The mid-season break is often a time for reflection, and teams decide who they will keep for next season. Those who have hit their targets and driven well can sleep a little more comfortably than those that haven’t, while these three drivers, in particular, have all the pressure on them as they fight for their F1 career.
The noises coming out of McLaren don’t sound too good for Jenson Button, who is out of contract at the end of the season. The team are seeking a quick fix to their problems and don’t want to languish in the midfield for long, as they target a title challenge next year. 2015 is an important season for the team as it sees the beginning of their new partnership with Honda, who will supply their power units.
McLaren are targeting a world class driver to lead their charge, and it is clear that they don’t see Button as that man. They have already contacted the sport’s top three drivers, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, who may all be available within the next couple of years.
Button’s team-mate, Kevin Magnussen, hasn’t been as impressive as many expected, so it is possible that he may be the man to move aside. But there is a feeling that the team rate his talents and are prepared to give him a chance. Button may be handed a one year deal, as Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton run out of contract in 2016, but his future at the team looks to be running its course, especially after the strange criticism from Ron Dennis. By driving out of his skin, Button may convince the team he still has plenty to offer. It has now become his personal mission.
It has been such a disastrous season for Kimi Raikkonen, his reputation has taken a huge hit. The Finn returned to Ferrari five years after being dumped out of the team before his contract expired, and if he doesn’t pick up then there is a chance that history may repeat itself. With young and hungry drivers eager to break into the grid’s biggest team, Raikkonen needs to improve quickly if he wants to see 2015.
Raikkonen is a fussy driver. He only performs when the car suits his driving style and it is very clear that this car doesn’t suit Kimi. He is being embarrassed by Fernando Alonso, who is so resilient that he can fit into any car and drive it fast. Alonso has over 100 points, Kimi has less than 30. His body language and his words to the media don’t sound positive either. He has already confirmed that he won’t stay in F1 beyond his contract expiration in 2016, while he looks a beaten man every weekend.
Ferrari, like McLaren, are desperate to create a winning car and with the risk of losing Alonso seemingly increasing each year, the team know that they need to be confident in their number two driver. Jules Bianchi is the most likely candidate and there is a possibility that he may be replacing Raikkonen next year, but if Alonso does leave then it would be a risk to have two new drivers. What is clear is that the Finn desperately needs to rediscover his mojo, otherwise it looks like it could a long and sad goodbye for a modern maverick.
Realistically, Jean-Eric Vergne’s career was in serious jeopardy once Daniel Ricciardo was favoured by Red Bull instead of him. History shows that if you don’t make the leap from Toro Rosso to Red Bull then your future is bleak. As Ricciardo and Vettel are guaranteed to be at Red Bull until, at least, 2016 and with plenty of young drivers who need experience at Toro Rosso, Vergne may have outstayed his welcome.
Despite driving well this season, his younger team-mate, Daniil Kvyat, has taken most of the applauds and many young drivers from GP2 and GP3 have been seen dotted around the Red Bull garage.
Qualifying seems to be Vergne's biggest weakness. In races he more than matched Ricciardo, and beat him in 2012. This year he has more points than Kvyat but with plenty of young and talented drivers waiting in the wings, Vergne hasn't done enough.
As Vergne’s path to the senior team is now blocked, his best chance of a successful F1 career is to drive well enough to impress another midfield team, but, like former Toro Rosso drivers Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, Vergne doesn’t have his own sponsors. With this being a big advantage to gain a seat, it could be a problem.
In truth, Vergne has done little wrong and it is far from certain that he won’t be a Toro Rosso driver next season. But is it apparent that he lacks the extra quality needed to race at the front. Some headline results may make the Red Bull hierarchy re-consider or Vergne could join Buemi and Alguersauri on the Red Bull/Toro Rosso scrap heap.
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