Formula One returns this weekend. And there are still many questions to be answered over the final nine races of the season.
One of the big ones is what will happen in the driver market. The dominoes set off by Sebastian Vettel announcing his retirement continue to fall with Daniel Riccardo and McLaren announcing they are parting ways at the end of the season. With the Oscar Piastri mess still to be sorted out, the news that Riccardo is leaving his race seat a year early just furthers the rumours that McLaren are looking to secure the services of the Australian Formula 2 champion (Piastri) for next season. I think that everyone else’s driver line-up will stay the same. I don’t someone like Mick Schumacher should be looking to move teams just yet; another season with an experienced teammate like Kevin Magnussen will only help him. Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all have very solid driver lineups that don’t need to be changed. Aston Martin now have their drivers locked in as do the likes of Alfa Romeo. Williams might be the only other team where we will see movement in terms of drivers. While Alex Albon has signed a multi-year deal at the Grove based team, Nicolas Latifi is yet to put pen to paper on an extension. It isn’t off the table that the Canadian will extend his deal, but the lack of news of that front is opening the door to rumours that Williams are scouting around for a new driver.
The next question on my mind is whether Mercedes will be able to continue their progress made before the summer break. Mercedes started off the season in very poor shape. Lewis Hamilton in particular seemed to be really struggling with the new car. The porpoising of the car meant they were having to run far higher ride heights to make sure the car didn’t bottom out. Higher ride heights in F1 usually means you’re not going to be getting the best out of the car. But the reigning constructors’ champions seem to have sorted that problem and are catching up to the front runners. Lewis Hamilton has finished on the podium in the last five races and George Russell went on an extraordinary run of finishing in the top five of every race until the British Grand Prix when he was caught up in the incident that led to Guanyu Zhou flipping over the tyre barrier and into the catch fencing. But with the rate of progress that Mercedes are making, could they be back on the top step of the podium before season’s end? I’m not sure. They were at such a disadvantage back in March that I don’t think it’s going to be possible for them to make up all that ground to actually be able to beat Red Bull and Ferrari on the track. Especially in a car that seems to have a very narrow set-up window.
And speaking of Ferrari, will they be able to get their act together? While they have won races this year, their strategy decisions seem to have been made by a council of apes at times this season. As a consequence, the red team from Maranello have seemingly handed both Drivers and Constructors’ Championships to Red Bull. Their car is actually one of, if not the best on the grid. They are completely undermining all the work done by the design team and the people at the factory who actually built the thing by making complete nonsense strategy calls or having the car break down on them. Sometimes the drivers have made mistakes that has cost them points and potential race wins and means that yet again Ferrari will miss out on a championship they could have won. I think everyone at Ferrari has worked extremely hard to get the team back into contention for race wins but they still have a ways to go before they can seriously be considered title challengers. They need to cut out the mistakes and make sure the car isn’t going to burst into flames or otherwise break down. But when they do, they will be a force to be reckoned with in F1 again.