated that Red Bull will need to be capable of a genuine title challenge within the next few years if they are to convince him into extending his stay at the team beyond 2018. But unless Honda can make a phenomenal leap forward over the next twelve months, it’s almost certain that Ricciardo will take his hunt for a maiden title to either Mercedes or Ferrari.

Nor can Max Verstappen be expected to hold faith in the Japanese marque, even if he has to wait a year longer than Ricciardo before leaving. And then there’s Carlos Sainz—set to be loaned out to the factory Renault team next year, he will surely do all he can to avoid being called back to Red Bull-Honda for 2019.

It’s entirely possible, then, that by 2020, Red Bull’s senior lineup could comprise Pierre Gasly and the returning Daniil Kvyat, whilst Toro Rosso’s seats are filled by Honda juniors like Nobuharu Matsushita and Nirei Fukuzumi—a far cry from the current pedigree enjoyed by the Red Bull fold.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The other danger, of course, is that it’s not just Red Bull’s drivers who choose to jump ship. Adrian Newey is perhaps the team’s biggest asset outside of the cockpit, but for a man used to designing race- and championship-winning cars, there will be little for him to relish in overcompensating Honda’s horsepower deficit, especially as he has already expressed a desire to step back from leading Red Bull’s technical team in the near future.

It’s also well worth questioning just how willing Christian Horner will be to guide Red Bull through yet another uncompetitive era, or how enthusiastic Helmut Marko would be about managing a driver lineup that lacks the kind of flair and potential seen in recent years.

But as painful as any of those losses would be, the most damning exit would easily come from the man at the very head of Red Bull’s operations—Dietrich Mateschitz.

Although Mateschitz’ many quit threats have been decidedly impotent in the past, it will be much harder to dismiss them should he make similar statements in the next three years. Red Bull’s commitment to F1 is up for renegotiation in 2020—coinciding with both the reported duration of Toro Rosso’s new Honda deal, and the end of F1’s current engine formula—which will give Mateschitz plenty of time to fully evaluate Red Bull’s prospects from 2021 onwards, and whether they merit the sums required to run two F1 teams.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Quite what would happen to the spoils of Mateschitz’ racing empire is hard to predict this far ahead of time. If Honda remains committed to F1 into the proposed new twin-turbo era, it may assume the Milton Keynes outfit into a full factory team, as it did with BAR in 2006. There have also been numerous suggestions that Porsche is in the frame for a 2021 buyout, or that Red Bull might remain as a title sponsor for a works Aston Martin-Cosworth alliance.

As for Toro Rosso, the Italian-based team and its chief designer James Key would surely make an alluring target for Ferrari’s Sergio Marchionne, assuming he can’t convince Sauber to become an Alfa Romeo-badged junior team.

But even if none of these exit strategies come to fruition by 2020, there is still nothing stopping Mateschitz—valued to be worth an estimated $15.4 billion—from simply closing the doors on Red Bull’s two teams and selling off the assets elsewhere.

And whilst before that may have sounded like an insincere threat from the Austrian, a painful enforced alliance with Honda and the end of the current Concorde Agreement will be more than enough to turn Red Bull’s exit into a serious consideration.

Sainz hoping for “third time lucky” at favourite circuit Spa

Carlos Sainz has said he is hoping for some good fortune at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, having retired from the event in both his previous entries.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

In his maiden season in 2015, Sainz’ race was cut short by a power unit failure on lap 32. Last year was even more frustrating: having climbed from fifteenth to seventh off the line, the Toro Rosso driver ran over debris on the Kemmel Straight and was forced to retire by the resulting puncture damage.

But the Spaniard has said that despite his disappointing F1 record there, Spa remains one of his favourite circuits:

“I really like racing in Spa because it’s a track that has a bit of everything. It has very long straights where good overtaking can take place, but also very nice corners—Sector 2 in particular is very nice and flowing.

“It’s tough to find a compromise regarding the balance of the car and the set-up for the long straights and Sector 2, but I enjoy the challenge.

“Spa is one of my favourite tracks but, strangely enough, I’ve never finished an F1 race there. Third time lucky, they say…”

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Sainz’ teammate Daniil Kvyat has also said he is looking forward to the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, describing Spa as a “legendary track” that’s “impossible not to [love]”.

The Russian has gone well at Spa in the past. He finished in the points in his first Belgian Grand Prix in 2014, and during his troubled stint at Red Bull in 2015 he finished fourth from twelfth on the grid; prior to that, Kvyat also won the feature race at Spa during his title-winning 2013 GP3 campaign.

Returning then to a circuit he enjoys and at which he has run well in the past, Kvyat will surely be hoping that Belgium provides a much-needed turning point for his 2017 season. So far this year, Kvyat has not only finished behind Sainz in every race the two of them have completed, he has also finished in the points a mere twice—a pair of ninth places in Australia and Spain—and sits clear of only Stoffel Vandoorne, Jolyon Palmer and Marcus Ericsson in the full-time standings.

Add to that the Russian’s continued attraction to controversial collisions (in particular, his clash with Sainz at Silverstone) and his equally punchy comments off track, and it’s clear that finding some solid form this weekend is an absolute must for Kvyat.

Previewing the 2017–18 driver market

When summer comes and F1 takes to its European heartlands, that can only mean one thing—the time for silly season is here. At time of writing, only six drivers on the current grid have contracts in place for the 2018 season, and while many can be expected to renew their existing deals, there is still plenty of scope for changes over the course of the next few months.

Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes-AMG Petronas

Starting at the very front of the grid, it looks unlikely that Mercedes will feature much in the contractual rumour mill this season. Lewis Hamilton is one of those half-dozen drivers with a 2018 deal already in place, and although many speculated early in the year that Valtteri Bottas’ one-year deal was just a placeholder until a superstar name became available, the Finn seems to have established himself as an asset to the team and is likely to be retained.

The same cannot be said of Ferrari, however. With the Scuderia now locked in a close title fight with Mercedes, it’s hard to imagine much desire among the bosses to retain Kimi Räikkönen for yet another season when there is much younger blood to be found elsewhere. The obvious candidate for his seat is Sergio Pérez, who carries that blend of proven talent and North American sponsorship so desired at Ferrari, although Carlos Sainz is also well-known to join him on their shopping list.

An alternative name to throw into the Ferrari pot is that of Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian has been visibly disheartened by Red Bull’s lack of a title bid this season, and although he already has a supposedly ironclad contract in place for next year, his departure may actually suit Red Bull in the long run—especially when one considers the alternative is losing Max Verstappen to Ferrari instead.

Judging by frustration alone, the Dutchman looks far more likely than Ricciardo to want out of Red Bull this year. But allowing him to become the team’s new and undisputed leader would appease Verstappen no end, and promoting one of the Toro Rosso juniors to be his teammate would prevent them from leaving the programme to strengthen the hand of a rival like Renault or Williams. With all five of its drivers (including understudy Pierre Gasly) under interest from all ends of the F1 grid, Red Bull could well be forced this year into losing a finger to save the hand.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

If Red Bull decides to stick with (or rather, refuses to let go of) its current senior lineup, then the likely price will be to lose one of its junior drivers instead. It’s obvious that Sainz, with at least some interest from all four works teams, will face the most attractive offers, but considering Daniil Kvyat’s difficult relationship with both the Red Bull and Toro Rosso management, it’s he who in all probability will find it easier to leave.

Should Kvyat be released from the Red Bull stable he will no doubt carry some considerable weight among the midfield teams. Questions of consistency aside, with a proven points and podium record the Russian will make an appealing option to replace Pérez at Force India, or the ageing Felipe Massa at Williams.

Another potential home for Kvyat would be alongside Nico Hülkenberg at Renault. The French marque is known to like its Russian drivers (not to mention their sponsors), and if Sergey Sirotkin doesn’t prove up to an F1 seat in 2018, the team could do worse than signing Kvyat in place of Jolyon Palmer—particularly as the former’s history of Renault engines at Red Bull and Toro Rosso will help him slot quickly into their development programme.

As for Palmer himself, even with his underwhelming performances so far it would be surprising not to see him somewhere on the grid in 2018. The Briton’s GP2 title and substantial personal backing was known to have put him on Force India’s radar when it sought a replacement for Hülkenberg last season, and could do so again this year; if not, he may well find a welcome home at Sauber-Honda.

Renault Sport F1 Team

If Palmer were to pitch himself to Sauber, it’s almost a given that his drive would come at Pascal Wehrlein’s expense. The German is understood to have developed a difficult relationship with both Marcus Ericsson and the team’s new owners for starters; and with Sauber taking on a new engine deal with Honda for next year, Mercedes may feel it’s best to place Wehrlein elsewhere.

Had Lance Stroll not found his F1 feet in Baku, it would not have been much of a shock to see Williams switch him with Wehrlein to allow the Canadian time to mature outside of the spotlight. And whilst Williams could still opt to take on Wehrlein to partner Stroll instead, the team would probably prefer to find a more experienced driver should it decide against resigning Felipe Massa for a fifth season—a driver like Romain Grosjean, for example, whose vexation with Haas’ continued brake issues has been made all too public this year, and who might be on the hunt for fresh inspiration now that his Ferrari hopes seem to have vanished.

Alternatively, at 31 and with no clear shot at a front-running seat, Grosjean might be tempted to chance one last throw of the dice at McLaren. It’s hard to see who else the former champions would be able to attract if Fernando Alonso walks away and leaves them with an empty seat, unless they take a substantial risk and promote F2 protege Nyck de Vries. Nevertheless, the matter of any driver replacing Alonso remains dependant on the Spaniard actually leaving McLaren—something that still seems a long way from happening with no obvious top-tier cockpit for him to assume.

Charles Coates / McLaren