With the top three teams closing in on agreeing deals for 2019, we look at how the whole grid is shaping up for 2019. This article will be updated with paddock rumours and once drivers are confirmed by teams.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are now confirmed at the team for 2019. Hamilton’s contract extends to a second year while the team has an option on Bottas in 2020. It was unlikely the deals would extend beyond 2020 as Mercedes itself has not yet committed to a new commercial contract for 2021 and beyond. Bottas will likely be retained for the second year if he continues to perform.
After Sebastian Vettel committed his future to the team with a three-year deal last season, there is only one place up for grabs at Ferrari in 2019. Kimi Raikkonen has occupied that seat since 2014, but he looks set to be replaced by Ferrari junior and Sauber race driver Charles Leclerc. Raikkonen has faced questions over his future before, but this time the stories are emanating from Maranello and appear to be more substantiated than in the past.
There were rumours a Leclerc/Raikkonen swap could come as early as Spa, but that would not have made sense for either Leclerc — who is flourishing in his debut year with Sauber — or Ferrari, which currently leads the constructors’ championship thanks to Raikkonen outscoring Bottas at Mercedes. However, the likelihood is that Raikkonen’s time at Ferrari — and therefore his time in F1 — will come to an end with the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi.
Daniel Ricciardo was seen as the key to the 2018 driver market at the start of the season, but as time has passed it has become increasingly obvious that Red Bull is his only real option for 2019. With Bottas making a strong start to the season, Mercedes never really looked like an option and the expected negotiations with Ferrari failed to gather momentum (if they happened at all).
Given his own performances at the start of the year it seems a shame Ricciardo hasn’t been given more options at this crucial juncture in his career, but with Red Bull’s new Honda engine deal secure there is renewed optimism that the team from Milton Keynes can mount a serious challenge in the coming seasons. An offer from McLaren and interest from Renault seems unlikely to be taken seriously given the gulf in performance between F1’s big three and the rest of the field.
Max Verstappen, meanwhile, is signed to Red Bull until the end of 2020.
It’s looking increasingly likely that Sergio Perez’s big opportunity to drive for a top team has passed him by. When he broke onto the scene with Sauber in 2011 he was linked with Ferrari before opting for a single but disastrous year with McLaren in 2013. He has been at Force India ever since and, given his continued strong performances, it’s easy to see him staying put as long as the team’s finances allow.
However, if there is change at the team, Formula 2 championship leader George Russell looks like a clear candidate for the seat. He is next in line in Mercedes’ young driver hierarchy after current Force India driver Esteban Ocon and would be an obvious replacement if Ocon moves to Renault (see below). However, Lance Stroll has also been rumoured and would be tempting for Force India given the financial package he brings with him. That could lead to Russell joining Williams instead.
Both Williams and Sergey Sirotkin’s backers have said the Russian is on a multiyear contract, but the exact details have never been made clear. He is thought to contribute €15 million to the team’s budget and, given the team’s poor start to the season, it’s unlikely Williams will be able to negotiate a better financial offer from anyone else. Lance Stroll also brings a financial package to the team, but it is reported to be reducing year-on-year, so it remains to be seen whether the deal still makes sense for both parties in 2019.
Test driver Robert Kubica remains a viable alternative to the existing lineup, and with each Friday practice session he drives in the team is getting a better understanding of what he would bring to a full-time race seat. He insists Williams isn’t his only option for 2019, but it’s hard to see where else he would fit in. Although it’s not been rumoured in the paddock, Russell would be a natural fit for Williams. The team is powered by Mercedes and a closer deal with additional technical support has been rumoured for future seasons. The question is whether the team’s technical development would suffer from taking on a third rookie in as many season.
When Nico Hulkenberg signed for Renault in 2017 both sides were keen to underline the long-term nature of the deal and it would be a surprise if the German doesn’t stay for a third season. Carlos Sainz‘s position is less clear beyond the end of 2018 as the Spaniard is currently on loan from Red Bull in a deal that only came about after Toro Rosso terminated its Renault contract early. Now Red Bull has ditched Renault completely for 2019 and there are no guarantees that the drinks manufacturer will allow Sainz to stay on for another season at its former engine partner. Regardless, detailed talks with Sainz will not be allowed to happen until Ricciardo’s deal is done and it is clear Red Bull will not need Sainz to partner Verstappen.
Ocon now appears to be close to a Renault drive for 2019, which makes sense as he is arguably France’s most promising F1 talent since Alain Prost. Quite how such a deal would fit with his existing Mercedes contract is less clear, but Mercedes and Renault do have partnerships outside F1 and a deal may be forged whereby Mercedes retains an option on him for future seasons.
Pierre Gasly has made a strong start to what appears to be a very promising F1 career this year and looks set to be retained for 2019. The outlook for teammate Brendon Hartley is less rosy after the New Zealander’s struggles to kick start his F1 career at the first ten races of the year. Ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix it emerged that Toro Rosso had approached McLaren junior Lando Norris to replace Hartley from the Austrian Grand Prix onwards, but the Italian team wanted him not only for the remainder of 2018 but also 2019 and McLaren wasn’t willing to lose their option on Norris for next year.
Red Bull’s Helmut Marko has talked up Dan Ticktum as a potential Hartley replacement, but the 19-year-old Brit won’t have the necessary points from junior categories to apply for an FIA superlicence by the end of this season. Even if he wins the European F3 title he will still be ten points short of the 40 required, meaning the FIA would have to bend its own rules to accommodate him.
Although it would seem like a backwards step at this stage in his career, Red Bull may choose to put Sainz back in a Toro Rosso next year to keep him in the Red Bull family should the Renault deal fall through.
Haas holds an option on Kevin Magnussen’s services for 2019 and it would be a big surprise if it wasn’t exercised. The 2018 season is the first time the Dane has driven for a team for a second consecutive season and he is thriving on the stability of that relationship with 39 points from the opening 10 races. He has no obvious options on the table elsewhere for 2019 and it seems like a no-brainer for the American team to sign him up as soon as possible.
On the other side of the garage, Romain Grosjean’s future is less certain. A series of accidents have piled the pressure on the Frenchman since the start of the season and all of his 12 points came in one go with a fourth-place finish in Austria. Team boss Guenther Steiner says driver talks will start after the summer break, giving Grosjean two more races to improve his hand before sitting down at the negotiating table, but it would be surprising if Haas didn’t at least explore other options before deciding on its 2019 line-up.
Kubica has been linked to the team but Steiner insists no talks have taken place.
Fernando Alonso’s future remains the source of extensive speculation. His current McLaren contract is a multi-year deal, but not necessarily limited to F1. If the team follows through on plans for an IndyCar entry in 2019, it would help facilitate Alonso’s pursuit of the Triple Crown by giving him another shot at the Indy 500 victory he missed out on last year. More doubt is cast over his F1 future due to a potential clash between Sebring on the World Endurance Championship calendar and the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on the weekend of March 16-17 next year. That may not seem like a difficult choice, but if he wants to complete his stated aim of winning the WEC title, he will need to prioritise Sebring over the very first race of a new season in Melbourne.
In the meantime, it seems as though McLaren is preparing for life after Alonso with stories it has approached both Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Sainz for 2019. While Ricciardo seems very unlikely, Raikkonen may be tempted if the price is right. But Sainz is the most intruiging prospect and Zak Brown has confirmed the Spaniard is very much on his shortlist. Where that leaves Stoffel Vandoorne is unclear, as McLaren was also thought to be lining up one of its 2019 seats for F2 driver and British rising star Lando Norris. Perhaps Norris could head to Toro Rosso, which appraoched him earlier this year, in return for Sainz?
With Leclerc set to move to Ferrari, the improving Sauber team is becoming an increasingly attractive and available prospect for drivers in 2019. Marcus Ericsson won’t get an offer elsewhere but still has strong ties with the team’s owners and will be in the running to retain his drive for 2019. There are rumours Raikkonen could move back to the team that gave him his debut in 2001, but it’s hard to see him agreeing to such a step backwards so late in his career.
A move that makes more sense would be for Ferrari third driver Antonio Giovinazzi to make the step up to a permanent race seat in 2019. He drove two races in place of the injured Pascal Wehrlein at the start of last year, and as an Italian from the Ferrari stable is a perfect fit for title sponsor Alfa Romeo.