Raikkonen

Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean Hold Key to F1 Driver Market

So far, the 2015 F1 driver merry-go round has been largely a non-affair. It seems as if the moment speculation mounts over a driver potentially moving teams, they are swiftly re-signed by their current one’s.

Kimi Raikkonen was the man on everyone’s lips during the Summer break, although Ferrari exercised their option to keep him during the Belgian GP weekend. The man expected to replace him, Valtteri Bottas, was subsequently re-signed by Williams as they retained their current line up of Bottas and the experienced Felipe Massa.

The ripple effect caused by Raikkonen being retained has trickled down the grid, with the highly touted German Nico Hulkenberg shunning a potential move to the new Haas F1 team to re-sign with Sahara-Force India. Whilst the very close links Haas has with Ferrari was a huge potential plus, the re-signing of Raikkonen has left him little option but to re-sign with his current team, much like Bottas.

Hulkenberg in action for Sahara-Force India earlier this season. Photo credit goes to Autosport.com and latphoto.co.uk .

Now with a lot of potential moves on ice at least for another year, the attention is now focused on two drivers at very different stages of their career’s. The man sparking most of the F1 headlines this week is the experienced and popular Brit Jenson Button. Whilst he has an contract in place with McLaren for next season, it appears increasingly likely the 35 year old will prematurely end his stand out career.

Rumors are growing this week that Button will announce his retirement from the sport at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. Button commented this week, stating that he had already made a decision regarding whether he will continue in F1 next year. He stated “it’s always nice to make an announcement when you are at your home grand prix”.

He later added “There are a lot of meeting’s in Japan, Ron Dennis and Eric Boullier will be there. I’m sure there will be a lot of meeting’s at the headquarters.” Rather more ominously Button has also been giving cryptic suggestions as to his lack of desire to remain in his current position. He said “The joy of being in the car is only there if you’re fighting at the front, because you feel like you’re achieving something, if you’re fighting near the back, you’re driving and F1 car, but you can easily get joy driving something else.”

Button leaping the kerbs in a character building year for the new McLaren-Honda partnership. Photo credit courtesy of SkySportsF1.com .

These comments suggest Button has began to feel fed up with the hugely trying season both he and team mate Fernando Alonso have enjoyed with the new McLaren-Honda package. Should Jenson Button retire from the sport at the end of the season, McLaren have a big decision on their hands as to who they will choose to replace him. They have two very quick young development drivers in Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Magnussen partnered Button last year and showed promise, along with the typical rookie mistakes also. This year he has been the team’s reserve driver, though the Dane has recently stated he can’t do another year without racing. Magnussen has been linked with the Haas team for next year, although that seems increasingly unlikely. Stoffel Vandoorne is rapidly stating his claim as the most dominant GP2 champion since Nico Hulkenberg in 2009. He is ready for F1 yet he may struggle to find a seat available unless he’s promoted by McLaren.

Stoffel Vandoorne in his customary position, leading at the front. Photo credit thanks to Motorsport.com .

The other key driver to this year’s market appears to be Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman is reaching the peak period in his F1 career at age 29, and has spent his entire career with the current Lotus team. Whilst he’s comfortable with the midfield team, it appears the team’s ongoing financial issues may be the final straw.

Grosjean is eager to show he is a better version of the driver that regularly put the dominant Sebastien Vettel under pressure in the second half of the 2013 season. Since then the Lotus team have struggled mightily, and it appears Grosjean has had enough. Despite the carrot of the team’s seemingly imminent takeover by Renault, this may not be enough to keep Grosjean.

Whilst the move to Haas may seem a backwards one considering their a new team and will likely struggle next year, the long term incentives may prove enough to tempt Grosjean. The team’s close links with Ferrari will put him in a great position to replace Kimi Raikkonen when the Finn leaves the team in the next few years.

Romain Grosjean driving for Lotus earlier this year. Photo credit goes to Autosport.com and latphoto.co.uk .

This is where the move makes sense, as it’s likely he will stagnate at Lotus or Renault potentially, although things may well improve should Renault complete their takeover of their team. For Grosjean this is a huge decision he will make, as it affect his potentially whole F1 career as legacy. Should he make the right decision he will likely end up in a race winning car, however should he make the wrong decision and he may regret it for the rest of his F1 career.

2014 Canadian GP Qualifying Report

After the drama’s and tension of the Monaco GP weekend two weeks ago, the F1 circus was hoping for a much calmer weekend as they arrived at the ever popular Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. This race weekend is always popular with teams, drivers and fans alike and an interesting weekend was predicted. This circuit always provides competitive racing thanks to it’s unique nature with braking being crucial around this high speed stop lap.

The Q1 drama began before the session had even got underway as Sauber sophomore driver Esteban Gutierrez was forced to sit and watch Qualifying as the his car needed a new chassis after a crash in Free Practice 3.  This meant only 5 drivers would be eliminated this time around, somewhat easing the pressure . As the cars trickled out slowly it was Williams driver Valteri Bottas who set the first competitive time with a 1.18.270 after 4 minutes.  

 

Unsurprisingly this time didn’t last long at the top as AMG Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg subsequently smashed that time with his own 1.16.690 with 12 minutes left in the session. Canada specialist Lewis Hamilton wasn’t going to let Rosberg get too comfortable atop the times however as he soon chimed in with a 1.16.438. Then with 8 minutes to go he improved to a 1.15.750, a nice statement of intent on his part for qualifying. After this the session calmed down slightly before the intensity increased in the final minutes.

First Lotus-Renault driver Pastor Maldonado pulled off track at Turn 2 with a lack of power, in the process guaranteeing his elimination in Q1. Things did improve his slightly however, as Caterham rookie Marcus Ericsson stuffed the rear end of his car into the outside wall exiting Turn 9 with 16 seconds left. The ensuring red flag would end the session and cement everyone in their Q1 positions.

Sharing the back row are the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez and the Caterham rookie Marcus Ericsson. Caterham team leader Kamui Kobayashi lines up 20th, with Marussia driver Jules Bianchi 19th. Max Chilton out-qualified team mate Bianchi for the first time in 2014 in 18th alongside the unlucky Lotus-Renault driver Pastor Maldonado in 17th. Since qualifying things have got worse for Caterham however as Kobayashi has been forced to take a gearbox change, demoting him to 21st behind team mate Ericsson.

Q2 began with star Sahara-Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg being the first to set a competitive time with a 1.16.650 in the first few minutes. Both the Williams drivers looked hugely competitive this weekend and they soon flexed their muscles in Q2, with Felipe Massa quickly setting the pace with a 1.15.773 with 11 minutes to go in Q2. The major surprise of Q2 was the fact the two AMG Mercedes drivers were unable to beat Massa’s time, although this can be explained by the fact they didn’t run the softer tyres which Massa did.

The final minutes were frantic as always but the biggest surprise again was that the AMG Mercedes drivers went out for a final run when they appeared safe for Q3. Nevertheless, their softer tyre runs rewarded them with Rosberg first with a 1.15.2 before Hamilton eclipsed him with a 1.15.0 to top the Q2 session. From Q1 and Q2 the advantage AMG Mercedes enjoyed a 0.7s gap to the rest, ensuring Q3 would be another intense battle between the two.

Those who sadly wouldn’t be making Q3 were a disappointed Sahara-Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg in 11th, alongside McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen in 12th. Sahara-Force India’s disappointed day was completed a Hulkenberg’s team mate Sergio Perez only managed 13th, sharing row 7 with Lotus-Renault driver Romain Grosjean in 14th. The 8th row would be shared with Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat in 15th alongside Sauber driver Adrian Sutil in 16th.

The final Q3 session began slowly with Valterri Bottas the first to venture out after 2 minutes. His first lap time was a 1.15.550 with 7.30 left on the clock. His reign at the top was short however as Nico Rosberg soon eclipsed him with a 1.14.946 lap, which even team mate Hamilton couldn’t match. As the cars settled in the garage’s ready for their final run, Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen gambled on setting a quick lap whilst the track was quiet. This gamble didn’t work however as he only managed 8th on his one flying lap.

The final run’s were an anti-climax as a bad lap from Hamilton handed Rosberg pole on a plate, with Rosberg improving by a tenth just to make sure of pole. Reigning world champion Sebastien Vettel produced the lap of the session to steal 3rd from the Williams drivers in an inferior Red Bull car. William sophomore Bottas usurped experienced team mate Massa for 4th and 5th, with Vettel’s Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo disappointed with 6th. Fernando Alonso qualified 7th from an impressive Jean Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso in 8th. The 5th and final row of the top 10 would be shared by Jenson Button in the McLaren and Raikkonen completing the top 10 for Ferrari.

Qualifying set up the race later on today perfectly in what should be an impressive race long fight between the two AMG Mercedes drivers. Behind them the battle for the final podium spot should be just as interesting between the Red Bull and Williams cars. Also watch out for the two Sahara-Force India cars, as they are always more competitive in race trim with their car notoriously soft on it’s tyres. Watch out for their progress during the race.