Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas

Alonso, Vettel and Bottas: The keys to the 2018 F1 driver market

2018 F1 season

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Last month Nico Rosberg, the world championship trophy tucked under one arm, walked out of Formula One having rocked the driver market by announcing his immediate retirement.

Just a few months earlier Rosberg had signed a new contract with the world champions which would have kept him in their cars until the end of 2018. Mercedes have now solved their driver shortage for the upcoming season by hiring Valtteri Bottas alongside Lewis Hamilton.

But the question remains who will take one of the most wanted seats in F1 in 2018? With several major drivers out of contract at the end of this season, the 2018 driver market will already be playing on their minds.

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Fernando Alonso: Will he even stay in F1?

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2016
Alonso has dropped hints about a WEC move
Alonso was considered as a potential replacement for Rosberg this year, according to Toto Wolff. However the cost of extracting him from his McLaren contract likely put the kibosh on that.

The two-times world champion has had a best result of fifth since he rejoined McLaren two seasons ago. But his future in F1 appears to be less a question of the team’s competitiveness and more a matter of whether he still enjoys driving F1 cars.

Alonso’s passion for the pure thrill of driving is clearly undiminished. He often posts videos of himself taking a kart out for a spin on his own karting track. But he has repeatedly made it clear that the tyre and fuel preservation which have become a part of modern F1 do not excite him.

He has already warned 2017 will be his last season unless drivers are able to ‘push’ again. Late last year he dropped the latest in a succession of hints about moving to the World Endurance Championship.

His chances of ending up in silver overalls in 2018 will therefore depend on whether this year’s new cars rekindle his passion for F1. If they do, and Alonso is not convinced McLaren will be in a position to challenge for the championship in the near future, he has to be considered a candidate.

Sebastian Vettel: Is he keeping faith in Ferrari?

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Interlagos, 2016
Vettel had little to smile about at Ferrari last year
Alonso said his biggest regret about leaving Ferrari was that he hadn’t done it sooner. Is Vettel, the man who replaced him, beginning to realise why?

Vettel’s growing frustration was evident throughout 2016 as the team produced its second win-less campaign in three seasons. Like Alonso, a three-year deal running until the end of this season ruled him out of a move to Mercedes.

Hiring the most successful German driver available would have an obvious appeal for Mercedes. Particularly as they’ve missed out on the opportunity to parade Rosberg around the calendar with the number one on his car.

There is no shortage of push factors potentially driving Vettel out of Ferrari. Design ace James Allison has gone, leaving the team conspicuously short of firepower in the aerodynamics department at a time when they need it badly. His efforts to drive the team forward were met with a reminder from team principal Maurizio Arrivabene to focus on his driving instead.

Is Vettel ready to give up on his dream of emulating Michael Schumacher’s championships success at the Scuderia? The decision to postpone his contract discussions to the final year of his current deal suggests he may be looking for an exit strategy.

Valtteri Bottas: Does he have the speed to stay?

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2017
Bottas has the seat – for now at least
Is Bottas another Rosberg, quick enough to snatch a title from Hamilton? Or is he the next Heikki Kovalainen?

As was the case with Kovalainen at McLaren, Bottas has been brought into Mercedes at short notice following a sudden change of plans in the driver market. This has inevitably prompted questions about whether he’ll measure up.

Kovalainen didn’t. He took a single fortuitous victory in his first season and was dropped after his second year when McLaren spied the opportunity to hire a second world champion.

Unsurprisingly given the roster of talent available in 2018, Mercedes have given Bottas a one-year deal. There is an option for a further season but this will have performance clauses attached.

Bottas has the crucial advantage of occupying the seat for now. In theory, it is in his hands to perform will enough that the team won’t want to go through the disruption of changing drivers again next season. But in practice, he’s been set a high bar to clear.

And the rest

Esteban Ocon, Manor, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2016
Ocon: One to watch this year
While these are the three likeliest options for Mercedes in 2018, last month was a reminder we should never take these things for granted.

Hamilton already has a deal in place for 2018. Assuming he doesn’t ‘do a Rosberg’, who else might join him next year?

We can discount Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen as both Red Bull drivers are locked down beyond the end of this year.

Kimi Raikkonen is extending his Ferrari contract year-by-year. However he failed to beat Alonso or Vettel as team mate to them over the past three seasons, so why would Mercedes bother with him?

The most realistic chance of a surprise appointment at Mercedes for 2018 may come from within their own driver development programme. Esteban Ocon could make a strong case for himself at Force India this year. Pascal Wehrlein also has a second chance having moved to Sauber.

Then there’s the rest of the midfield including the likes of Romain Grosjean, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz Jnr. None of these drivers will want to lock down their 2018 plans until they Mercedes seat has been taken.

All assuming, of course, the world champions aren’t about to drop the ball this year.

Over to you

Who should be Mercedes’ first choice for Hamilton’s team mate in 2018? What does Bottas need to do to ensure it’s him?

Have your say in the comments.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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51 comments on “Alonso, Vettel and Bottas: The keys to the 2018 F1 driver market”

  1. 2017 season hasn’t even started yet and now silly season of speculation begins .

    1. driver’s market is about the only news to talk about until the cars are launched.

    2. C – exactly. Speculation used to begin around the time of the Italian GP. It hardly inspires confidence in the thrill factor of the up-coming season that journalists have had to raise this topic now.

  2. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    20th January 2017, 12:50

    If Vettel goes to Merc I wonder if Ferrari have the pull for attracting a superstar driver now? Obvious choices are Hamilton and Ricciardo but would they really want to leave two superior teams (by superior I mean more likely to win). They could well be in a situation where they need 2 new drivers, Sainz would be a good choice but not the big name lead driver you associate with modern Ferrari. Or will it be like the 90’s where they had to settle for the likes of Berger, Alesi? Certainly the most potentially interesting driver market shuffle for a long time.

    1. I’m no fan of Ferrari, but I don’t think they’ll really struggle to find someone decent. Many drivers see driving for Ferrari as an amazing opportunity, thinking with hearts not heads. They are seen as the ultimate aim for many, and will continue to be even while they churn out fair-to-middling cars.

      1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
        20th January 2017, 16:37

        Oh I agree completely @drmouse, they’ll never have a shortage of drivers wanting to drive for the marquee. I just wonder if they’ll be able to attract a ‘superstar’ driver if you know what I mean? Because imo I already think they’ve got a worse line up than Merc, RB and Mclaren and if Vettel departs it may get worse.

        1. 5 wdcs in ferrari.
          5 wdcs across the other three teams.

          You’re right, definitely weaker line up…

          1. @Mr ed
            4 of those driver’s championships were won by Newey, and the other one was a long time ago before Kimi broke his back…

            So really, 4 of them belong to Red Bull. If Ferrari couldn’t win a championship for Fernando ‘Best Driver On the Grid’ Alonso, how on earth will they win one for an average driver like Vettel?

    2. Ricciardo no he has won nothing yet. Hamilton could give it a crack as he achieved his dream of 3 titles to match Senna. If he wins at Ferrari directly after Alonso and Vettel did not it would add fuel to the argument of best driver of his generation plus the biggest team and driver together. All assuming Vettel leaves and Ferrari is no good this year.

      1. Evil Homer (@)
        21st January 2017, 13:02

        Ricciardo has not had the car to win WDC yet. Put him in the same car as Lewis and I think Daniel will be faster.

  3. Everyone is focused in Mercedes and its drivers, even for 2018. However, we don’t even know if Mercedes will be the best team in this year. Yes, they have had a lot of advantage for some years but the new regulations and rules are extremly different. Once we see the 2017 Mercedes perfomance, may be we stop paying attention to who will join their seats for next seasons.

    1. They arent extreamly different. They have opened up the tokens system which theoreticly gives the other contructors a better chance to catch up but thats all.

      1. The aero/bodywork regs are extremely different. Basically, pretty much everything has changed significantly except the power unit.

        Even with the best power unit, if Merc cock up the aero, suspension, or any other part, it could drop them down the pecking order.

    2. Agreed. A completely new set of aero-rules is likely to be a big shake-up, and the other big spenders are (nearly) as likely to have the top-car as Merc is. Ok, Red Bull is locked out, but if there’s change at Ferrari, that’ll always be more interesting than who gets the Merc seat(s). And while a 2nd-tier team (Williams, Force India, maybe Renault or even Haas) isn’t likely to be able to maintain front-running speed through a regulation-era, it may well happen one of them snatches a surprisingly good first draft (like Williams did for the 2014-2016 years) and be a bit more attractive than now. We’ll basically have half the grid being able to move and are also likely to see a group of them having incentives to move, so it’ll be an interesting driver market far beyond Merc. And when it comes to Merc, one thing hasn’t been mentioned at all yet: Will Hamilton stay if Merc go backwards?

  4. it’s a bit early to speculate, but here it goes anyway: Bottas!

    While probably not as fast as HAM, the finn is pretty quick in qually and very composed during the race, so if the car will still be dominant in 2017, Bottas will gather lots of podiums to easily put him second in the championship. Why would Mercedes switch to a different driver, like Vettel or Alonso, when they can win the WCC without the head-ache of managing divas?

    Sure, if Mercedes will not be dominant this year, then they would need a more aggressive driver to regain the WCC for 2018. So most likely Vettel.

    1. Why would Mercedes switch to a different driver, like Vettel or Alonso, when they can win the WCC without the head-ache of managing divas?

      Exactly. Wolff said before that driver tension may cause him to change the line-up. Now he has Bottas alongside Hamilton who will cause no tension with his laid back approach and as long he helps secure them a WCC, as you say, not a hope they will drop him.

    2. Not exactly the top drawer talent that Ferrari are looking for, but it is likely that a Bottas for Vettel swap could occur for 2018.

  5. I think we have the very definition of a “slow news day”.

    Bottas needs to score points consistently throughout the season, at a high enough level that the Constructor’s championship is a no-brainer.

    Which really means he needs to match Hamilton’s driving style as closely as possible– one of the advantages Mercedes has had for the last 4 years is that Hamilton and Rosberg both did well in the same type of car, so you don’t have the issues Vettel has had with his teammates– either the car suits Vettel, or the car suits the teammate.

    1. You mean Rosberg did very well cause he was got Hamilton’s data on where to brake late fuel consumption etc etc.

      1. That certainly helped. But both drivers obviously had a similar preference for car setup– ie, front/rear bias, handling neutrality, etc., otherwise, Hamilton’d data wouldn’t have been that useful to Rosberg.

        There was a fun video from 2014, at the end of the season, of the differences between Hamilton and Rosberg’s steering wheel (they’re similar, but a few differences). Hamilton’s brake controls were an order of magnitude more complex than Rosberg’s.

  6. Yeah I guess like most, I agree, let’s start by seeing where the teams and drivers stand amongst each other and how the season shapes up and that will determine what the desirable seats are for 2018. It’s simply too early to tell beyond what @keithcollantine has already spelled out as the possibilities.

  7. *humms* One of these [guys] is not like the others …

  8. I’m expecting Bottas to put up enough of a fight against Hamilton that they will extend his contact. Probably a 2 year contract to provide an overlap with Hamilton’s.

    But that’s provided Mercedes still have a distinct advantage. If the cars are much closer or Mercedes even lag behind Red Bull I think they’ll make a move for Alonso.

    1. @philipgb TBH I don’t think Mercedes is interested in Alonso, that’s what the media writes. Don’t forget how Alonso black mailed McLaren causing them $100,000,000,- fine which Mercedes had to pay. Furthermore, Alonso is not as good as people/media try to make out. For example, Alonso is poor in the rain and the driving in the rain set the men apart from the boys, Alonso is slow in qualifying and not the youngest anymore. So signing Alonso would be a bad idea and the top brass of Mercedes doesn’t really like Alonso because of the black mailing.

      1. Forget the media – if McLaren took him back so will others.

        If Merc doesn’t win the WDC due to the competition catching up and/or a mediocre performance from Bottas, they will take in Alonso or Vettel in a hurry even if would cause friction with Hamilton.

        It all comes down to money (WCC) – teams will sell their souls to win.

      2. Alonso poor in the rain?

        Parallel dimensions exist.

      3. Alonso wins in the rain:
        2007 European GP (McLaren)
        2010 Korean GP (Ferrari)
        2012 Malaysian GP (Ferrari)
        His wet vs. dry win probability ratio (assessed in 2014) is 0.75, well behind Hamilton’s 1.19, but comfortably ahead of Vettel’s 0.5. So ‘poor in the rain’? No.

  9. Vettel: Throws toys out of pram
    Alonso: Throws toys out of pram
    Bottas: Composed, sensible, reliable

  10. I didn’t even think of Sainz! How great would it be to see him at Merc!

  11. It will be Ocon or Pascal in 2018. What is the point of nurturing young drivers then?

  12. Oh come one we still don’t even know how competetive Mercedes will be.
    What if they are not capable to compete for example with Red Bull this year? Then Bottas could lose his seat just like it happened with Perez at McLaren.
    Anyway, I feel quite confident about Bottas being able to compete with Hamilton.

  13. Both Alonso and Vettel in the Mercedes for 2018, Bottas to Mclaren and Hamilton retirement.

    1. @mark jackson That will never ever happen.

    2. I don’t see HAM retiring for a good few years, yet. He’s no Rosberg, doesn’t have family commitments to lure him away, and he’s at the high point of his career.

      Part of the reason Rosberg retired, IMHO, was because he knew he was unlikely to get another shot at the title. This season was a perfect storm for him. With other things to do (spend time with family etc), he retired as champion.

      Hamilton still has the potential to win several more WDCs, and to remain at the top of his game for many years to come. He still loves racing. Why would he retire?

      1. When Lewis finally releases his hotly-awaited album and picks up a bunch of Grammys he’ll be too busy touring his live show to race! Surely? :->

  14. On Force India, both drivers need to highly outscore the teammate, a tie will low they options to be considered. That will be an internal battle to follow close.

    1. Dunno, if Ocon even gets close to Perez in his first full season in F1 I’d say that was pretty darn impressive.

  15. I hope either HAM leaves or VET leaves and they can finally become teammates to see once and for all, who is “better”.

    1. Vettel has 4, Hamilton has 3… that should tell you who is better.

      1. So by your calculation method, Vettel is better than Senna?

        1. I would think the “Nations Cup” would also be a good determining factor.

  16. People really think Vet will join Hamilton? If he was serious he would have done everything he could have this year. I never heard someone say im under contract so quick. The runner from Ric who saves his rep as 4xwc vs Kimi would go to Hamilton and risk the man with less WC beating him? Sure lol…. Hamilton would wiped the floor with him last yr with equal reliability, Kimi was close lol.

  17. Alo i could see he has nothing to lose just to gain, if he lost to Lewis it would be expected in qually which is half the battle more than half actually and people would say he is old. Vet ran from the first challenge he had lol showed no loyalty to Redbull absoloute zero. Yet fans claim he is back to his best when he is beating someone whl Alo made look a joke everyyear.

  18. Assuming that Mercedes has an equally competitive car in 2017… the only question is can Bottas help deliver those boringass 1-2 finishes on a consistent basis with LH.

  19. Well, Bottas is clearly a stop-gap…he’s been given a one-year contract by a team that normally signs drivers up to three-year contracts and longer. It’s obvious that he’s filling in until Vettel is available. At the end of the year, massa will retire again, Bottas will head back to Williams and Vettel will join Mercedes.

  20. I can see Hamilton going to Ferrari. Just for the challenge really but especially if Merc are not as competitive this year. We could even see both Merc drivers at Ferrari in 2018? Bottas would be the ideal replacement for Raikkonen. If he does reasonably well and Merc decide they want a bigger name then I can definitely see him at Ferrari. Or possibly McLaren if Alonso leaves.

    I cannot see Ham doing anything but staying at Merc or going to Ferrari.

  21. Bottas is as strong as Alonso (called it first); Alonso is older than Vettel (bigger baby); Bottas is better than Vettel (latter flattered by red bull 2010-13).

    Surely Ricciardo or Verstappen would be leading the pack to be a number one driver replacement if Hamilton did ever stop. Then the junior drivers are well placed behind them.

    No room for Vetonso/Alottel.

  22. I’m always rather tickled by Alonso’s insistence that the fuel-saving and tyre degradation in the current F1 would lead him to leave for the WEC. The endurance championship where this is of even more paramount importance. Lol.

  23. If Bottas stays in 2018. Vettel and Alonso will have nowhere to go. I’m wondering who McLaren will pick when Alonso leaves at the end of this year.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      22nd January 2017, 12:06

      If Alonso leaves, then I think Button does have the option to race in 2018. He still will be part of the team that year. It was just this year that he clearly stated that he didn’t want to race in F1.

  24. Well, yes 2018 is already exciting.

    Fernando is retirement age i mean WEC age.. Irrelevant. Bottas is comming in to his prime, who knows how good he is. If he is close or better than Lewis and Mercedes wins championship they will keep him.

    If he is better, or a lot bettet(very unlikeley) I can see Hamilton retiring.

    Then Mercedes will go for Vettel.

    Vettel though needs to move. There is only one direction Ferrari is good at… Backwards. Every year team rebuilds, and every year they are falling behind.

    Hard to imagine Italians beating GB in F1 engineering department. Scudrtia is now a very Italian team, if they are the best people results will only come after 3-5 years. If they are not, then results wont come.

    Vettel will know that, and from RBR experience he will also know first hand when team is movingin the right direction. Vettel’s demeanor suggests team is not heading in the right direction.

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