This was the first grand prix I ever got accredited for way back in 2015, however it has been jinxed in my case when it came to visas and travel itineraries. Nevertheless this year, after three years of this sport, I was at my first Hungarian GP, ironic but worth it. The day we arrived there were heavy clouds in the skies and temperatures dropped, but by Sunday it was the other extreme which was terribly hot weather which my British counterparts would enjoy, but not me. For me it was blistering heat, and worst than my hometown in India which is not above 25 degrees this time of the year. It is also the first grand prix this season, that I didn’t bother to go to the starting grid and wait for the national anthem, etc. An interesting change in the paddock however was Carbon champagne becoming the official F1 podium champagne. Now that was a development long overdue, and all done by my dear friends at viagp.com. These days with the new regime Liberty Media is experimenting several things in the paddock including a remote control track racing game, ping pong table, table football, and bean bags zones and dedicated recreation zones (Yes, all of this was never there in the Bernie regime).
Halfway into the season and a lot of riddles to solve, and we kick-start F1’s silly season at full swing. From drivers to engine suppliers quiet a lot of shuffling up and down the grid. So we finally get to deciding the grid for 2018 and even some engine supplier changes. The outcome of the race weekend was that Sebastian Vettel leads the title by 14 points and another Ferrari 1-2 finish.
Driver Grid 2018
Lets start off with the burning question of the 2018 driver grid and how the driver market is shaping up. Here’s a run down of the confirmed drivers
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton is confirmed whereas Valtteri Bottas’ confirmation is what we await. (Also we can’t rule out the rumour of Sebastian having some kind of a hand-shake deal in 2016 with the Silver Arrows outfit for the 2018 season). The four-time WC has to inform the team before September first week of his decision, and the Silver Arrows are probably waiting for that, to finalise Valterri’s future at the team. However, somehow as I have mentioned in my previous blogposts often the four-time WC seems to be the key to unlocking or stalling the driver market.
Ferrari: Neither confirmed, both driver contracts are due for renewal. However, if Sebastian stays, Kimi stays. Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne said post the race that they will announce their 2018 line-up by Monza, and he also hint about Kimi’s future being certain at the team. The question however remains whether Sebastian stays with Ferrari, or makes the much awaited move to Mercedes. If my German colleagues are to be believed, they are convinced it will be the same driver line-up in 2018. Where will Ferrari’s junior proteges go? Antonio Giovinazzi will probably bag a Sauber seat, and Charles Leclerc (if he becomes F2 champion) will be signed as their third driver. However one cannot forget that it has never been in the Ferrari team’s DNA to sign up an inexperienced rookie or opt for a very young driver. Apart from Gilles Villeneuve, never has such an exception been made when it comes to driver signing.
Red Bull Racing: Max definitely staying as Dieter Mateschitz wants Red Bull Racing to have the record of the youngest WC. Daniel Ricciardo cannot be released unless its Ferrari (he has a clause in his contract that says if the scarlet outfit has a vacancy and want him, he can go) and Sebastian will not overlook the 2014 season, where the Australian outperformed him. Therefore till Sebastian is at Ferrari, Daniel’s chances to bag that seat are bleak. As far as Max goes Red Bull will carry on retaining him but the critical question is will the Milton Keynes outfitl have another dominating reign like it had in the V8 era? They also might have four cockpits to shuffle around their drivers, but they don’t have the same quality of drivers in their junior driver program as they have had in previous years.
Toro Rosso: Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kyvat have been renewed for another year. Carlos probably is the more talented out of the two who seems to be only getting better every year. But for him to make it to the senior team or for Daniil to get his previous race-seat back is going to be a tough scenario if neither of those drivers are going anywhere. Sitting in the wings to target a Toro Rosso seat is 2016 GP2 champion Pierre Gasly, who is eager to be in an F1 car by 2018, and lined up behind him is GP2 driver Sean Gelael.
McLaren: Stoffel Vandoorne confirmed but Fernando Alonso is the loose cannon. For the driver Fernando is, getting stuck at McLaren will never play to his benefit until Honda produce the best engine or unless McLaren change the engine supplier. But where can the Spaniard go? The fact that he has left every team on a bad note, rules out Ferrari, and Mercedes for him. The board at Mercedes have not forgiven the incident between him and Lewis at McLaren in 2009, where he spilled the beans on McLaren spying on other teams and cost the team and its then engine supplier Mercedes, which led to an FIA enquiry which resulted in a fine worth millions of dollars. So McLaren took him back after that, but Mercedes is not an option. There were rumours saying if Mercedes have a seat free and Vettel doesn’t join them, that might be an option for them. But with Valterri performing as well as Lewis or even outperforming him at times, he is the obvious option now. Ferrari and Alonso too did not part on good terms, therefore the only option is Renault, the team he won many titles with. But however, the truth is there are no seats free for the double champion and with Robert Kubica being associated with Renault now, Renault as an engine provider to McLaren might make more sense to retain Alonso. (We’ll come back to the engine riddle later though)
Force India: Esteban Ocon confirmed however the team is still in negotiations with Sergio Perez. In Silverstone Vijay Mallya mentioned confirmed Ocon being signed on a multiyear deal while he mentioned that they are still in talks with Perez. As far as the future of the team goes, there is a whole new world waiting there with a new name change in store before the 2018 season. They will eventually drop India from the name and that will be their big story. However ‘Force One’ in my opinion would be bad idea, theres an SUV by Force Motors on Indian roads and it is also powered with a Mercedes engine.
Williams: Lance Stroll confirmed for obvious reasons where as the second driver remains a question, since stye brought back Felipe Massa from his retirement as a temporary replacement. If Antonio Giovinazzi sits a Sauber in 2018, then one can expect Pascal Wehrlein as a Mercedes protege to be bagging the Williams team. However another possibility could be Valterri shifts back to Williams in case Mercedes sign another driver and don’t sign him for next year. But Pascal seems the obvious choice, if his Sauber seat goes to the Ferrari protege. While the ultimate option can be Massa being retained for another year. Or maybe a potential return for Paul Di Resta who had stepped in for an ailing Massa at the Hungarian GP. Paul’s return could compliment Kubica’s comeback and end the perception of teen F1 proteges that has stalled the driver market.
Renault: Nico Hulkenberg is confirmed and will be in the second year of his three year contract in 2018, whereas Jolyon Palmer might be on his way out of the team and the sport. Palmer’s performance has been under scrutiny for most of 2017, and the gap between him and his team-mate have worsen matters further. With Robert Kubica showing competitive form in his test in Hungary, he is a probable option for Renault. The pole quit F1 after a life threatening injury from his rally crash in 2009, however he was considered a special talent, even by the likes of Lewis Hamilton. Kubica’s return to the Formula 1 is almost 80-90 percent certain, but in such a scenario his former team Renault will be his obvious option. What about the Alonso and Renault rumours? Flavio Briatore and Fernando’s manager have often been seen having talks at the Renault hospitality this season, which has lead to much of the speculation so far. However, whether those talks are to broker an engine deal for McLaren or secure a spot for Fernando, still remain a question. But with Kubica’s test results, the Alonso-Renault speculation has died down.
Haas: With Haas being a Ferrari customer team, a common speculation in the paddock is that it is like Ferrari’s junior team. However Haas has both their drivers signed on multi-year deals, unless one of them is fired or loses a drive by the end of the year. Since Ferrari’s two proteges Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi are due for a seat, one can see Charles Leclerc being given a drive or made a reserve driver for the team.
Sauber: The Sauber scenario is similar to Haas where the obvious choices will be Ferrari reserves. However, for the 2018 season Marcus Ericsson will definitely stay given his close relationship with Longbow Finance group who own shares in Sauber. Their second driver for now is Pascal Wehrlein, however, whether he remains for the next season or not remains to be seen.
The Engine riddle :
The only story in this riddle is the speculation of whether Honda makes its ‘Hoxit’ from McLaren and powers another team on the grid, and if yes then who? And the obvious question that follows which is who powers McLaren? There were rumours around the Baku GP of Mercedes and McLaren joining forces as they have done before. Since that has happened or come to fruition yet, another possibility being speculated is McLaren being powered by Renault. Changing an engine provider might also help the Woking based team to retain Alonso. Honda’s fractious relationship with McLaren has reached its point, and when Eric Boullier was asked how much time is needed to inform an engine provider for ordering the following seasons engines he replied six weeks to six months. However he asserted that is one needs a good engine, then September is the earliest that a team needs to inform the engine provider. Given his reply, one can expect a confirmation or announcement by McLaren some time around the Belgium or Monza GP weekend. If McLaren does change its engine provider than where does Honda go? There has been a linkup between Toro Rosso and Honda. The junior Red Bull team has been interested in changing its engine provider from Renault to Honda. This means their senior team will be watching Honda’s progress on their cars, and might also look for them as a potential supplier in the future. According to the rumour mills of the F1 paddock, the whole scenario depends on when McLaren announce their deal. Honda has always wanted to power a second team and its recent potential deal was with Sauber, which sadly got called off after Monisha Kaltenborn stepped down as Team Principal. So Renault or Mercedes to McLaren and Honda to Toro Rosso is an interesting scenario waiting to play out in the second half of the season post summer break.
The Hungarian GP weekend on the whole kick-start the silly season of F1, apart from which the results and what next is purely performance based predictions. What happens in Spa, Belgium when F1 is back? Well the tickets are sold out and accommodations have been showing booked out on all websites for the last four weeks. Why? Crazy Dutch (Verstappen) fans who normally even cause road blockades to the track, if one doesn’t make it to the track early enough in the morning. Its an orange sea on the grand stands and camping sites most of the times, and this year Belgium fans will also block most of it for their local driver Stoffel Vandoorne.