The silly season has arrived – 2020 driver changes
Summer is here and with the European leg of the Formula 1 season well underway, it is now time for the silly season to begin.
In this article we look at the potential driver line-up changes for the 2020 season.
Mercedes have finally found a harmonious driver line-up and it is unlikely they will want to upset the applecart for 2021.
Lewis Hamilton is almost guaranteed to remain at the Silver Arrows for another season in his bid to match Michael Schumacher’s victory and world title record tallies.
Valtteri Bottas is more than likely to be retained for yet another year but Mercedes do have options if he has a poor second half of the season.
Esteban Ocon, Mercedes’ current reserve driver, is waiting in the wings and he would be a strong choice as a Bottas replacement.
The only other realistic driver choice is Williams’ George Russell who is proving his worth despite being stuck at the back in an uncompetitive car.
Many expect Ferrari to retain both Vettel and Leclerc next season and both are under contract until 2021.
But could Vettel decide to retire at the end of the year? It is a distinct possibility.
The German is unable to match the Mercedes of Hamilton and he has made his feelings known in recent weeks that he isn’t overly happy with the sport at the moment.
If he does retire that would prick the ears of every driver on the grid. Could Hamilton be tempted to join Ferrari?
While the romantics would love for Hamilton to move across to the Scuderia, it would be more likely the seat would go to Max Verstappen. The Dutchman is a world champion in the making but his Red Bull has not been competitive enough for him to mount a challenge. Ferrari could provide him with the goods.
An unlikely but mouth watering candidate would be Fernando Alonso. He currently has no official plans for next year and he said he would consider a return to Formula 1 in the future if he had a title challenging car.
Ferrari do possess a car capable to fight for the title and if Vettel were to leave, could the Spaniard make the return to Maranello and would Ferrari be prepared to renew the relationship after a difficult time first time round?
Red Bull are likely to make a driver change for 2020. Max Verstappen is unquestionably their greatest asset and is doing a fine job this year, barely putting a foot wrong, but Pierre Gasly is not at the same level.
It remains to be seen if Gasly will even see out the rest of the season but if he does he surely won’t last another year.
Naturally Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat will be hoping to take the second seat if Gasly were to leave but Albon is still learning his trade while Kvyat’s last stint with Red Bull went spectacularly wrong for the Russian.
Red Bull need a driver who is as quick as Verstappen and there aren’t many that fit the bill. Patricio O’Ward makes his F2 debut this weekend in Austria and has impressed this year in Indycar so he is a possibility.
But somebody to consider is Nico Hulkenberg. Renault have already hinted that they could look elsewhere next season with the “Hulk’s” contract up for renewal and if Renault were to sign somebody else he could be an attractive driver for Red Bull.
Although he won’t be as fast as Verstappen, he is experienced and consistent and will be more than capable of taking the fight to the top two when opportunities arise.
Daniel Ricciardo’s seat is safe at Renault but Nico Hulkenberg’s time at the team could be coming to an end.
Cyril Abiteboul has already hinted that he could be tempted to look elsewhere next year as the French team look to get closer to the top three teams.
The obvious candidate to take the seat is Esteban Ocon. He came close to signing for the team last year and he is currently stuck on the sidelines with Mercedes. It is unlikely Mercedes will be able to find a seat for him elsewhere so it could be they release him which would free him up to move to Renault.
Renault want consistency as well as speed and so they could also look to Sergio Perez. The Mexican has shown time and time again that he can maximise the performance out of his car and is a master at managing the difficult Pirelli tyres. But, after his tough time at McLaren, there are still question marks about whether he can handle the pressure in a top team.
An outsider for the seat would be Sergey Sirotkin. The Russian is Renault’s and McLaren’s reserve driver and he was previously part of the Renault Junior programme.
Renault were impressed with Sirotkin during his first stint with the team and he did not ridicule himself whilst racing at Williams in 2018.
McLaren have finally found two drivers capable of brining home the goods and this is one line-up that is certain to remain the same for 2020.
Sainz Jr is settling into the team well and Lando Norris has shown in the first eight races that he has plenty of potential.
The never ending merry-go-round of drivers at Toro Rosso looks set to continue. If Gasly were to be dropped by Red Bull it is feasible that he could return to Toro Rosso just as Daniil Kyat did in 2016.
Alex Albon is likely to be retained for 2020 and has been performing reasonably well in his first season.
If Kvyat were to leave, it could pave the way for Mexican Patricio O’Ward to join from Indycar.
Red Bull currently have a shortage of drivers able to compete in Formula 1 but this is where Honda could assist. It has long been known that Honda are keen on promoting a Japanese driver and now could be the time for them to succeed in their challenge.
Nirei Fukuzumi would be an obvious candidate. The 22-year-old is currently racing in Super Formula and spent last season in Formula 2. He would need to make a step up if he were to move to Toro Rosso but he has the potential to do so.
Naomi Yamamoto would also be an intriguing candidate. The 30-year-old has raced in Super GT and Super Formula since 2010 and won the 2018 Super GT season alongside teammate Jenson Button.
He is also a two-time Super Formula champion, last winning in 2018 and he is currently at the top of the driver’s standings.
Despite his age Yamamoto has all the attributes to have an impact in Formula 1 and he also holds enough super licence points to race. It would be against the history of Toro Rosso but could it be worth a shot? – Jenson Button rates him incredibly high.
It must be assumed that Haas will retain Kevin Magnussen for another year. The Dane has shown flashes of brilliance but the team have not had the same speed as they did in 2018.
Romain Grosjean has had a tough few seasons and out of the two, he would be more likely to lose his seat.
Haas could decide to promote test driver Pietro Fittipaldi to a race seat for 2020. The Brazilian has been without a full-time drive since winning the World Series Formula V8 3.5 in 2017 and he broke his legs at the 6 hours of Spa last year but he has bags of potential and could be a risk worth trying.
With the American team’s links to Ferrari they could also look to one of their junior drivers. The team have tried to steer clear of Ferrari juniors in the past but there could be options for Callum Ilott and Mick Schumacher, although, these seem doubtful.
But could Perez consider a move to Haas? He has been at Racing Point for six years now and they have shown no signs of improvement. Could he be after a change of scenery? Haas would surely welcome him with open arms if he came knocking.
Racing Point will be hoping to retain Sergio Perez for 2020 as the Mexican is so dependable but the Mexican could decide he wants a new team. Lance Stroll is likely to stay on for another season, although he needs to improve his qualifying form.
If Perez were to leave then Racing Point could utilise their Mercedes links and make an approach for George Russell. Russell has shown plenty of ability at Williams and Racing Point would be a step forward for the Briton.
But they could consider Nyck De Vries. The Formula 2 championship leader announced in May that he has split from McLaren and he has been impressive, winning three races so far this season.
Racing Point could also turn to Nicolas Latifi. The Canadian has previously tested for the team and is currently lying in second in the Formula 2 championship. It would be an interesting move and would be the first ever all-Canadian line-up if it were to happen.
Kimi Raikkonen will be at Alfa Romeo next season, no question about it but Antonio Giovinazzi could be a different story.
The Italian came into F1 with hype and excitement but has not lived up to expectations. It is possible he could stay for another year but Alfa Romeo could look to bring in Ferrari Academy Driver, Callum Ilott.
It would be a risk for Alfa Romeo as Ilott has hardly set the Formula 2 scene on fire this year and although many would expect Mick Schumacher to jump into an Alfa Romeo seat, it could come a year too early.
If Alfa Romeo are in search of stability and a higher chance of getting points, they could turn back to Swede Marcus Ericsson. He won’t set timing sheets alight but he has shown he can grab points here or there.
George Russell is signed to Williams for two years meaning in theory he is at the team for 2020, but Formula 1 never works like that.
If Russell isn’t snapped up by another team for next season he will spend another year learning at the Grove based team but it is likely Robert Kubica’s time will come to an end.
He is evidently slower than Russell and has struggled for pace since his comeback. The obvious candidate to replace him would be Williams reserve driver Nicolas Latifi.
Sergey Sirotkin would be available to race for Williams but after he was dropped in favour of Kubica for 2019, that is unlikely.
An outsider could be Antoine Hubert. The Renault Academy driver won the GP3 championship last year and has already won two races in his maiden Formula 2 campaign.
It may be a bit too early for him to jump up to F1 but he will surely be under consideration for Williams as it is unlikely they will be able to attract a top line experienced name for 2020.