SILLY SEASON: The latest F1 driver market rumours
Everyone loves a bit of juicy gossip, and there’s plenty of it flying around the F1 paddock at the moment, as drivers and teams look to head into the summer break with some idea of what’s on the cards for them in 2019. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas re-signed with Mercedes in Germany - but what were the hot rumours doing the rounds? We round them up…
Lance Stroll to Force India
Autosport are reporting that Williams' Lance Stroll could be looking elsewhere in the paddock – and especially at Force India – for 2019 to give his career a shot in the arm.
"I would like to see [Williams] improve and get to where we want to get to as a team," Stroll is reported as saying. "I also want to do what's best for me as a driver, so we will come to all the conclusions at the right time and figure out what's best for the future.
"I don't know yet what I'm doing or where my future is going. I'm still focused on where I am right now, what I'm doing today and we'll see what the future holds."
Autosport reckon that Stroll heading to Force India could be a win-win for both parties, writing: ‘A move to the Silverstone-based team should give him a more competitive seat than he has had this year, while Force India could benefit from any financial injection that Stroll's family can offer’.
Daniel Ricciardo to re-sign with Red Bull
No real surprises here - with most avenues now closed off to the Australian, it now seems a matter of when and not if Ricciardo will re-sign with current team Red Bull.
The West Australian - a newspaper with a particular interest in matters, covering the area of Australia where Ricciardo hails from - runs quotes from Motorsport.com, in which Christian Horner suggests the deal will be done by the summer break.
Watch this space...
Esteban Ocon to Renault
Could Stroll be looking to take Esteban Ocon’s seat at Force India, while the Frenchman prepares a move back to the Renault team that he was test driver for in 2016? That was a strong whisper heard up and down the paddock at the German Grand Prix, with some even suggesting that ink had already been deployed…
Anything to tell us Esteban?
“As long as there are rumours, it’s always good as a driver,” he said coyly during a media session in Germany. “It means people speak about you, means you are doing a good job on track… If no one is speaking about you then that’s when there starts to be problems.”
We take your point, Esteban – but do you feel ready to step up to a manufacturer team like Renault?
“If there are opportunities, for sure yes. But at the moment I’m still with Force India and pushing hard to get good results here. That’s what I’m focusing on.”
However, Force India’s Chief Operating Officer Otmar Szafnauer was quick to point out that it was his team, not Renault, who were calling the shots when it came to Ocon’s future – and as far as he was aware, the Frenchman wasn’t budging.
“I don’t think the [Renault] deal is done,” he told Sky Sports F1. “We have got the option to keep [Ocon], it’s ours not Renault’s. The nice thing is Esteban wants to stay, so that’s always good.
“Our two [drivers], we are happy with and I think they are happy with the team, although we haven’t announced anything. But soon we’ll make those decisions.”
Carlos Sainz to McLaren
So if people are talking about Esteban Ocon going to Renault, where are they thinking Carlos Sainz is going to go, given that Nico Hulkenberg looks set to stay? The Spaniard’s been performing reasonably well this year, although he currently sits 12th in the drivers' standings following a shaky recent run of results.
One option, if he didn’t stay with Renault, is apparently McLaren. Here’s Mark Hughes writing in Motor Sport magazine…
“[Sainz’s] Red Bull contract means he is a free agent if he is not offered a placed on the works team next year and increasingly his name is being mentioned in association with McLaren, which continues to hope that Fernando Alonso will decide to stay. As such, Sainz joining would be at the expense of Stoffel Vandoorne.”
So would that be the end of Vandoorne’s F1 ride? Apparently not, with Hughes going on to say that there was then potential for either Vandoorne or McLaren junior Lando Norris to take up a seat at Toro Rosso in exchange for Sainz freeing himself from his Red Bull ties – with Brendon Hartley stepping aside in that scenario.
Kimi Raikkonen to return to Sauber
This rumour has got people very excited. With some reporting that Charles Leclerc already has an agreement to drive for Ferrari in 2019, could the Monegasque’s move actually be a swap deal between Leclerc and Kimi Raikkonen that would put The Iceman back at the Sauber team that brought him into F1 as a stony-faced 20 year old back in 2001? Autosport write that Sauber aren’t ruling out the possibility...
‘The suggestion is that the Sauber seat could... be earmarked for Raikkonen as part of a package that keeps him within the Ferrari family if he is willing to continue his career into 2019.
‘When asked if putting a past champion in the car would put too much pressure on the Sauber [team], Vasseur replied: "It is a problem for the rich? I don't care, I want to have the best guys into the car, this is the most important for the team, and no sacrifice with performance.
‘"It is much better to have a world champion than someone who won nothing.”’
But would Raikkonen even countenance taking the step down to Sauber, rather than, say, switching back to the World Rally Championship – where, according to Toyota team principal Tommi Makinen, the Finn can have a test in one of the team’s Yaris WRCs whenever he wants? We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.
Is Romain Grosjean reaching the ‘tipping point’?
Romain Grosjean has been in up-and-down form this season. Superb in Austria, at Silverstone a week later the Frenchman had not one but two crashes, including committing the cardinal sin of hitting his team mate Kevin Magnussen on the opening lap of the race.
“It’s getting frustrating,” Haas team principal Guenther Steiner is reported as saying on RaceFans.net following the Silverstone weekend. “We all hope for him that we are going up and now we are down in the dumps again and we need to get out again.
“I don’t know where the tipping point is. I’m not there yet. But at some stage, as I said before, we need to stop losing points. And that is the tipping point.
“We cannot keep on doing this. We are now through half the season and we must have lost a lot of points because of our own mistakes. And this is actually not acceptable.”
Grosjean made up for Silverstone with a storming drive to sixth in Germany last weekend. But could it be too little, too late for RoGro?
And if Grosjean were to leave, who might replace him? Journalist Jack Plooij from Dutch F1 broadcasters Ziggo Sport is reported as telling the website Grand Prix Radio that he believes Sergio Perez is in the frame. Perez was linked to a seat at Haas back in 2016 before agreeing terms to remain at Force India. Nothing came of the touted move, however, with Perez currently in his fifth season with the Silverstone-based team. But given Steiner’s views, expressed in January of this year, that “there is nobody ready for F1 in the United States”, could a Mexican driver be the next best thing for the American Haas team?
Robert Kubica, currently Williams reserve driver, was another name being touted around in Germany, though Steiner insists no talks have taken place. The Pole recently told our podcast, Beyond The Grid, his mission is to return to the grid in 2019.