Until Renault’s recent announcement of Nico Hülkenberg as their 2017 lead driver, the driver’s market has been at a spectacular standstill. Everyone team involved was waiting for developments regarding their first driver choice, but now things are falling into place.
Hülkenberg’s move from Force India makes sense. Not despite them probably finishing fourth overall this year, but because of that. That’s all the potential a team this small and this underfinanced has. And with McLaren on the rise and Renault ready to spend big bucks after their transitional year, Force India is very likely to fall further down the order. At Renault, Hülkenberg will also earn a proper salary and has the perspective to win races in a few years without worrying that the team will fold due to financial worries.
It’s not a bad deal for Force India either: Hülkenberg gets a proper, Monaco-lifestyle enabling salary from them and doesn’t come with sponsors. Replacing him with someone like Perez, talented and backed by big corporations, could give them a bit more breathing space financially. Someone like Pascal Wehrlein maybe? It is understood that talks have been held between Mercedes and Force India regarding Wehrlein. He’s a Mercedes junior after all, and hiring him means a salary payed for by Stuttgart plus a ~5 million dollar discount on engine payments. Combine that, and Force India saves almost 10% of their annual budget while giving a talented young driver a well-deserved chance. Consider a Force India lineup of Perez/Wehrlein rather likely.
Beautifully chaotic. Esteban gets down with the kids in the pit lane, as we welcome delightful children from the local elementary school 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/K6aHur3YAf
— Manor Racing (@ManorRacing) 6. Oktober 2016
Renault meanwhile still has to decide who’s joining Hülk. Valtteri Bottas was a strong favorite but has an apparently tight contract with current employer Williams for next year. Williams wants his experience alongside 18-year old Lance Stroll, current Formula 3 champion and son of a billionaire. In case Stroll takes a while to accommodate to the challenge that is modern F1, Bottas is a driver you can rely on.
With Bottas out, the next best solution is a young talent. And luckily for Renault, they had one on loan until Mercedes gifted him a Manor cockpit: Esteban Ocon. Yes, the guy who defeated Verstappen in Formula 3 and whose feedback when testing the car delighted the engineers of Mercedes, Renault, Manor and Force India might be a bit unexperienced. But he’s quick and motivated to fight for his chance in F1. A bit like Fernando Alonso in his early Renault days. And that did end well, didn’t it?