The news about Daniel Ricciardo leaving Red Bull at the end of the current season has hit us in our lunch break like a train, let alone the announcement that followed shortly after. The Australian driver is going to Enstone on a 2-year spell, launching a clear and direct message of mistrust to Red Bull’s engine supplier-to-be, Honda.
With that being said, the Anglo-Austrian team now holds a vacant seat, which could stand for a golden opportunity for a handful of F1 drivers to plough forward in their career or re-invent their path in racing.
The Frenchman, as he stated on Twitter (before deleting his pre-summer shutdown salutations), has collected 26 points so far and he is comfortably standing 13th in the drivers’ championship, ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Sauber’s enfant prodige Charles Leclerc. Owing to three impressive point-paying results in Bahrain, Monaco and Hungary, Gasly has obliterated his chances to be promoted to the high places in Milton Keynes. He has emerged as an excellent Honda ambassador since the beginning of the season and most importantly his Super Formula background already put him in a favourable position with the Japanese manufacturer. As for the team managers, he embodies the perfect candidate to fill Daniel Ricciardo’s shoes and his departure from Toro Rosso would foster the arrival of Red Bull junior Daniel Ticktum, who has been in Helmut Marko’s sight since June. However, the British driver competing in the Formula 3 European Championship is unlikely to meet the requirements to earn enough superlicense points in time for his hypothetical promotion.
Back to Pierre Gasly, the only risk would be the uncertainty clouding his campaign in a top team. In case the 22-year-old turns out unready for such a demanding challenge, Helmut Marko could engage the Frenchman in a Kvyat-style on-again-off-again, which would be rather unpleasant and detrimental for the driver in the first place but also for Toro Rosso’s flow of incoming young talent.
Being on a football-style loan in Formula 1 just adds a massive amount of unwanted pressure on the shoulders of the driver involved. That is the case of Carlos Sainz, who just could not keep up with Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg at the beginning of the year. The Spaniard is still 20 points down his peer at Enstone, but he seems to have acquired the key to be more consistent and a better learner on and off the track. Although Sainz’s chances to stay at Renault had increased in the last few weeks, Daniel Ricciardo’s departure re-opened the door to the Spaniard, whose option to be picked by Red Bull expires in September.
The Madrid-born driver has been linked with McLaren lately as a possible replacement to Stoffel Vandoorne, with the Belgian failing to earn a further deal extension with the Woking-based outfit. However, Fernando Alonso’s IndyCar outlet could evolve into something more than mere words later this season. The double world champion possesses a stipulation with McLaren allowing him to make a late decision towards the end of the current season, which could see him fly all the way to the United States or partner a younger driver at McLaren, be it Sainz or Norris.
Not the most realistic of a scenario, as Stoffel Vandoorne shifting to a Honda-powered single-seater would be rather uncalled for, but the Belgian’s precarious contractual situation at McLaren has everybody wondering whether leaving would help him re-invent his F1 career. The former GP2 champion has endured a painful F1 debut on a McLaren-Honda alongside teammate demolisher Fernando Alonso, which forced him into a vehement spiral preventing him to express his real potential. The Verstappen-Vandoorne pairing could work, although the centralization of the team around the Dutchman would take place regardless of who the number 2 driver will be. Additionally, the fight between these 2 fiery youngsters would be a true delight for the sport!
The Finn makes the unlikability climax reach its peak, as we insert him into this shortlist. Will he kiss Ferrari goodbye or will he continue serving Sebastian Vettel’s on-track demands? Charles Leclerc is the one and only chance for the Maranello squad to make a bold pick and, as for the rumours from Italy, the move has been already finalized. That would leave Kimi Raikkonen’s career with an enormous question mark, as his options swing from an aberrant Sauber comeback to an unusual Rallycross breakthrough. I am not implying that Kimi Raikkonen to Red Bull would be a fairly convenient move, but his ability to attract and engage the fans through his ataraxic attitude made him a marketing magnet and his ‘Number 2 driver’ label would not make his relationship with Verstappen problematic.