When Force India hired Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, it was on the back of the promise that the team would hire the best drivers available, regardless of the budget they bring to the team. With Perez also bringing his Mexican backing with him to the team, it was an added bonus, at a time when highly rated Hulkenberg also went on to win Le Mans.
As 2017 is approaching, and Hulkenberg departing to Renault, speculation is mounting as to who the second drive will go to in what is the most competitive seat available on the grid for next season. In an article by Autosport today, Force India’s Bob Fernley has rebuffed claims they would be on the hunt for a pay driver, but conceded that the final decision would be that of Dr Malaya’s.
That said, the list of drivers who have been linked to the team are notable for the budget they bring with them:
Esteban Ocon would be ‘on loan’ from Mercedes, with a possible deal over the cost of engines to the team. They are reported to owe Mercedes money, and while not bringing money to the team as such, it could compensate in their cost. Driving for Manor at the latter end of this season against fellow Mercedes driver Pascal Wehrlein, he has shown great potential and could get the jump on his more experienced teammate.
Felipe Nasr has been hotly tipped to make the move from Sauber, bringing his Brazilian banking money with him. Bernie Ecclestone is said to be keen in retaining a Brazilian high up on the grid to satisfy the local market. In a difficult car he hasn’t sparkled at Sauber, often struggling against Marcus Ericsson. The Swede himself has also expressed interest in the drive, which would be an unusual move considering his connections to Sauber’s new owners.
Renault drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer have also been touted as possible drivers, with neither bringing the backing of the other four options. Despite Ocon looking likely for the second Renault seat for next season, the momentum has been behind Magnussen recently to retain the drive. Palmer has also been linked to Sauber, but we would require around €4m if Nasr leaves the team.
Then there is of course the option that Mallya sells up to the Mexicans, and Carlos Slim. With Haas not exactly happy with Esteban Gutierrez’s performances this season, a Mexican superteam could not be ruled out.