The Italian Grand Prix weekend was massive for the F1 driver market as Felipe Massa and Jenson Button announced their respective decisions to retire and take an F1 sabbatical.
The announcements left at least one seat free at Williams and confirmed the long-anticipated promotion of GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne to F1. But plenty of pieces of the 2017 F1 jigsaw puzzle remain incomplete as we look at the confirmed and potential driver pairings for the 2017 F1 season.
Mercedes-Benz – confirmed 2017 driver line-up:
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Ferrari – confirmed 2017 driver line-up:
Sebastien Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
Red Bull Racing – confirmed 2017 driver line-up:
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
McLaren-Honda – confirmed 2017 driver line-up:
Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.
With the retirement of Felipe Massa at least one seat is available at Williams. Jenson Button’s ‘sabbatical’ announcement at Monza means he will not be replacing the likeable Brazilian. Several drivers are thought to be in contention but the smart money is on Felipe Nasr to take the seat vacated by countryman Massa. Talent plus commercial backing is a valuable combination for Williams who still need to keep an eye on the bank balance.
Rumours persist that Bottas is not guaranteed his seat for 2017. The Finn has been lacklustre in recent seasons, distracted by talk of a move to Ferrari. However Williams are now likely to keep Bottas to maintain some degree of continuity in to next season.
Williams 2017 driver line-up: Valterri Bottas and Felipe Nasr.
Carlos Sainz Junior is confirmed for 2017 at Toro Rosso after another very strong season. The Spaniard kept Max Verstappen honest at Toro Rosso and has effectively put the final nails in the coffin of Danni Kvyatt’s F1 career.
Danni Kvyatt will leave the wider Red Bull F1 stable soon. It has been a spectacular and rapid fall from grace for the Russian but in the pressure-cooker environment of Red Bull, it is always a risk.
Expect GP2 front-runner and Red Bull protégé Pierre Gasly to step up to partner Sainz at Toro Rosso in 2017.
Toro Rosso 2017 driver line-up: Carlos Sainz Jnr and Pierre Gasly.
The ever under-rated Nico Hulkenberg will stay with Force India in 2017. Chat in the paddock had long suggested Sergio Perez would move on to Ferrari until Raikkonen re-signed. Rumours switched to a move to Williams but with Felipe Nasr likely to land at Williams, expect Perez to move to Renault (more on that later).
Partnering Hulkenberg next season is likely to be Euro F3 Championship leader Lance Stroll. Touted as a possible signing at Williams, Stroll will make his graduation from F3 to F1 in 2017 – subject to securing his superlicence.
Force India 2017 driver line-up: Nico Hulkenberg and Lance Stroll.
2016 has been a painful debut season for the reformed Renault works team. It has been hard to judge the performance of their drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer against the rest of the field. The intra-team battle has been easier to call.
Palmer’s debut season in F1 is likely to be his last, for a while at least. The Briton has experienced the kind of debut season that has wrecked many an F1 career in the past. Palmer has not done anything particularly wrong but I expect him to be replaced by Sergio Perez for 2017.
Although contracted to Force India for 2017, rumours suggest a clause allows Perez’s financial backers to move him away. Perez has hinted recently that his move will be critical to his future career – meaning a move to a well-funded, works F1 team the most obvious outcome.
Despite his mega-shunt at Spa, Kevin Magnussen is likely to retain his seat for 2017.
Renault F1 2017 driver line-up: Kevin Magnussen and Sergio Perez.
The American debutants are likely to retain both Romain Grosjean and Esteban Guttierrez for 2017. With no room at Ferrari for next season, Grosjean is unlikely to pass up the connection to the prancing horse and remain with Gene Haas’ eponymous team.
Guttierrez has been hampered with technical issues which have masked his performance relative to Grosjean. Expect him to get another season of F1 in 2017.
Haas F1 2017 driver line-up: Romain Grosjean and Esteban Guttierrez.
The seemingly perpetual financial woes for the Sauber team – despite recent cash injection from new owners – suggests their 2017 line-up will be driven by driver budget. Who that will be is anyone’s guess.
Unless a seat opens up at one of Mercedes’ customer teams further up the grid – Force India or Mercedes – expect Pascal Wherlein to remain with Manor in 2017.
In terms of the second Manor seat, erstwhile driver Rio Haryanto is working hard on finding budget for 2017. The backers of GP2 race-winner Sergei Sorotkin and Norman Nato are looking at options to promote their drivers to F1 in 2017.
Manor 2017 driver line-up: Pascal Wherlein and Sergei Sorotkin/Norman Nato.