Formula 1
Monday, Aug 26 07:00pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Speculation swirling as Formula 1 silly season hits overdrive

The Formula 1 grid could look drastically different in 2020 if speculation out of Europe is to be believed.


Finnish media has reported Valtteri Bottas will indeed stay with Mercedes in 2020. There had been some suggestions prior to the summer break that the de facto number two driver would be replaced by French driver Esteban Ocon next year.


Those rumours surfaced after a run of ‘bad’ results, which included retiring in the German Grand Prix and finishing eighth in the Hungarian Grand Prix. After 12 rounds Bottas is only seven points clear of Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen, but it seems it’s not bad enough to drop the Flying Finn.


Turun Sanomat, a well established outlet in Southwest Finland, reported the official announcement will come from Mercedes ahead of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix. It would be a sweet birthday present for the soon-to-be-30-year-old who celebrates the milestone on Wednesday.


But where does that leave Ocon? The 22-year-old was left on the sidelines this year after the kerfuffle at Racing Point (formerly Force India) that saw Sergio Pérez stay and Lance Stroll come on board. Instead, the young driver took up a role as the official test driver for Mercedes and left off the grid. Now he has his eyes on a grid slot in 2020.


Ocon made his debut in Formula 1 back in 2016 with Manor Racing, but at the time was also a test driver for Mercedes and Renault.


Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul has previously suggested that incumbent Nico Hülkenberg might be on his way out next year. That would open the door for Ocon to race for the French team, something that hasn’t happened since Romain Grosjen competed with them in 2009. It’s an attractive prospect for the team to have a French driver at the French team.


But what of Hülkenberg? The suggestion is that he may end up racing for the Haas, though the opposite is true that if Hülkenberg stays at Renault then Ocon could head to Haas. A third option is possible too that Ocon does not join the grid in 2020 and possibly waits yet another year for a seat at Mercedes.


It has been well documented that Haas have had trouble between their two drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. 


Grosjean could leave the Formula 1 paddock for a seat in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, but nothing has materialized from those rumours. It would appear that Magnussen is unlikely to leave. Currently he sits on 18 points versus just eight for Grosjean.


Hülkenberg, Ocon and even current Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat are reportedly in the running for that seat. If Kvyat were to leave the junior Red Bull squad then Japanese driver Naoki Yamamoto could find his way into the fold. 


There are rumblings also in the Red Bull stables. While discussion recently has focused on Pierre Gasly and his demotion and Alexander Albon getting the nod to take his place, Turun Sanomat has speculated another possibility.


Sebastian Vettel has been unable to take a title after four whole seasons with Ferrari and looks highly unlikely to claim one in his fifth year. Following in the footsteps of childhood hero Michael Schumacher, Vettel has twice finished runner-up and has gone win-less in 2019.


While Ferrari seems to have struggled this year, Red Bull Racing are hitting their stride with Honda. Reports suggest Vettel still has a good relationship with the team that he won four titles with and that the possibility of returning is being entertained.


Vettel is currently contracted to Ferrari but only lies fourth in the standings. Verstappen ahead of him has two wins to his name, and while Gasly hasn’t had a good rub of the green, it is clear that Honda power can win.


Ferrari looked likely to be challengers for the title at the start of the season, but reliability issues starved Leclerc of a maiden win in Bahrain and a debatable penalty denied Vettel of his first victory of the season in Canada.


It is reported that Vettel was seen having lengthy discussions with higher up Red Bull personnel in Hungary.


With Verstappen the clear number one at the team it would seem unlikely Vettel would want to return to the team and face such stern opposition. Though the report suggests that Vettel believes he had a higher chance to win with Red Bull than at Ferrari.