At long last the break is over and Formula 1 has returned. The second half of the season promises to show more excitement as we get closer and closer to the world championship. While we were left without races for a month, there was still tons of excitement in the driver market happening during the down-time.
The first of which was a surprise for everybody, Daniel Ricciardo announced that he had signed a two-year contract with the Renault works team starting in the 2019 season. Ricciardo, who had strongly hinted that he was going to stay at Red Bull for the foreseeable future, made this shock announcement just one week into the summer break. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was not even made aware of the news till the day before it was announced.
“At the end of the day, we have given Daniel everything that he ever wanted and it still wasn't enough in his mind to say 'I want to keep going at Red Bull'. So it wasn't about money, it wasn't about status, it wasn't about position or commitment or duration, I think he felt that he needed to take something else on at this stage in his career," said Horner on Ricciardo’s departure.
Ricciardo will drive for Renault with Nico Hulkenberg as his teammate for at least the next two years. This left Red Bull needing a driver to fill the seat alongside young gun Max Verstappen. This was particularly easy for them as they have a strong junior driver program, as well as an entire sister team that can be used as a sort of a tryout for the big team.
Red Bull simply promoted Pierre Gasly from Toro Rosso, the same path that most drivers who have raced for Red Bull followed - including Verstappen. As for now the seat alongside Brendon Hartley at Toro Rosso is currently vacant, although rumours suggest a surprise F1 return for Red Bull outcast Daniil Kvyat.
Another shock announcement was from one of the best drivers F1 has ever seen. Fernando Alonso has decided that he is going to say goodbye to the sport that made him the man he is. After a few less-than-successful years at McLaren, he has decided to focus his efforts on other desires in the next year.
Alonso had his Formula 1 debut in 2000 and has been in the sport ever since. He won the world champion in both 2005 and 2006 making him the youngest person to ever do so at the time. While he is pursuing a career in the World Endurance Championship and perhaps a start in IndyCar, Alonso hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to F1 in the future. He will be replaced by his friend and fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who will have to leave his current seat at Renault to make room for Ricciardo.
Sainz will race next to Lando Norris who is a recent graduate of McLaren’s junior program. Norris, who won the European F3 championship in 2017, possesses a very strong talent with potential for growth. He will be taking Stoffel Vandoorne’s seat while Vandoorne is put in a driver limbo where he may or may not get a drive next season.
While Mercedes has already confirmed that they will keep their current lineup for at least another 2 years, Ferrari was the latest to announce their driver lineup for 2019.
In a shock move they have decided to drop 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen in order to give a seat to F1 rookie Charles Leclerc. Leclerc is currently driving for Sauber and has been out qualifying teammate Marcus Ericcson on a regular basis.
Instead of leaving the sport entirely, Raikkonen will take Leclerc’s seat at Sauber. Kimi made his F1 debut with Sauber in 2001, so this is something of a homecoming for him. Many are questioning whether Leclerc is ready to drive for a team of such caliber, but the Italian outfit seems confident that he will be able to perform well.
With only six races to go in the season Haas, Force India, Toro Rosso, and Williams have all yet to confirm drivers for 2019. Perhaps we may see more surprises headed our way.
by Surya Gopalan