Speculation is rife at the moment that Jolyon Palmer will not be at the Renault team in 2018 thanks to a lack of results and poor performance. But who might replace him? Well there are some interesting candidates…
Let’s not beat about the bush. Palmer has been shocking this year. He can be forgiven for sub-par performances last year, as he and teammate Kevin Magnussen were consigned to driving what was effectively an updated 2015 Lotus E23. But this year against new teammate Nico Hulkenburg, Palmer has looked nothing short of woeful. No points compared to Hulkenburg’s 18 and he has made Q3 just once, in Bahrain. The majority are convinced that he will be out for 2018. And here are the men that could replace him…
We all know the story of Kubica. The greatest lost talent of his generation after a horrific rallying accident. Just imagine a fairytale return to F1 with Renault, six years after he last drove a Grand Prix car. It was a private test, but the word around the street is he was fast, fit and full of joy. Could he really come back to F1 with the team he could have won the title with in 2012? Renault themselves have said he is not on their 2018 list. I would say that is complete bull. Social media has seen them really push the Kubica tale since that private test and he is now targeting a proper F1 comeback himself. He is driving the 2012 Lotus again at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and the rumour is more tests could be in the pipeline with Renault. At 32, he still has time to make good of an F1 comeback. It might be a big dream…but it is no longer an impossible dream.
— Renault Sport F1 (@RenaultSportF1) June 20, 2017
Alonso is perhaps the biggest player in the 2018 driver market. What could he do? As we discussed recently, his three most likely options appear to be a switch to Renault, stay at McLaren regardless of what engine supplier they have, or leave F1 totally for IndyCar. Alonso wants a winning car for 2018 and not even Renault could provide that. But the progress they are showing at the moment is impressive and quick which may entice Alonso enough to believe they are a good bet for wins in a couple of years, rather than perhaps five at McLaren. It would also give Renault potentially the best driver pairing in F1. The younger Hulkenburg with years ahead still and the old master–who is perhaps the best in the business right now. It all depends on what Alonso feels is best. It could well be his winning car may not be in Formula 1 either. Alonso is a candidate nonetheless for that second Renault seat.
Sainz has been very impressive at Toro Rosso ever since he joined the team in 2015. This year could well be his last year at Toro Rosso, wherever he may end up next year. Besides causing a massive shunt in Canada, he has been brilliant in 2017, his Monaco performance exemplary. He clearly does not want another year at Toro Rosso but he will more than likely not end up at Red Bull. Both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are locked in until the end of 2018. Renault is perhaps the best place for him and his future. He is young, fast and has plenty of time ahead of him providing he gets in the right seat. And Renault surely is that seat, as it is clear his future does not lie with Red Bull.
Once upon a time, Sergey Sirotkin was the 18 year old kid who nearly worked his way into a Sauber F1 seat with wads of cash. Since then, he has become a well respected and very fast young driver and shown well in GP2 despite a difficult 2016 campaign. He is the development driver at Renault and has had a few practice outings with the team, although this year’s have ended early thanks to technical issues. While he may not be on the level of the three above in this list, he is a much better bet than Palmer and would surely bring in the results. It would also show that Renault’s academy and driver development is working well. He is perhaps the least likely of the above though to get a drive, as all other three options are high quality, proven drivers. But stranger things have happened…