The announcement yesterday that Felipe Massa is to retire has kick-started the driver market for 2017, and although not unexpected it will see a number of high profile changes at a number of teams for 2017.
As soon as Felipe announced the news, the question was – Who is going to replace him? Williams are in somewhat of a delicate position as an independent team and need funding to be able to compete. Yes, they are in a better position than others by having other businesses which feed the Formula One team, but they do require a driver who is going to bring them some money in one form or another.
With Stoffel Vandoorne looking almost certain to race at McLaren next season, that leaves the question of what will happen with Jenson Button? The romantics among us would love to see him end his career at Williams, but unless there is a sponsor waiting in the wings which is willing to fund the move, the business brain would say this is an unlikely move and it is more likely that he will announce his retirement. If he does, then I wouldn’t be surprised if he did this in Japan, which is his adopted second home.
If it isn’t Jenson, could it be Sergio Perez. Williams are said to be very keen on the Mexican driver who comes with substantial backing, but that money is looking for a bigger home and a works drive. Renault looks to be the only opening at the moment, and while they are in a period of rebuilding it could be a good bet in the medium term, just as McLaren have started to turn around their fortunes in their new relationship with Honda. So in reality, Sergio Perez would be an outside bet as well.
Williams have had a love affair with Latin American drivers, with Felipe Nasr possibly on the market for 2017. Their former test driver hasn’t had the smoothest relationship with current employer Sauber after they have gone through the most painful time in their history and are lying at the bottom of the constructors championship. Nasr would bring more money from Brazil and is a competent driver, but is he the ‘star driver’ Williams are looking for.
Although not discussed in the media, Kevin Magnussen could be an option, while some have placed development driver Lance Stroll in the seat already despite only racing in Formula 3. He comes with substantial backing from his Canadian multi-millionaire father, but could be a couple of years too early. Also on their books at the moment is Alex Lynn, who has shown flashes of form in GP2 hasn’t set the world alight.
At Force India the logical shoe-in for them if Perez leaves is Pascal Wherlein, giving the German a feel for a more competitive team (finance dependant), although that could depend on his end of season battle with fellow Mercedes protégé Esteban Ocon at Manor. Its likely that at least one of them will stay at Manor next season, but whom?
Question marks remain at Haas, although Romain Grosjean looks set for another year. Ferrari test driver Charles LeClarc has been linked to the team, with them being open they are quite happy to develop drivers for Ferrari, formally a job for Sauber.
Lots happening over the next few weeks as the pieces fall into place for 2017.