There’s a fine line between success and failure in Formula 1, and with the new season only a few days away, Craig Norman looks at the drivers that could find themselves gunning for a coveted seat on the grid, or fighting for their place in the sport itself.
The Frenchman’s third season with Haas is a key one for his future. Joining a startup outfit like Haas in 2016 was a ploy to get himself in contention for the second Ferrari seat when, which now feels like an if, the Scuderia part ways with Kimi Raikkonen.
The window for Grosjean moving to Ferrari is shrinking more and more and could be closed for good by the end of 2018. His consistency has been erratic in the last 18 months, to say the least – especially with the reoccurring brake problems the team has been suffering from since almost day one – which has dented his reputation. Radio messages have become tense and angry as the frustration has set in.
But the biggest concern Grosjean has if Ferrari is an option is the arrival of their junior driver Charles Leclerc to the grid at Sauber. If his rookie season is a stellar one, and he’s promoted to a top seat because of it, then Romain’s dreams of a top seat in F1 will be over.
Despite his consistent performances and excellent points scoring record, Perez has seen his options to join a top tier team dwindle as younger drivers have started to come to the fore.
Landing at Force India after the McLaren disaster has salvaged his reputation for excellence in tyre management, but his options for a second chance at race wins and championships might be limited to Ferrari only, due to rumoured talks last summer. Red Bull’s leniency on their exceptional young driver programme and Mercedes’ decision to sign Valtteri Bottas last January are both signs that Perez’s star isn’t shining as bright as it once was.
The predicament the Mexican now faces is that he’s now in his final year of his Force India contract driving a car that might not be a plucky as the past two seasons have produced. Poor performances are not what a driver needs when negotiating a new deal, and with Force India’s budget constraints getting tighter and tighter, Perez could end up a free agent with nowhere to go.
Stepping into a World Champion’s shoes is never easy but Bottas did enough to warrant a contract extension at Mercedes, after a season that fluctuated from potential title dark horse to disappointing performances after the summer break.
The jury is still out on whether Bottas can deliver a consistent enough season to challenge for a world championship alongside the likes of teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel. But in 2018 he’ll need to more than ever, as the driver market opening up this year creates chances for his sought-after Mercedes seat to be up for grabs from the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, who could be the key to everything falling into place.
In a reoccurring scenario that has cycled through for several seasons now, Kimi Raikkonen’s future at Ferrari, and Formula 1 is a topic of conversation that resembles a motorsport Groundhog Day.
On his day, the 2007 World Champion can be unbeatable, as Monaco last season showed. The nature of the principality and the strategy call Ferrari made while the Finn was leading cost him a first race win in four seasons. But these days are appearing less and less, and the number of drivers that could potentially replace Raikkonen grows each season; Charles Leclerc joins a list that has seen Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean, Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez grace it at some point since 2014.
Will we finally see The Iceman ride off into the sunset after Abu Dhabi? It’s all dependant on what pace he shows across the season, but would he really be bothered if it all came to an end?
Now holding the unwanted record of most races without a podium, Hulkenberg’s stock is still high but has been hitting the glass ceiling for several years now. That’s no fault of his; the vaunted move to a top team hasn’t materialised because of circumstance, the closest being Ferrari in 2013 where talks were ended through a text message.
What time does Hulkenberg have left to prove himself? Joining Renault was a defining decision because the team will eventually return to winning races and championships, but if this happens while the German is in his prime is anyone’s guess. New teammate Carlos Sainz is a much bigger test than Jolyon Palmer was, with youth being on the Spaniard’s side. This will be a tricky test for one of Formula 1’s unrealised talents.