Events

Silly Season Talks Start Before Silverstone.

As Formula 1 heads towards its traditional mid-season, northern hemisphere summer break, it becomes the time that talk, conversations, rumours both founded and non, swirl around “the paddock” and in social media. Invariably they focus on under-performing drivers, unhappy drivers, but this year is a little different.

At Mercedes there’s no doubt that Lewis Hamilton will be staying. Valtteri Bottas is keen to stay, and in the third year of a three year contract has a bit of clout to negotiate for this year. However there are two potential speed bumps for Bottas. Esteban Ocon, removed from a full time F1 seat after a lacklustre 2018, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Max has an opt-out clause should Red Bull “fail to deliver”, as in provide the drivers a championship. With Pierre Gasly taking over from Daniel Ricciardo, another driver featuring in the discussions (allegedly), Max is in the better position to negotiate for 2020 and with Red Bull’s incremental increases this year plus Verstappen’s stunning win in Austria, it could be enough to entice the fiery Dutchman to stay. However it’s an open secret that Mercedes have eyeballed Verstappen and would welcome him with open arms for the 2020 season.

Waiting in the wings are Toro Rosso drivers Daniil Kvyat and Alexander Albon. Although neither have really impressed this year, again improvements have been incremental and with Honda working behind the scenes to get their engines closer to Mercedes and Ferrari, again it may be enough to keep Verstappen. The question mark then moves to hover over the head of Pierre Gasly. In a car similarly specced to Verstappen’s, Gasly has failed to really fire so far.

Then there is Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel is clearly unhappy with progress here and with Red Bull getting ever closer, the former Red Bull driver is said to be considering his options for 2020. But, and it’s a strong But, the rumours of Vettel moving, coming from the man himself, seem to be just that, rumours. Charles Leclerc is contracted to Ferrari to 2022 but his frustration with the team orders structure are having the Monegasque driver chafing.

This is where Perth born Daniel Ricciardo’s grinning face pops up. Ricciardo was strongly linked to Ferrari at this time last year, however it appears that Ferrari’s Sergio Marchionne had his sights set on Leclerc, with Kimi Raikonnen being punted. It’s said that Ricciardo also has an opt out clause, meaning if Renault haven’t met his expectations for 2019, he’s apparently free to seek options elsewhere. Adding into this intriguing mix is Nico Hulkenberg. It’s also been said that Renault have a toe in the door to open it wider for Nico to leave. Although this appears unlikely, there also is enough constant talk about this to consider it more factual than fictional, it seems.

Coming into consideration is McLaren. After putting the broom through the drivers’ camp and saying goodbye to a tired Fernando Alonso and a struggling Stoffel Vandoorne, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris have seen steady growth, and importantly, get along with each other and team management. This has resulted in McLaren confirming the duo for 2020 this week.

Back to Red Bull, or specifically Toro Rosso. History shows that the Red Bull management haven’t kept a second tier driver pairing for “next season” since 2013, meaning that Kvyat and Albon will both be looking towards a step up should Leclerc ultimately be shown the door.

Esteban Ocon has his name linked to Racing Point. Lance Stroll is in no immediate danger of losing his seat, being the boss’ son and all, but Sergio Perez may be the one making way elsewhere. A competent driver, his lower mid-pack results may be enough for Racing Point to potentially trial a new line up for 2020. Then this opens a door for Perez elsewhere and Haas has Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen in positions of will we/won’t we be here next year? Neither have really impressed, and as likeable individually each driver is, together there’s no sense of harmony, perhaps more of frustration that results haven’t come at the expected pace.

2019’s tail sitters, Williams, have George Russell and veteran Robert Kubica to consider. Kubica’s form this year has been, it’s fair to say, average but understandable given the circumstances of his re-entry to Formula 1. No word yet from the Polish driver but expect him to not be a driver next year, sadly. Russell on the other hand, could show potential in a team with a car better suited to his abilities and with his connections to Mercedes, his eyes will need to focus on improvement now if a dream to be coated in silver is to be realised.

The former airfield that is now a Formula 1 circuit has a length of 5.891 kilometres, making it one of the longer tracks to be raced at. Lap count drops dramatically compared to Austria, with just 52 required to complete 306 kilometres worth of racing. And a lap record of 1:30.621 in 2017 by Lewis Hamilton also shows how teams and drivers must reset from the shorter Red Bull Ring track.

Adding to the anticipation of this weekend is news that Silverstone’s full track surface has been relaid for the second time in two years. With the new rubber from Pirelli being used it means that teams will go into this year’s round at the historic British track “cold” in regards to data on performance. The Formula 1 Rolex British Grand Prix sees cars out for FP1 on Friday July 12 at 10:00 local, with qualifying for 14:00 local on Saturday. Race start is 14:10 local, Sunday July 14.

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David Conole

Dave Conole is the former long-term circuit commentator for Sydney Motorsport Park, has worked trackside at the Australian F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne and is self-employed as an automotive content producer.

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