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Friday, 17 February 2017

F1 Driver Line Up: 2017

I am extremely excited for this season, there are some surprise, risky and strong driver line ups. Quite frankly, I believe with the car changes, this season will be more exciting than ever and hopefully unpredictable.

Mercedes: Everyone thought Hamilton and Rosberg would fight again in 2017 before Rosberg shocked the F1 world and announced he was retiring. With most drivers already locked in, we were left to wonder who Mercedes would pair with Hamilton. Pascal Wehrlein was in contention but due to lack of experience they continued to finalise his contact with Sauber.  Mercedes chose to try and  lure Bottas out of his Williams contract which worked. But did they expect Bottas to turn down one of the most desired race seats in F1? Bottas is someone who does not let things get to his head, his multiple fights with Raikkonen shows this. I think Bottas and Hamilton will really work well together and Bottas will not let Hamilton run away with any lead if Mercedes do continue their dominance. 

Ferrari: Unchanged line up with Vettel and Raikkonen. Many (including myself) wondered if 2016 would be Raikkonens last season in F1, but Ferrari have kept him on. They clearly believe there is life left in the old dog! I think we have seen that though in his battles. Sebastian and Kimi get on very well so this a strong partnership, not sure what would happen if Ferrari gave them a strong car! They'd challenge Mercedes for sure.

Red Bull: A strong line up with Ricciardo and Verstappen. Both race winners with the team. They have a healthy rivalry wanting to give 110% and more. These two have proved they may not have the best car but they are always pushing and getting the best out of their car. Now they need to focus on continuing that and probably looking at their options for 2018 as they will both be out of contract and both are desirable. Will Mercedes try to poach him or will Bottas prove himself?

Williams: They had a solid line up in Bottas and Stroll but Nico Rosberg threw a spanner in the works with his old team. He retired and Mercedes went straight for Bottas luring him away. Williams were not going to let him go until a good replacement was found and the answer was indeed Felipe Massa. He will partner young Lance Stroll, presumably taking on a mentor type role for when Massa actually retires at the end of 2017 (probably, who knows anymore!). We all need to prepare for Stroll to make mistakes, it will be his rookie season but with a teammate like Felipe, he will be in safe capable hands. He will be wanting to prove what the critics are saying about being a pay driver.

McLaren: As expected we were to lose Jenson Button from F1. It is bittersweet as we lose one talent but gain a new one in the form of Stoffel Vandoorne. He has been waiting in the wings for a McLaren seat since at least half way through his championship winning GP2 campaign in 2015.He will be joining Fernando Alonso. Like Massa, Alonso will probably act as not only a friend but a mentor for Vandoorne. Although we cannot forget Vandoorne raced in place of Alonso in Bahrain after Fernando's accident in Australia. Not only did Vandoorne qualify ahead of Button, he also finished 10th and scored a point. Something which a reserve driver hasn't doing since Vettel in 2007 at the US grand prix. We all know what Vettel did after that so lets keep our eyes peeled for this talented young one.

Force India: Sergio Perez had a very good year in 2016 with Force India which included a podium here and there. So no surprise he is staying put for the foreseeable future. They have allowed Perez to develop his skill and improve as not only a driver but a person as well. Perez is rather under-rated and maybe one day McLaren may try to poach him back. The same can't be said for Nico Hulkenberg, he thought long and hard and decided it was time for a change. Due to the teams links with Mercedes, it was really between Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon with not much in it. They decided on Ocon, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in a middle team on the grid where there are many more eyes on you than at the back of the grid.

Toro Rosso: Carlos Sainz staying was a given in the end as other teams showed interest in Sainz but Christian Horner and Helmut Marko were adamant that Sainz was not going anywhere. He is a talent and has been over shadowed by Verstappen in the past when they are very much equal in skill and talent. You have to wonder how much longer they can keep Sainz if there is no space at Red Bull for him. Kvyat had a tough season in 2016 with going from Red Bull to Toro Rosso but had new found confidence by the end of the season. Leading to the decision to keep Kvyat on and allow him to show them what they all know he is capable of. Eyes will be on them though as Pierre Gasly is ready and will willingly jump into one of those cars given the green light.

Renault: After a rocky rookie year for Jolyon Palmer, Renault decided to retain him for 2017. Giving him a chance to put everything he learnt the previous season into preparing to come into this season with a better and stronger mentality. He will be joined by Nico Hulkenberg who will bring lots of experience to this team wanting to go back to their former glory. I am almost certain these two will help each other and the team flourish to get better results and hopefully be in the points scoring positions more frequently.

Haas: Romain Grosjean worked very hard and delivered results last year for Haas in their very first season. He always tried to be open minded and positive, he never gave up which is admirable because that can be easy to do after some bad luck. He has a new team mate of Kevin Magnussen, who decided to make the switch from Renault to Haas. He clearly felt Haas would be a better fit and opportunity for him than Renault was being. These two drivers are very easy going people but on track they fight for their lives. I cannot wait to see this new partnership flourish and the team continue to grow in confidence.

Sauber: As fore-mentioned Wehrlein ended up signing for Sauber to partner continuing Sauber driver Marcus Ericcson. Both young and motivated drivers willing to show everyone what they can do. Both want to impress front running teams to hopefully make their way up the grid with front running teams in the future. Ericsson had a solid second half to the season, there was a clear change in his driving style and attitude and from his social media it is easy to see he is coming into this season stronger physically and mentally. Sadly, the same cannot be said or Wehrlein at this current time as during his participation in Race Of Champions he sustained an injury which has led him to withdraw from the first pre-season test. Instead Sauber's newly appointed reserve driver Anontio Giovinazzi will take is place. But with the tests so close together will Wehrlein get track time before Australia at all? Giovinazzi jumped into GP2 in 2016 and shocked everyone by his sheer talent and his fight for the championship with Gasly which he lost. But it drew a lot of attention to him and all teams will be keeping an eye on at pre-season testing.

The driver market went places I don't think any of us were really expected. The line up has changed in lots of the teams and I cannot wait to see how they all fare with the new cars and for most of them, new team mates.