Silly Season Is Over: Expect Few Driver Moves For 2016

With just two moves, one could say that F1’s 2015 Silly Season is effectively over.

For those who don’t know, the “Silly Season” is the annual inferno of rumors and postulations, usually taking place during the summer break between races at Hungary and Spa, wherein wild speculations about where drivers will end up for the next year range from the diabolically possible to the ludicrously insane.

It started last week, when the FIA nixed two prospective entrants for the 2016 grid, and came to a possible close on Wednesday when Scuderia Ferrari resigned Kimi Raikkonen for 2016.

The Iceman's not going anywhere. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen will be back for 2016.
The Iceman’s not going anywhere. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen will be back for 2016.

Usually a big move at the top will let the dominoes fall, such as when Sebastian Vettel moved to Ferrari for 2015 (affecting drivers at Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, and Toro Rosso). That move from a top team will usually set the tone for how the rest of the driver moves will go and with continuity the theme this year, don’t expect many changes.

Indeed, Sauber have already confirmed current drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson for 2016, while Mercedes-AMG, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, and Williams are very likely to stick with the status quo. Hamilton might have the occasional fit with Rosberg, but he’s not about to leave the dominant package.

McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne continues to outshine the competition in GP2. Copyright: Sam Bloxham/LAT Photographic.
McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne continues to outshine the competition in GP2. Copyright: Sam Bloxham/LAT Photographic.

McLaren is an interesting case, with a fairly loaded roster of drivers, but complicated by poor performance in their first season back with Honda. Fernando Alonso might rue another season chasing after the leaders, but he knows 2016 is when things will either come to fruition or not if the team has championship-winning potential. Teammate Jenson Button could decide to retire, but I think the chance for one more year to see what the team is capable of will keep him around. Reserve driver Kevin Magnussen has expressed a strong desire to be on the grid next year, while protege Stoffel Vandoorne continues to outclass the competition in GP2.

Don’t expect either to be “reserves” for much longer, but Honda has made it clear they want the best drivers possible to help get their car to the front. You can’t get much of a better pairing than Alonso and Button.

Force India and Manor will likely stay the same, unless a driver from GP2 could benefit the team with a massive influx of cash. For Force India, Sergio Perez is generally the one who is seen as providing the sponsorship funds, but he’s also a product of the Ferrari Driver Academy, has experience, and is a solid driver. Manor has reiterated on multiple occasions how important it is to keep continuity, but if a higher-profile driver really wants to race on the grid (McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen?), maybe that would change one seat.

Is the return of a factory Renault team possible? If they bought out Lotus, yes.
Is the return of a factory Renault team possible? If they bought out Lotus, yes.

Lotus is an interesting question mark, thanks to continuing rumors of Renault possibly pulling out of supplying engines to other teams and becoming a works team again – buying Lotus in the process. They’ve already been offered the critical “Historic Team” status, which would give them a permanent seat to cast votes on changes to the sport (something only Ferrari, Mercedes, Williams, Red Bull, and McLaren have), and head honcho Bernie Ecclestone seems keen on the idea of the French marque returning. I would say that if that does happen, French driver Romain Grosjean, and the financially advantageous Pastor Maldonado, would return.

Where the slight changes could be made are with 2016 newcomers Haas F1. With all 10 teams reasonably certain to return, there won’t be a huge migration from a former team to a new one. To some degree it has already happened, with former Caterham and Marussia members making their way to the American-based team. Still, there are two driver slots available, and current drivers like Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, or Lotus’ Romain Grosjean could look to work their way up the ladder thanks to Ferrari’s involvement in the new team.

Speed, experience, opportunity. The cards are starting to fall for American Alexander Rossi's dream of an F1 race seat.
Speed, experience, opportunity. The cards are starting to fall in favor of American Alexander Rossi for an F1 race seat.

While landing Hulkenberg or Perez would be a boon for Haas, I see current Ferrari test driver Esteban Gutierrez and American GP2 stalwart Alexander Rossi as a far more likely pairing. There has to be some form of marketability for a new team and that combination makes too much sense: A United States-based team, drivers from Mexico and the United States, races in the United States and Mexico (not to mention Canada!), and plenty of North American companies yet to be tapped for F1 sponsorship.

Without the expansion of two additional teams and Ferrari’s move to resign Kimi Raikkonen – the first major player in the market – it’s safe to say that lofty expectations of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas joining Ferrari, or McLaren bringing a second team to the grid for reserve drivers Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne, were a bit too ambitious.

Perhaps more moves will be made in 2017, but for now, the Silly Season rumormill is going back in the box.