Eight Drivers Whose Uncertain Futures Could Shape F1 Landscape In 2018

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With the 2017 Formula One season approaching the halfway mark, teams are shifting some of their focus toward who will field their cars in 2018. And unlike in 2016, when almost no drivers were available, there are still a lot of variables this year.

Teams have known for some time that this would be the year they potentially could secure some of the most sought-after pilots, such as Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz Jr. But they’re also aware that there are various moves that have to take place throughout the driver market for the chips to fall in their favor.

As silly season gets into full swing, here are eight drivers who could play key roles in shaping the 2018 F1 grid:

Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen

Photo via Ferrari

At 37 years old, Kimi Raikkonen could well be on his way out the door once his contract expires at the end of this season. That said, he is the last driver to win a world championship for Scuderia Ferrari, and his role within the team could be reason enough to keep him around. Ferrari has long favored having a clear hierarchy between its drivers, and Raikkonen’s “Ferrari first” attitude has seen him slot in nicely as No. 2 to Sebastian Vettel.

Plus, as Romain Grosjean said when he was asked if he will replace Raikkonen, “Everyone thinks he’s going to be out of Formula One since 2010, and here we are in 2017. He’s (37) and he’s still here, doing a decent job.”

Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa

Photo via Red Bull Content Pool

Well, we didn’t think we’d be talking about Felipe Massa again this year. Massa, who came out of retirement so Williams Martini Racing could allow Valtteri Bottas to go to Mercedes-AMG Petronas, has done well this season. He currently sits P10 in the championship, and has said the new cars this year are so exciting he would be open to staying another year.

With the driver market as competitive as it is, though, it seems unlikely Williams will re-sign the 36-year-old.

Valtteri Bottas

Valtteri Bottas

Photo via Mercedes-AMG Petronas

Apart from his P6 finish in China and a DNF in Spain, Valtteri Bottas has done everything in his power to convince Mercedes he should stay. The Finn has five podiums in the first eight races, including his first Grand Prix win. Lewis Hamilton has praised Bottas’ performance as well as the dynamic he brings to the team.

The team only signed him to a one-year deal as a way to leave the door open for Fernando Alonso, but we’re not so sure it’ll prefer that option anymore. Mercedes’ low points in recent years all have stemmed from a toxic relationship between its drivers, so we wouldn’t be surprised if it secures Bottas to avoid pairing Hamilton with Alonso, as the two had a rough stint together at McLaren.

Carlos Sainz Jr.

Carlos Sainz Jr.

Photo via Red Bull Content Pool

Carlos Sainz Jr. has done very well since he came to F1 in 2015, though the Spaniard essentially has reached a ceiling within the Red Bull organization. Red Bull Racing typically doesn’t keep its young drivers in Scuderia Toro Rosso for more than a few years, but its lineup of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo is locked in through 2018.

Red Bull recognizes Sainz’s talent and picked up his option for 2017, but he likely will begin looking elsewhere for next season. If that proves to be the case, Red Bull wouldn’t be in a tough spot, as it could have junior driver Pierre Gasly fill his spot at Toro Rosso.

Daniil Kvyat

Daniil Kvyat

Photo via Red Bull Content Pool

Daniil Kvyat is an even tougher position than his teammate. The sport’s lone Russian driver came into F1 with Toro Rosso in 2013 and was promoted to Red Bull in 2015, but a rough patch last year saw him get demoted and subsequently overshadowed by Sainz.

He recovered well from that to earn his stay for 2017, but his performances have been underwhelming so far this year. If Red Bull feels Gasly is ready for an F1 drive and Sainz is gone, Kvyat likely will stay at Toro Rosso, as it doesn’t have any other junior drivers who are ready to make the step to fill his seat.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso

Photo via Honda

Fernando Alonso has consistently out-driven his car every weekend, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at the race results. The lack of reliability from Honda’s power unit has caused his MCL32 to give out multiple times while he was running in the points, resulting in four DNFs, one DNS and a total of two points for the Spaniard through the first eight races.

Alonso had been linked to Renault, with which he won his two world championships in the beginning of his career, but that no longer seems realistic. In all likelihood, he will either return to Ferrari in 2018, or join Mercedes, though we won’t know which is the front-runner for his talents until we learn Raikkonen’s fate.

Jolyon Palmer

Jolyon Palmer

Photo via Renault Sport F1 Team

Jolyon Palmer had a rough rookie year in 2016, but we were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt coming into this year, as he’s a former GP2 champion. We now are convinced, though, that we were wrong to do so. F1 admittedly has a steep learning curve, but based on Palmer’s performances, you’d assume it’s a vertical climb.

Palmer has racked up a total of zero points, three DNFs and numerous unforced errors that resulted in more work for his mechanics. Barring some massive turnaround in the second half of 2017, you’ll be more likely to see Palmer greeting customers at your local Walmart in 2018 than piloting an F1 car.

Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean

Photo via Haas F1 Team

Romain Grosjean has proven to everybody that Haas F1 Team made the right decision when choosing its first driver pairing in 2016. Grosjean has been both consistent and consistently quick, both of which are equally important for a young independent team. He is comfortable within the team, so the only reason he’s being talked about during silly season is Haas’ close relationship with Ferrari.

Haas is so reliant on Ferrari and its facilities that many have suspected it will begin to act as a Ferrari junior team, essentially the equivalent of Toro Rosso. As a result, many believe he could be next in line behind Alonso to take Raikkonen’s job, though that would require many things to happen first.

Thumbnail photo via Honda

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