Palmer or the Pole? Analysing Renault’s 2018 driver dilemma

At last count, the Renault Formula One team had more drivers on its 2018 shopping list than it knew what to do with. Nico Hülkenberg is contracted to stay and was initially set to partner Fernando Alonso, if the team didn’t promote Sergey Sirotkin or Oliver Rowland instead; then there was talk of poaching Esteban Ocon or Carlos Sainz from their respective junior programmes, though that chatter has cooled now that Robert Kubica is firmly back in the frame. And just where does that leave Sergio Pérez?

Renault Sport F1 Team

Of course, that number has thinned considerably since the rumours started flying at the beginning of the season. Alonso at the very least has seemingly dropped off the shortlist, and whilst Sainz may be available for the right price, the likelihood of Mercedes setting free their prized Ocon is far, far lower.

As for Sirotkin, Rowland and Nicholas Latifi, Renault’s test and development trio would have been hoping for much better results in GP2 and Formula Two in recent years to prove themselves an improvement on Jolyon Palmer.

As of now, Renault’s options seem much less cluttered than they were a few months ago. Kubica’s Hungaroring running in the RS17 suggests quite clearly that Renault is pitting his capacity to drive next year up against Palmer’s ability to deliver now. But as simple as a straight Palmer vs. Kubica shootout would appear from the surface, the decision becomes much more complicated when considering the prospect of Kubica not being capable of driving next year’s Renault.

Renault Sport F1 Team

This is, of course, no criticism of Kubica’s abilities as a driver—only a very real possibility, given the extent of his injuries and the physical demands of F1’s new generation of cars.

The blotted debuts of Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne this season have been proof enough of the great leap a move to F1 now represents; and although many will argue that Kubica is no rookie, that doesn’t change the fact that the Pole has now been out of F1 for more years than he has competed in it. With his most recent Grand Prix experience coming from the days of low-downforce cars, Bridgestone tyres and straightforward V8 engines, Kubica’s five years and 76 starts in F1 will be as alien to what he is about to face as was Stroll’s time in Formula 3 or Giovinazzi’s in GP2.

Whether or not Kubica is ready for a full F1 season next year, it will be impossible to make a conclusive call based on just the one Hungary test—that kind of proof will only come after Kubica’s actually had a chance to race again. But if for some reason he or the team feel more time to prepare is needed, that will leave Renault looking for a tricky stopgap solution until Kubica is fit for a full-time drive.

Renault Sport F1 Team

The easiest solution would be to simply renew Jolyon Palmer’s contract for another year. The Briton might find such a brazen offer hard to accept, but unless the driver market undergoes any seismic changes over the summer it may well be his only option to stay in F1 for a third season: better a stay of execution and a last chance to impress next year, than rejecting an extension now with nowhere else to go.

However, that scenario hinges very much on whether or not Renault want to keep Palmer on for yet another season. As much as the focus would be on Kubica’s eventual return, the team will still have one eye on the present and must have a second driver capable of scoring points next year, which at present is simply not something Palmer has to offer. With just the one point to his name after thirty Grand Prix starts, it’s hard to see Renault wanting the Briton back even as a short-term option.

But if not Palmer, then who? Renault has long been keen on signing Sergio Pérez up for their second seat, but with the Mexican on the cusp of breaking into the top ranks of F1 he is unlikely to be tempted by a risky one-year deal at Enstone. Sirotkin or Rowland might prove more persuadable, but down that road lies the risk that Renault will simply be replacing Palmer with a rookie no more likely to score than he was.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Alternatively, Renault might just find the best of both worlds by looking across the grid to Toro Rosso—and specifically, to Carlos Sainz.

With three years of midfield F1 experience and almost a hundred career championship points under his belt, Sainz would represent a much safer bet for Renault than their academy drivers, and alongside Hülkenberg would form a lineup more than capable of challenging the likes of Williams and Force India in the top half of the championship.

But more importantly, Sainz would also be much less wary of a one-year deal than Pérez: provided he moves on a loaned basis from Red Bull (which would be cheaper for Renault than hiring him outright), Sainz would still have the security at the end of 2018 of a return to Toro Rosso at least, or at most a shot at replacing Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull when the Australian’s contract conveniently expires.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

What’s more, Red Bull will likely find the idea of loaning out Sainz quite appealing, given events this year. The striking of cheaper engine deals aside, allowing Sainz to spend a term at Renault would go a long way to bringing back on side a driver who’s been highly critical of the Red Bull brand this season, as well as alleviating the tension that has built up at Toro Rosso between Sainz and Daniil Kvyat.

Furthermore, it would give Red Bull the opportunity to evaluate Sainz’ composure in a full factory outfit to ensure he is ready for a senior Red Bull drive in the future, and by extension would allow Toro Rosso to give Pierre Gasly his long-awaited F1 debut in Sainz’ place.

And even if Renault cannot convince Red Bull to part with Sainz even for a single season, they might still benefit from taking on Gasly himself in the same capacity.

The Frenchman has had a long connection with Renault, with the French marque reportedly introducing him to the Red Bull fold during his Formula Renault days, and earlier this year Gasly helped Renault’s Formula E team to a third teams’ title by deputising for Sébastien Buemi at the New York ePrix. With Gasly alongside Hülkenberg, Renault would have not only a second driver it knows is capable of scoring points finishes, but also one it can keep for as long as Kubica needs to get up to full F1 fitness—whether that’s partway through next year or in 2019.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

Formula E: 2016–17 Season Review

With another Formula E season wrapped up, it’s time to look back over the last twelve races and assess the teams and drivers of the 2016–17 season.

N.B.: All team and driver scores are out of ten. We have included only those drivers who contested at least half of the 2016–17 season with their teams; one-off replacements Conway, Lynn and Gasly, as well as Techeetah’s Ma and Gutiérrez, are therefore not included.

Renault e.Dams (8): Sébastien Buemi (8), Nico Prost (8)

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

But for a few isolated slip-ups, Renault e.Dams might have enjoyed the perfect campaign in season three. With Sébastien Buemi’s six commanding wins, Nico Prost’s near-perfect run in the points and Pierre Gasly’s superb debut in New York, it was little surprise to see the French team take its third straight teams’ title at the end of the year.

However, with such highlights it’s impossible to ignore those occasions that held Renault back from another double crown this season. The team let itself down more than once with technical disqualifications in Berlin and Montréal, whilst Buemi’s ‘win-or-bust’ results proved his biggest obstacle to a second title; and with such a strong car beneath him, it will be sobering for Prost to finish the season without a single podium to his name. Even for such an all-conquering team, there is still much for Renault to improve upon in season four.

ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport (7): Lucas di Grassi (8), Daniel Abt (7)

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

For the ABT Schaeffler Audi team, this has largely been a season of two halves. On the one hand, Lucas di Grassi claimed his first Drivers’ Championship by way of two sensational wins, five further podiums and three pole positions, and an on-form Daniel Abt recorded no lower finish than seventh, helping the team close to within twenty points of title-winners Renault.

But on the other hand, the ABT FE02 clearly lacked the pace di Grassi needed to fight Buemi (not to mention Rosenqvist and Bird, too) all season long; in the hands of Daniel Abt, it also proved frustratingly unreliable. Hopes will be high that Audi’s full factory involvement next season will bring both the speed and consistency ABT needs to mount a true dual title campaign.

Mahindra Racing (9.5): Nick Heidfeld (7), Felix Rosenqvist (9)

Andrew Ferraro/LAT/Formula E

It should go without saying that Felix Rosenqvist was the standout star of season three, but we’ll say it again anyway. Four podiums, three pole positions, two fastest laps and one ePrix win would constitute a great season for any driver, but for a series rookie Rosenqvist’s results have been nothing short of remarkable. The Swede still has a few inconsistencies to iron out, but there’s no doubt that he’s a Formula E champion waiting to happen.

As for Nick Heidfeld, kudos must be given for his ability to keep up with his rapid young teammate despite being a veritable pensioner in driver’s years. With five podiums and plenty of points helping Mahindra to third in the teams’ championship, any calls for Quick Nick to retire have been conclusively put down this season.

DS Virgin Racing (7): Sam Bird (8), José María López (7)

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

After a promising pre-season it proved a slow start to season three for DS Virgin, as Sam Bird’s two early podiums were offset by multiple mechanical glitches and José María López took time to find his feet in single-seaters again after a long touring car career.

But in the latter half of the season the team really came together in the way testing promised. New York, with Bird’s double win and Alex Lynn’s pole on debut, was undoubtably their peak, and López’ development from unsettled rookie to double podium finisher proved his critics wrong. If the team can get on top of its technical issues, Bird and López will surely prove ones to watch in next season’s title battle.

Techeetah (7): Jean-Éric Vergne (7), Stéphane Sarrazin (6)

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Techeetah had a lot of promise coming into the season with Renault power behind them, but it took a while for the Chinese team to come good on that potential. Mechanical failures in Hong Kong and Paris and Jean-Éric Vergne’s terminal collision with Nelson Piquet in Monaco robbed the team of chances to challenge at the front, whilst regular changes to its driver lineup made it difficult for Techeetah to settle down and build on its foundations.

But once the team recruited Stéphane Sarrazin to partner Vergne for the final six rounds, things improved. Vergne finished each of the remaining races in the points and led Sarrazin to two double podiums in New York and Montréal, not to mention to his and Techeetah’s first ePrix win in the season finale—without doubt a superb end to what might have been a torrid campaign.

NextEV NIO (7): Nelson Piquet (7), Oliver Turvey (6)

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

Compared with last year’s bottom-of-the-table finish, season three was a vast improvement for NextEV. A front row lockout in Hong Kong, double points finish in Buenos Aires and fourth for Nelson Piquet in Monaco helped lift the Chinese team up to a comfortable sixth by season’s end; however, NextEV’s persistent problems with energy consumption in race trim—something with which Oliver Turvey seemed to have especial difficulty handling—robbed both drivers of valuable points on many occasions.

MS Amlin Andretti (5): António Félix da Costa (4), Robin Frijns (6)

Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E

Andretti would have been hoping for better than seventh place this season, having picked up two of the hottest properties on last year’s driver market and a technical alliance with BMW, but an uncompetitive ATEC-02 powertrain left Frijns’ and da Costa’s abilities untapped. Da Costa in particular struggled, logging just the one points finish with a clever pit strategy in Hong Kong; and while Frijns made it into the top ten five times, his seat is reportedly in jeopardy for season four.

Faraday Future Dragon Racing (4): Jérôme d’Ambrosio (5), Loïc Duval (4)

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Despite picking up Faraday Future backing and appearing rapid in pre-season testing, eighth place and a meagre 33 points proved all Dragon Racing could achieve in season three. The US outfit’s main problem lay with the pace of its new Penske powertrain, though matters were not helped by its drivers clashing on track and retiring from a total of six events. Loïc Duval seemed to come off the worst, even with a greater final points total than d’Ambrosio, and may be left looking for a drive elsewhere this summer.

Venturi (7): Maro Engel (8), Tom Dillmann (7)

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

On paper Venturi’s third season in Formula E looked like something of a backward slide, slumping from sixth to ninth in the standings with even low-key points finishes a rarity. But considering the Monegasque team’s reliability concerns in early testing, their progress this season tells a better story than their results. Maro Engel especially impressed, qualifying second in Mexico and finishing fifth in Monaco, whilst Tom Dillmann’s four points finishes from just seven starts says much about the Frenchman’s future potential.

Panasonic Jaguar Racing (7): Adam Carroll (5), Mitch Evans (7)

Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E

Jaguar was eager to play down expectations ahead of its maiden Formula E outing. Initially that modesty seemed well-founded, as the British marque started the season a long way off the points, but a strong push during the European leg brought Jaguar into regular midfield contention. Mitch Evans took the team’s best result with fourth in Mexico City and generally had the measure of his older teammate in both qualifying and race pace; with the driver market still wide open for season four, Adam Carroll may find his seat hard to hold on to from the bottom of the standings.

Montréal ePrix: muted teams’ triumph for Renault as di Grassi snatches title

Renault e.Dams claimed their third straight Formula E teams’ title at Montréal’s season finale, but their celebrations were overshadowed by Lucas di Grassi’s triumph over Sébastien Buemi in the Drivers’ Championship.

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Going into the Canadian title decider, it was looking almost impossible for anyone but Buemi to take the top honours this season. The Swiss driver had been a man transformed by his first title win last season—opening up his defence with a hat-trick of wins, Buemi went on to claim victory in almost every race he contested, and such was his form that he still held the championship lead before Montréal despite missing the two previous races in New York City.

But on arrival in Canada, Buemi seemed like a different driver altogether to the one in control of his last ePrix in Berlin. An uncharacteristic off in practice saw him damage his chassis against the wall, denting his confidence ahead of qualifying and handing him a hefty grid penalty for race one; then, starting the race from twelfth, Buemi’s cautious approach left him right in the heart of the opening lap scrum, where he picked up steering damage from contact with Robin Frijns’ Andretti, which severely hampered his progress early on.

By contrast, di Grassi was having every bit the race he needed. His third pole of the season narrowed the championship deficit to just seven points, and after seeing off Jean-Éric Vergne at the start the Brazilian raced away into an early lead. He was then largely not seen again, and despite a late safety car bringing Vergne right onto his tail in the final laps, di Grassi took his second win of the season ahead of Vergne and Stéphane Sarrazin, and with it the lead of the championship by six points—this lead later became eighteen points, when Buemi was disqualified from his eventual fourth-place finish after his rebuilt car was found to be three kilograms underweight.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

This stacked the odds considerably in di Grassi’s favour ahead of the second and final race of the weekend. All the Abt driver needed to do to clinch the title was finish ahead of Buemi, and even if his rival went on to win the race, any result within the top four would have given di Grassi enough points to become champion.

Nevertheless, Sunday did not start smoothly for di Grassi. A scruffy Super Pole lap left him only fifth on the grid behind Felix Rosenqvist, Sam Bird, Jean-Éric Vergne and Nick Heidfeld; di Grassi then dropped back at the start and was almost tagged by his teammate going through the first corner.

But compared to his title rival, di Grassi’s troubles were nothing. For the second time in Montréal Buemi started way down the grid, in thirteenth place after making a mistake on his flying qualifying lap. That once again placed him in the firing line at the first corner, and as the pack bunched up he was hit from behind in the braking zone, this time by António Félix da Costa in the sister Andretti. The contact was enough to dislodge one of Buemi’s rear wheel guards, and as it flapped loose from the back of his Renault the stewards called him in to the pits with a black and orange flag—by the time he rejoined the track, Buemi was in last place and his title hopes lay in tatters.

Sam Bagnall/LAT/Formula E

Meanwhile, as Buemi’s impromptu stop all but sealed the title for di Grassi, the front of the field was playing host to a tight race for the win between polesitter Rosenqvist and a charging Vergne.

The Frenchman had been able to eat into Rosenqvist’s five-second lead after saving the energy for a later stop, and partway through the second stint had no trouble breezing past the Mahindra for the lead. Vergne then set about using the remainder of his saved energy to ease clear of Rosenqvist—by the time the chequered flag fell at the end of lap 37, Vergne had built up a buffer of almost a second to seal his and the Techeetah team’s first Formula E victory.

Rosenqvist followed Vergne home in second, despite coming under further pressure from José María López in the closing laps, and with his fifth podium of the season triumphed in his battle with Sam Bird for third in the final standings; Bird himself crossed the line fourth ahead of Rosenqvist’s teammate Nick Heidfeld, who had fallen back from an earlier podium position.

Incoming champion di Grassi had been set to finish sixth, but with his title already secured he swapped places with teammate Daniel Abt on the final lap and finished seventh instead. Stéphane Sarrazin came eighth, Jérôme d’Ambrosio closed a difficult season for Dragon with two points in ninth, and Tom Dillmann took the fourth points finish of his rookie season with tenth. The final fastest lap of the season was set by Nico Prost, who finished outside the top ten for the first time this season and fell to sixth in the overall standings.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Renault e.Dams’ three non-scoring results in Montréal allowed Abt Schaeffler Audi to close up in the teams’ standings, though in the end the French marque still had twenty points in hand to take its third consecutive crown.

Mahindra finished its best Formula E season to date by beating DS Virgin to third, and in spite of numerous driver changes across the season Techeetah ended its impressive debut campaign as the fifth-fastest team ahead of NextEV NIO.

There were no changes in position with the final four teams—Andretti, Dragon, Venturi and Jaguar—even though each team scored at least one top ten finish this weekend. The latter two are unlikely to be disheartened by coming ninth and tenth, considering both have shown great improvement from starting the season well out of contention for the points; as for Andretti and Dragon, teams used to scoring podiums in past seasons, finishing down in the latter half of the table will leave much for the two American outfits to consider over the off-season.

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Formula E: 2017 Montreal ePrix Preview

The end of the 2016–17 Formula E season is upon us. In a few days time, the chequered flag will fall at the second round of the Montréal ePrix, and the champion of season three will be crowned.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

Mathematically speaking, there are still four drivers in contention for the title going into Montréal—Sébastien Buemi, Lucas di Grassi, Felix Rosenqvist, and Sam Bird. But as anyone who has followed this season will know, it would take something truly special to see three of those four drivers come out on top come Sunday.

Bird, who was propelled into the top four by his double victory in New York, would need to score every available point this weekend—both wins, both poles and both fastest laps—with Buemi scoring none at all if he has any hopes of taking the season three title. Nor does Rosenqvist have much more margin for error, sitting just four points ahead of Bird and 53 behind Buemi; in fact, this pair will be more concerned by Nico Prost, who at twenty points behind them will be a major threat for third overall.

Di Grassi has the best chance of sneaking through to the title, having both arguably the second-fastest car on the grid and only a ten-point deficit to overcome. However, that gap will likely feel more like a gulf psychologically, considering the opportunity he missed in Buemi’s absence to take the lead of the championship in New York. There is still time for di Grassi to turn things around, but it would take a level of performance the Brazilian has frankly yet to show this season.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

In the teams’ championship, the top spot is unsurprisingly safe in the hands of Renault e.Dams. ABT Schaeffler Audi, however, will have their hands full fending off Mahindra for second place in what has been by far the Indian team’s best season yet; with just twelve points separating the two squads, another podium for Rosenqvist or Nick Heidfeld could be enough to lift Mahindra to an outstanding best-of-the-rest come Sunday evening.

DS Virgin could move up to take third, providing Bird or José María López can build on the team’s dominant New York performance and recover the 29 points by which they trail Mahindra. The series’ two Chinese teams, Techeetah and NextEV, look set to finish fifth and sixth respectively—an impressive result considering the former is in its debut season and the latter finished last year in last place.

Behind them, the US outfits Andretti and Dragon Racing are locked on thirty points apiece and will both be desperate to break that tie. António Félix da Costa will be especially hungry for points, having yet to score since the season opener in Hong Kong whilst his teammate Robin Frijns sits in twelfth with double the Portuguese driver’s points total.

Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E

But as well as each other, Andretti and Dragon will need to keep their eyes on Venturi and Jaguar, who lurk just two and nine points behind respectively. For Jaguar, the opportunity to finish their first season in Formula E as high as seventh will be a major inspiration for the team, and in particular for Mitch Evans, who has acclimatised to the series quickly in his rookie season and scored the lion’s share of his team’s points.

Jaguar will no doubt need Evans, and Adam Carroll too, to have a strong weekend in Canada if they are to finish above Venturi at the very least. Like Jaguar, the Monegasque team enjoys its own pairing of points-capable rookies in Maro Engel and Tom Dillmann, and Engel especially will be someone of whom the lower midfield teams will be very wary: pumped up from his maiden DTM win in Moscow last weekend, the German should have all the necessary momentum to hunt down those few points his team needs to beat Andretti and Dragon.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Although the sharp end of the two championships looks to be a foregone conclusion in Buemi’s and Renault’s favour, 2017’s inaugural Montréal ePrix still has plenty of room to spring a few surprises. Stay tuned to ThePitCrewOnline for all the action and updates across the weekend.

Kubica confirmed to test for Renault in Hungary

After much speculation, today Renault Sport F1 team confirmed that Robert Kubica will be driving the R.S. 17 in Hungary on August 2nd as part of the two days of mid-season testing for the teams. After a series of private tests in older Renault machinery, this announcement marks the next step in what many hope will be the Pole’s full comeback to Formula 1.

Cyril Abiteboul, Managing Director at Renault, previously labelled Kubica as an “option” for Renault in 2018, and claimed that he saw no “obvious roadblocks” to the return of the Polish driver, who was a race winner back in 2008. Kubica himself claimed that he believed he could drive again at the level he did before his career stalling rally crash in 2011, and was quoted as estimating his chances of a return to F1 as “80%-90%”.

This test will mark the first time Kubica completes laps in up-to-date Formula 1 machinery, and will give both Renault, and the general public, a chance to see how he fares in the newer, more physical cars. It will also be the first time he will drive in a public testing session, where his competitiveness will be displayed to the world for the first time.

While rumours are abound that this is Renault’s way of gauging whether or not Kubica is fit to replace current driver Jolyon Palmer, with some placing the switch happening as soon as Spa. This seems unlikely however, as Abiteboul claims the test is merely to see whether it would be possible for Kubica to return in “the upcoming years”. But nevertheless, the announcement marks a huge step forward in the Pole’s quest to return to racing in Formula 1 full time.

Still, fans will be watching very closely to see how his times compare to those of Palmer, and whether or not he manages to last a full race distance.  And regardless of whether it leads to a race seat or not, few will not enjoy seeing Robert Kubica back driving a Formula 1 car again. It looks more and more likely that what people once thought was impossible, might become a reality.

Renault also announced that Canadian Formula 2 driver, Nicholas Latifi, will test the Renault R.S. 17 on the other day of the two day test at the Hungaroring.

Preview: 2017 New York ePrix

July is now upon us, and with it the penultimate and most hotly-anticipated stop on the 2017–18 Formula E calendar—New York City.

It’s a shame, really, that given New York’s billing as this season’s headline event (sorry, Montréal), the championship leader Sébastien Buemi will not be present at either race this weekend. His Toyota WEC priorities have hardly come as a surprise, and in his place Formula E will get to welcome another exciting young talent in the form of Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly, but for one of the sport’s box office stars to miss an event like New York is still regrettable.

But on a more positive note, the impact of Formula E’s clash with the WEC’s 6 Hours of the Nürburgring has proven to be much less than first expected. Of the half-dozen drivers previously at risk of skipping the New York round, only Buemi and his Toyota LMP1 teammate José María López will in fact leave vacant seats—meaning Gasly and DS Virgin reserve Alex Lynn will be the only new faces on the grid this weekend. Sam Bird, Nelson Piquet, Nico Prost and Jean-Éric Vergne have all opted to forego the fourth round of the WEC and contest New York instead.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

The other upside to Buemi’s absence is that it naturally opens the way for a fresh change to the podium predictions. Lucas di Grassi will obviously be among the favourites to capitalise on his title rival’s double booking, and a pair of strong top three results would even see him assume the lead of the championship before the final round in Canada.

But if the previous round in Berlin is anything to go by, di Grassi will more than have his hands full keeping back the rapid Mahindra pair of Felix Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld, the former of whom scored his and the team’s first victory last time out and will surely be eager for more of the same. Vergne also ought to pose a major threat at the front in New York with his Renault-powered Techeetah, as will his former DS Virgin teammate Bird, and nor can Prost be discounted; although the Renault driver has yet to finish on the podium this season, Prost is the only man to have scored in every round so far and is a proven ePrix winner.

Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E

The presence of two rookies at Renault and DS Virgin may also present an opportunity for some of the midfield teams to take a larger bite at the top ten than usual this weekend.

Such an opening will be especially attractive to Dragon Racing, currently languishing at the bottom of the standings and looking for a first points finish since Buenos Aires. But with only a handful of points splitting Dragon from Jaguar, Venturi and Andretti ahead of them, it will be a close fight between their respective drivers to see who comes out on top.

Jaguar and Venturi would seem to have the current edge in that regard, with Mitch Evans and Maro Engel contributing heavily to their teams’ rising points totals of late. But Andretti’s pairing of da Costa and Frijns is capable of brilliance on the right day, such as their fifth- and sixth-placed finishes in Hong Kong, and Dragon’s two-time ePrix winner Jérôme d’Ambrosio is no slouch either.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

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