Well, it seems Silly Season is upon us.
The Formula 1 summer break is truly the calm before the proverbial storm, as its completion brings the frenzy that is the formation of the 2020 driver pairings. A feverish time for media and teams alike, this summer is poised to be another hectic year as teams scramble to assemble their duos for 2020.
Ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, rumors swirled around the future of Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas following his failure to finish at Hockenheimring in Germany and disappointing 8th place finish in Hungary. The team's choice between retaining Bottas for 2020 or promoting reserve driver and former Racing Point wheelman Estaban Ocon remained the biggest card to fall during this years Silly Season.
Just a few days ago, news broke indicating the team had decided to stick with Bottas as the Fin’s two wins and second place spot atop the driver standings were enough to warrant keeping him in the seat for an additional year.
While his production lacks compared to Nico Rosberg for whom he replaced following his retirement, the Mercedes regiment has remained a lot more harmonious with Bottas behind the wheel. Despite the much-publicized run-in with superstar teammate Lewis Hamilton on the first lap in Hungary, the relationship between the two stablemates has been nothing short of productive.
The 30-year-old currently sits in second place in the driver's championship standings, 62 points behind teammate Hamilton.
Hamilton’s continued success with the silver arrows since making the switch from McLaren before the 2013 season, including 5 championships, means his spot is all but safe with the squad moving forward.
2019 saw the F1 world’s jaw collectively drop following the departure of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo to rival Renault for the 2019 season. The seat he abandoned for “yellower pastures” has still not been adequately filled, as Red Bull decided to pull his replacement — underperforming Pierre Gasly — after only 12 races. Switching seats with Alexander Albon and returning to Red Bull’s sister team, Toro Rosso, marked the beginning of changes to the F1 grid post summer break.
Albon has performed well in his 12 starts at Toro Rosso this season, scoring points on 5 occasions since his Formula 1 debut.
The success of Max Verstappen in 2019 has been hard to ignore and Red Bull aims to have it’s second car perform to the same standard set by the 21-year-old Dutchman. Albon is not expected to immediately complete with Verstappen on the grid, however, improving upon the dismal results displayed by Gasly will be vital if he hopes to remain in the seat for longer than just the remainder of the 2019 season.
Red Bull is expected to compare the stats of Daniil Kvyat, Albon and Gasly in their respective team stints before deciding who will man the seat for the 2020 season.
With Valterri Bottas remaining with Mercedes, Renault acquired one of the hottest free agent drivers of the 2019 Silly Season. Frenchman Esteban Ocon has been announced as the replacement for veteran Nico Hülkenberg following the German’s 2019 struggles.
Renault as a whole has underperformed, despite its sky-high expectations entering the season in the wake of Daniel Ricciardo’s transfer from Red Bull. The performance of the car has rendered both Riccardo and Hülkenbeg to the mid-field and the acquisition of Ocon aims to pair the superstar Riccardo with another highly touted driver.
A veteran of the grid, Ocon’s two full seasons with Racing Point showed promise, despite being consistently outperformed by teammate Sergio Pérez. After losing his seat in what was a financial move to keep the team afloat, Ocon has spent the past season honing his skills in the Mercedes camp.
A much younger option than Hülkenberg, Ocon gives the France based constructor the ability to market a hometown French star. However, it will be interesting to see if Ocon shows any rust in his upcoming 2020 Renault stint following a year off the grid as Mercedes’ reserve driver.
The frenzy has just begun, and plenty of hats remain in the ring for the 2020 season.
Does Hülkenburg replace Romain Grosjean and partner with Kevin Magnussen in the Haas stable?
Will we see Polish fan favorite and one of F1’s most heartfelt redemption stories Robert Kubica remain in the Williams seat in favor of reserve driver Nicholas Latifi?
Only time will tell.