Each new season brings a change in scenery in Formula One, particularly in the drivers’ line up for each team. For 2017 we are seeing the arrival of three new drivers competing in a full season; Stoffel Vandoorne for McLaren, Esteban Ocon at Force India and Lance Stroll flying the Canadian flag on the Williams.
But, who has best chance to land a Formula One drive in 2018? We’ve assembled a few suspects who just may find themselves lining up on the grid at Albert Park in March next year.
Gasly is enrolled in the Red Bull Junior Team which has produced the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen – both currently driving for the Austrian giant.
After winning the GP2 title last year, it was suggested that Gasly could be stepping up to the second seat at Toro Rosso to partner with Carlos Sainz. Unfortunately for Pierre, and in a surprising twist, Red Bull management decided to retain the services of the young Russian for another season. Thus Gasly packed his bags to drive in the Japanese Super Formula.
But the Frenchman might not have to wait for long. With Carlos Sainz potentially on the move and Kvyat struggling, it will be only a matter of time before Red Bull give the young Frenchman his chance to compete at the top-level.
When Sauber announced that they would be using Honda engines for the 2018 season, all eyes looked to Matsushita. Matsushita is now in his third season in Formula 2 and is the front man of Honda’s junior driver program. Sauber could be willing to run the Japanese driver in return for cheaper powerplants.
McLaren might be an interesting option as well – but it is much slimmer as he has to compete with Nyck de Vries and possibly Lando Norris for the seat at Woking – that is if Alonso leaves the team at the end of the season or Vandoorne is dropped after just one season.
Still, the biggest hurdle that the Japanese driver has to go through, could be the qualification for the Super License to drive in Formula One. Matsushita has to achieve the minimum 40 points qualification mark – but as off right now, he only has four points. He also needs to be in the top three of the Formula 2 season this year in order to make the cut.
Nyck de Vries
For young Nyck, it certainly has been a rollercoaster ride in the past few months. The Dutchman was nearly ditched by McLaren out of their driver’s program and spent the winter break testing with Audi for a possible DTM seat and AF Corse to drive for the Italian team in WEC GTE-Pro. Happily, he was retained by McLaren and found himself a seat in Formula 2 at Rapax.
Like Matsushita, de Vries will need to wait on Alonso and Vandoorne’s plans to be announced before he can place his resume on the desk of Zak Brown.
Renault must be close to calling time on the future of Jolyon Palmer. After Sirotkin nearly got the seat for this season to drive alongside Hulkenberg (after Kevin Magnussen decided to join Haas), remarkably Jolyon was given a second chance to impress after an underwhelming debut season. Things haven’t gotten much better for Palmer and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him moved aside for Sirotkin before the end of the season.
The Russian is the perfect choice as he is Renault’s test driver and had been running at the Bahrain test and during FP1 in Sochi. Furthermore, backing from SMP Racing further boosts the possibility of him joining the French marque for next season.
The high-flying Monagasque is making quite a huge buzz around the Formula 2 paddock, leading the championship in his rookie season – scoring three poles out of three and winning two races. A product of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Leclerc has been climbing through the ranks of junior formulae with the GP3 championship last year the high point of his CV.
His ties with Ferrari further strengthened last year as Leclerc tested with both Haas and Ferrari as their development driver. With his blazing form at the moment in Formula 2, Leclerc could land a seat in Formula One pretty soon and could replicate the success of the legendary Louis Chiron during the pre-War Grand Prix era.
Leclerc has a good chance to land a seat for next year but it will be pretty complicated. Grosjean isn’t yet contracted for next season and if he does indeed leave Haas, the door is open for either Leclerc or Giovinazzi. Similarly at Ferrari, the same rules apply as he’ll have to wait on the Raikkonen seat – and he’ll be up against Giovinazzi and a whole host of more senior drivers on the grid.
Giovinazzi has already made his debut in Formula One after subbing in for the injured Wehrlein during the first two races of the 2017 season. He made a huge impact in Australia before tasting the cruel world of Formula One after two crashes in China.
The Ferrari test driver also tested for the Scuderia recently at Bahrain and with the uncertain future of Raikkonen, Giovinazzi is in the hot seat as a potential replacement for the Finn. He might be on his way to become the first Italian driving for Ferrari since Giancarlo Fisichella in 2009.
But with the seat at Ferrari, he will be facing Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Grosjean – the list is almost endless.If Raikkonen stays with the Scuderia, Haas will be an ideal destination for Giovinazzi.
Of course, the ‘silly season’ wont start for a few more weeks yet – but when it does, keep an eye out for the names featured above. They could very well be on the grid in 2018.