F1 drivers carousel: seats still up for grabs in 2018

By on Wednesday, October 25, 2017

With just three races remaining of the Formula One 2017 season, the rumour mill is fervent with transfer claim and counter-claims on which drivers will fill the remaining cockpit places for next year.

The leading teams were all quick off the starting line to select their drivers for 2018 with Fernando Alonso recently inking his new deal at McLaren, being the last driver to be confirmed, ensuring the 2018 front order of the grid will shape much the same Formula One line-up as in previous seasons.

Some positions are still yet to be decided – and here we will look at some of those quandaries in more detail.

Three-way-go at Williams

One confirmed driver for Williams next season is teenager, Lance Stroll. There is a cynical view that Stroll is only within the F1 ranks due to his wealthy family background, but some of his performances this season have proven to the contrary. The young Canadian star finished in third place in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, becoming the youngest rookie driver to climb on a Formula 1 podium, at the age of 18 years and 239 days, which highlights his worth and potential to the Williams team moving forwards.

In the eternal battle to oust Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship, Williams are very much an outside bet for honours but the inclusion of Stroll could certainly lead to more overall points.

The decision on who will partner Stroll in 2018 is still up in the air. Three drivers; Felipe Massa, Paul DiResta and Robert Kubica are all potential incumbents to the Williams car for next year. Massa is keen to re-sign permanently with Williams for 2018 despite announcing his retirement from F1 12 months ago – but talks seem to have stalled in recent days, especially in light of Kubica and DiResta having test sessions. It is far from certain at this juncture, but Kubica looks to be holding the aces in the race to be Stroll's partner next season at Williams, if recent media reports are to be believed. However, it would be churlish to discount DiResta – who would be an able back-up driver if required – or indeed, veteran Massa just yet.

Toro Rosso turntable?

Another murky situation yet to be resolved is within the Toro Rosso ranks. The only confirmed driver alteration is that Carlos Sainz has recently left to join Renault. Toro Rosso are being shrewd with their driver options in respect to 2018 by making several cockpit changes recently in preparation for next year. Pierre Gasly - who himself was brought in for two races as a replacement for Daniil Kvyat - stepped aside at the United States Grand Prix due to his battle for the title of the Super Formula Series in Japan.

Russian, Kvyat was back in for the US Grand Prix, alongside Brendan Hartley who returned to a single-seat car for the first time since 2012. New Zealander, Hartley is currently on a steep learning curve, but the signs are promising. Contrastingly, Kvyat is out of contract at the end of the season, and it remains to be seen if Toro Rosso decides to keep him on. This story is likely to run for some time to come.

Sauber switch around

Another driver who is out of contract at the end of the 2017 season is German, Pascal Wehrlein. The 23-year-old is rumoured to be courting some interest from Williams, but that team are wishing for a more experienced driver. Mercedes chief, Toto Wolff is Wehrlein's backer and is reported to be in negotiations with the British team, but Wehrlein should not be ruled out of consideration to remain with his current employers for 2018, who could yet sign an extension.

Sauber are considering promoting Ferrari junior driver, Charles Leclerc to a seat for 2018, and that also leaves Swedish driver, Marcus Eriksson to consider. The worry for Wehrlein in this situation is that Eriksson has close links to the Sauber team owners, and that could sway the decision. It will be a tough and interesting call for new Sauber boss Frederic Vasseur in which direction he turns.

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