Leclerc to Ferrari. Raikkonen to Sauber. Ricciardo to Renault. Sainz to McLaren. Yes, the 2019 grid is certainly set for a big-time shake-up, with a number of fascinating high-profile moves already announced, as well as the prospect of some exciting new rookies to evaluate. But there’s still some musical chairs to be played lower down the grid – here’s how the battle for the final seats for next year is going...
F1 DRIVER MARKET: The last few pieces of the 2019 puzzle
Mercedes junior driver George Russell was confirmed at Williams on a multi-year deal in October, the rookie set to become the first British driver the Oxfordshire team have fielded for a whole season since Jenson Button back in 2000. Good news, for sure, for the man who's led the Formula 2 title chase at a fair old canter this year. But the big question now is – who will partner him?
Don’t count on it being Lance Stroll, with the Canadian surely set to be wearing the pink of his father’s newly-purchased Force India team next year, alongside the recently re-confirmed Sergio Perez.
Incumbent Sergey Sirotkin is certainly not being ruled out, claim ESPN, with the Russian having put in a few stand-out drives in a 2018 season where the performance of Williams' challenging FW41 car has often made it hard to evaluate either his or Stroll’s contributions on track. The generous financial package Sirotkin brings with him is also an obvious and big point in his favour, they claim, as is his technical nous – with the Muscovite having graduated last year with a degree in race car engineering.
Auto Moto und Sport had cited Dutch driver Nyck de Vries as a potential Williams candidate, but the current Formula 2 front-runner and McLaren Young Driver recently took to Twitter to quash that particular line of thinking.
Meanwhile, according to Toto Wolff, his protege Esteban Ocon remains in contention, although most of the language being used around Ocon at the moment points to him spending a year on the side-lines (assuming that he's replaced by Stroll at Force India), most likely as Mercedes’ third driver.
Speaking of Mercedes, the team’s current simulator driver Esteban Gutierrez came out of the woodwork to announce his own designs on the second Williams seat during an appearance at the Mexican Grand Prix.
"[Williams are] a great team,” Gutierrez told Autosport magazine. “It is one of the most respected teams in Formula 1.
"I think they've had difficult years, but the people they have and the team they are, I am pretty sure they can recover pretty well.
“I am working very hard, I've been preparing a lot this year… I feel like I have a lot to give in Formula 1, and I am very motivated for it.”
The final driver in the running is Robert Kubica, the team’s current third driver. But the Pole might be in the process of plotting an alternative course which, if it comes off, may prove too hard for him to resist…
Kubica to become Ferrari’s test driver?
In his recent episode of the official F1 podcast, Beyond the Grid, presented by Bose, Robert Kubica made the startling claim that, at the time of his horrific rally accident in 2011, he had a contract sitting at home that would have seen him drive for Ferrari in 2012.
The extent of his injuries meant that that dream ultimately went unfilled. But according to Auto Motor Und Sport, there’s a chance that Kubica could yet wear the Cavallino Rampante on his overalls. With Daniil Kvyat surprisingly pulled back into the Toro Rosso squad for 2019, Kubica is understood to be in the running to fill the Russian’s soon-to-be-vacant test driver role at Ferrari.
“Maybe. I look around and there are conversations,” Kubica is reported as saying when asked about the rumours. “If there is a chance, even if only for a short test, to wear the red overalls, then for me, one of the biggest dreams of my life would come true. I have been close to it once, but I have not achieved it because of my rally accident. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but if there's a chance, I'll think about it.”
Albon to replace Hartley at Toro Rosso?
Don’t expect this one to be resolved any time soon, with Toro Rosso Team Principal Franz Tost telling the media in the pre-Mexican Grand Prix press conference: “First of all, we have to finish the season to get a clear picture, and then I assume in December, Red Bull will decide the driver line-up of Toro Rosso.”
But increasingly convincing rumours are linking this year’s F2 frontrunner and former Red Bull Junior Team driver Alexander Albon with the second seat at Toro Rosso, alongside Kvyat and in place of Brendon Hartley – something Tost himself confirmed was under consideration in the same press conference.
Those rumours were given additional weight by recent claims made by the Nissan e.dams Formula E squad – who had previously announced Albon in their driver line-up for the 2018-19 Formula E season – that they had been contacted by over 15 different drivers about the seat that the young Thai driver was apparently now set to pass up.
Asked by Autosport whether Nissan e.dams were actively looking for a driver to replace Albon, Team Principal Jean-Paul Driot replied: “We are – we had so many drivers who rang during these two days, I couldn't believe it.
"Drivers who rang, who sent emails – if I give you the names, you are going to be very astonished. Incredible.”
The next season for Formula E starts on December 15 – so logic dictates that we’ll hear the resolution of this one in the first two weeks of December!
Sette Camara to McLaren as third driver?
Another former Red Bull Junior Team member who is potentially on for a taste of Formula 1 in 2019 is Brazilian Sergio Sette Camara. GloboEsporte.com reported that Sette Camara, a serious points scorer in Formula 2 this season, was set to join his current Carlin team mate Lando Norris in McLaren colours next year as the team’s third driver.
“Under the agreement,” they claim, “the Brazilian will be able to participate in some free practice sessions on Fridays on Grand Prix weekends in 2019. The announcement should be made in the week of the Brazilian Grand Prix.”
GloboEsporte.com go on to link the move to McLaren’s tie-up with Petrobras, with the Brazilian company set to supply fuel and lubricants to the team in 2019, having been brought on as a technical partner earlier this year.
If this one does come off, Sette Camara's debut Friday outing for McLaren will mark the first time he'll have driven a Formula 1 car since he tested for Toro Rosso at Silverstone back in 2016.
The 2019 F1 grid as it stands
Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas
Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc
Red Bull - Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly
Renault – Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg
Haas – Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen
McLaren – Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris
Force India – Sergio Perez and TBC
Toro Rosso – Daniil Kvyat and TBC
Sauber – Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi
Williams – George Russell and TBC