Wednesday, 7 December 2016

They Didn't Have Lord Huggington?


As if 2016 hadn't seen enough uncertainty, newly crowned World Champion Nico Rosberg decided he'd lob some more of it into the 2017 F1 driver market by announcing his retirement. therefore, as advertised in this week's Autosport magazine (no, really) there's a vacant cockpit next to Lewis Hamilton for next season, which seemed as good an excuse as any to jolt this bad boy back into life and have a looksee at some of the likely (and less likely- I'm looking at you, Fernando) contenders for the drive, factoring in not just driver capabilities, but also their relative levels of availability

Certainly the most "available" of all the contenders (without a 2017 drive locked in anywhere and part of the Mercedes junior programme) and has already tested for the team (and, not insignificantly, on the larger 2017 tyres), Wehrlein had a very good first half of 2016 with Manor, blowing away rent-a-ride Rio Haryanto (who obviously won't be part of the Merc discussions, but may yet reappear somewhere on the grid in 2017) and scoring the team's only point in Austria. However, when fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon (more on him later) took over from Haryanto, Wehrlein suddenly found himself with a much stronger team-mate, who ended up showing him the way home by the end of the season and indeed earning a considerable move up the grid next season to Force India- it's understood Force India had their pick of the 2, and opted for Ocon- given his availability, one can't help but feel the longer the seat remains vacant, the less likely it is that Wehrlein will fill the cockpit, as there's no other loose ends that need tying up. Wehrlein does tick many of the boxes, and even if he doesn't land the grand prize of the Mercedes drive, the ensuing market upheaval should land him in an F1 seat somewhere for 2017

Has the advantage over Wehrlein in terms of experience and only has 1 year left on his Williams contract (and unlikely to be earning close to Rosberg/Hamilton money there), so while obviously not as completely available as Wehrlein, it's hardly unthinkable that he could be available, particularly given the presence in his management of one T Wolff (yes, that one). However, he's not exactly been blowing away a winding-down Felipe Massa over the last 3 years in what has admittedly been a poor car and probably wouldn't be a huge threat to Hamilton and while at 27 is hardly a veteran, he's perhaps not seen as having the development potential of some of the other contenders. His departure would also leave Williams in a potentially very weak position, with 18-year-old Lance Stroll making his debut for them in 2017, although turning down the advances of their engine supplier may leave them in an awkward position further down the line, although running Wehrlein for a year could help placate Lauda and Wolff

Another Mercedes junior, won European F3 (beating Max Verstappen along the way) in 2014 and GP3 in 2015. Graduated to F1 with Manor midway through 2016 and before long was matching (and beating) Wehrlein (was particularly impressive in challenging conditions in Brazil), to such an extent that he's landed a very decent drive for 2017 with Force India where (assuming he doesn't land the grand prize) he should give Sergio Perez a very hard time indeed. Has that Force India contract for 2017 (possibly longer) but said contract does supposedly have a release clause should Wolff and Lauda come calling- Force India could easily be compensated through a combination of money off their (considerable) Mercedes engine bill and/or the services of Wehrlein. Has arguably shown more in F1 than Wehrlein- not bad for a kid who was driving a touring car 6 months ago. Whatever happens, this guy is going to be worth watching in 2017

We'll keep this one short- not going to happen. Alonso has a redonkulously big contract with McLaren which, even if the team were willing to break (and they're not) Mercedes simply have not budgeted for. It's important to factor in the wider context here- a few weeks ago Mercedes announced they were reducing the number of cars they were fielding in DTM from 8 to 6. They'll have budgeted for 2017 some time ago and, if anything, will be minded to reduce the expenditure that they had budgeted for Rosberg's salary (which was said to be considerably less than that of Alonso and Vettel, for that matter). And that's before we consider how McLaren would fill the hole that would create alongside their new number 2 Stoffel Vandoorne (that's not his status, it's his new driver number)

Never mind not available, Kimi probably doesn't even know yet that Rosberg has retired. After the final race, Kimi traditionally embarks on a 2-month long period of vodka-induced hibernation in the far north of Finland, and then about a week before the first test of 2017, Ferrari send an enormous vat of coffee to sober him up in time to get impressively close to Vettel. Allegedly

All the "big" names are under contract, therefore making any bid to extract a Red Bull, Ferrari or McLaren driver extremely costly. Carlos Sainz has been mentioned, and is a vastly under-rated driver with little immediate prospect of a promotion from Toro Rosso to the senior Red Bull squad, but Renault have already had an approach for his services rejected- if Horner and Marko are prepared to rebuff their own engine supplier, what chance have Mercedes got? Neither Jenson Button nor Felipe Massa are likely to be coming out of retirement (and, frankly, neither delivered performances in 2016 that would merit being rewarded with such a drive). These are far from ideal circumstances for Mercedes- they've also got to hedge against the possibility of Hamilton himself retiring should he secure another title, to pursue his hip-hop career (or whatever it is that he does), and they also need someone who can push him for results now

Your move, Toto


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