In the aftermath of Sebastian Vettel’s departure from Ferrari, the past few days have seen a flurry of activity in the driver market, as one of the most coveted seats in the sport became free. Daniel Ricciardo was first announced to be replacing Carlos Sainz Jnr, at Mclaren. Shortly afterwards, Sainz was then announced as Vettel’s replacement at the Scuderia. Ricciardo’s departure left an empty seat at Renault, although no announcement was made regarding his replacement.
It has been widely speculated by various media outlets that Fernando Alonso would fill the vacant seat, as of time of writing, but we shall analyse and look at the options has to fill the seat next to Esteban Ocon.
F1 Drivers out of Contract for 2021
For 2021, majority drivers of the drivers on the current grid are slated to be out of contract, with the list including both drivers at the Mercedes, Alfa Romeo, Haas and AlphaTauri teams. Since it’s quite clear that most drivers at the sharp-end of the grid might not fancy moving down to Renault, we have instead compiled a list of drivers who could be interested in a move across the grid, with a single exception…
Had it not been for Pastor Maldonado’s sponsor PDVSA’s late payments to the Renault F1 team, the Dane’s F1 career could have ended, after he spent a year on the sidelines at Mclaren, before being dropped on his Birthday. Magnussen drove for a single season with Renault, scoring a total of 7 points. Following the end of the season, Magnussen departed Renault for Haas, after rejecting a single-year contract from Renault, feeling that the team was not committed to him.
At Haas, Magnussen has performed well, out-scoring his teammate Grosjean in every season, except for 2017. Magnussen has made it clear in the media that he wants to fight for a world title, while Renault is a team looking to make a jump to the front of the grid. With both parties having near-aligned goals, should there be a management change at Renault, this could be a dream pairing.
What Renault Stands to Gain: An extremely talented and consistent driver, who is a known quantity.
Why Renault should think twice: Magnussen previously received criticism from Renault Sport Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul, who claimed he had been “disappointing” and “Searched for Excuses” in an early 2017 interview with Auto Hebdo.
Most casual fans of F1 may falsely think that Grosjean made his debut in 2012 with the Lotus F1 Team, that was later bought out by Renault. However, Grosjean actually made his debut in 2009 for Renault, replacing the sacked Nelson Piquet Jnr in the middle of 2009, with the stint yielding zero points, and he was dropped at the end of the year. After winning the GP2 series title with DAMS in 2011, he would return to F1 with Lotus in 2012, the very same team he drove for in 2009, which was renamed after it was acquired by Genii Capital.
In 2016, he departed the team for Haas, where since 2018, he has suffered from inconsistency and made numerous mistakes, with much speculation being made each year that his Haas contract may not be renewed.
What Renault Stands to Gain: A fast driver of French nationality, who could be of marketing value for Renault in France. An all French lineup driving for the French manufacturer would certainly be an exciting marketing opportunity too good to pass up.
Why Renault should think twice: Grosjean’s inconsistency and tendency for mistakes should not be understated. Better options are available on the current grid.
After struggling for the first half of the season at Red Bull, Pierre Gasly was transferred back to Toro Rosso, which was renamed as AlphaTauri in the off-season. For the 2020 season, Gasly has retained his seat at AlphaTauri, but like all drivers in the Red Bull programme (save for Max Verstappen), his status for 2021 is unknown. Gasly is keenly aware that Red Bull effectively has one of the seats at AlphaTauri earmarked for Jüri Vips in the future, and while it is generally believed that of the 2 AlphaTauri drivers, Kvyat is the one at greater risk of losing his seat, anything can happen. The possibility of a multiple year deal at Renault could allow Gasly to enjoy some stability in his Formula One career, and if Renault are able to return to the front of the grid, more podiums, or even a win could come his way.
Gasly is no stranger to Renault, having raced in the 2017 New York ePrix as a substitute for Sebastien Buemi at the Renault e.DAMS team, where he impressed the paddock in both races of the doubleheader weekend. For Race 1 on saturday, the young frenchman demonstrated solid race pace, finishing 7th after a poor qualifying saw him start at the back of the grid. For Race 2 on Saturday, Gasly qualified in 4th, and narrowly missed the podium after a mistake at the final corner. In both races, Gasly beat his teammate, Nico Prost to the chequered flag, and for the 2nd race, he also managed to outqualify Prost.
What Renault Stands to Gain: A talented young and quick driver who has shown to be able to bounce back from defeat, of French nationality, who could be of marketing value for Renault in France. An all French lineup driving for the French manufacturer would certainly be an exciting marketing opportunity too good to pass up.
Why Renault should think twice: While Gasly has certainly demonstrated his talent on numerous occasions in his time in Formula One with Toro Rosso, his short spell at Red Bull has shown that he could be a driver that is unable to work well under pressure. Renault is a works team that is trying to move to the front of the grid.
It is likely that any target set by the team would be harder to achieve than the those he was set at Red Bull, given the inferior machinery, which could see him put under pressure again, slipping back into the form he displayed at Red Bull. Renault also risks inter-team conflict should they choose to hire Gasly, with the former friends having a rift that began in their karting days.
Sebastian Vettel rejected McLaren reportedly due to him uninterested in a team that was not at the top end of the grid, suggesting that his target for a 2021 ride would be at Mercedes. With Mercedes looking to retain Hamilton, it is unsurprising that Bottas’s future in the team is being called into question once more. Bottas has always received single year contracts from Mercedes, with much speculation being made each year on whether he would be let go. The possibility of a multiple year deal at Renault could allow Bottas to enjoy some stability in his Formula One career, and give him the chance to be the lead driver at a works team seeking to move up the grid.
What Renault Stands to Gain: A talented, consistent and fast driver, who is willing to give way to prevent conflict in the team.
Why Renault should think twice: It is no secret in the F1 community that Bottas is a “Second Driver”, and it appears unclear whether he would ever be able to fill the shoes of Daniel Ricciardo, as the lead driver at the team to drive it forwards.
Renault’s driver academy options:
Guan Yu Zhou
As Renault’s Test Driver, Zhou is first in-line for a promotion to a race seat in Renault among the drivers in Renault’s driver academy. The Chinese driver is now entering his second season in Formula 2, with the Uni-Virtuosi Racing team, following a hugely successful rookie campaign in the FIA Formula 2 Championship with the team, where he finished in 7th. Zhou also emerged as the top rookie in the championship, and was the inaugural recipient of the Anthoine Hubert award. Zhou’s form last year was a stark difference to the form he had shown for the past 3 years in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, where he had finished 13th in 2016, and 8th in 2017 & 2018.
What Renault Stands to Gain: A talented young driver, who will be of marketing value for Renault in China, which is the world’s largest automotive market.
Why Renault should think twice: Zhou’s star rookie season in Formula 2 comes after 3 years of inconsistency and lacklustre results in Formula 3. Should racing return, the 2020 season could be an opportunity for Renault to properly asses Zhou, and ensure that his 2019 performance was no fluke.
Lundgaard joined the Renault Sport Academy in 2017, and has enjoyed much success in his career, having won both the SMP and Spanish Formula 4 championships in his first year of car racing. The Dane followed this by coming second in 2018 in the Formula Renault Eurocup, only beaten by fellow Renault junior Max Fewtrell, who was in his second year in the category. For 2019, he entered the new FIA Formula 3 Championship, finishing 6th, and was the top Renault junior in the final standings. For 2020, he has progressed onto the FIA Formula 2 Championship with ART Grand Prix.
What Renault Stands to Gain: A talented, young driver and fast driver.
Why Renault should think twice: Lundgaard’s rapid ascent up the junior single seater ladder is one that has not been seen for some time; while he was the top Renault junior in F3 last year, he suffered from a lack of consistency, failing to score in 8 of the 16 races. Renault’s move to rush his promotion from Formula 3 to Formula 2 could be detrimental to his development as a driver, and potentially harm his reputation further down the line…
Drivers outside of Formula 1
A post by Renault earlier in the week ignited much speculation that the two-time world champion could return to Formula One with the team that he scored his back-to-back titles with. Many reports have also circulated across the internet that Fernando could secure the seat, with Alonso have teased a return to racing in the near future, while previously having declared that he had “unfinished business” in Formula One. It should be noted that owing to the numerous controversies in his Formula One career, his options for a return are effectively limited to just Renault or McLaren. With the McLaren seat now filled by Ricciardo, his only chance for a 2021 return will be with Renault.
What Renault Stands to Gain: An extremely talented, and fast driver, who can extract the absolute maximum out of the car, a big-name signing who could give a PR Victory and morale boost for the team.
Why Renault should think twice: Renault currently has Esteban Ocon, who is signed with the team until the end of 2021, and ultimately may not stay with the team for 2022. Renault is a team that lacks stability, having changed at least one of it’s drivers every season since it’s return to F1 in 2016. Alonso is currently 38 Years Old, and it’s unlikely for him to commit to the team for an extended period, and to bring some much-needed stability to the team.
Could Renault re-hire it’s former driver? Ahead of the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix, it was revealed that Nico Hülkenberg, who had been signed to the team at the end of 2016, was to depart the team at the end of the year, with Esteban Ocon set to replace him. Hülkenberg’s departure came after the German decided to reject Renault’s offer for a new single year contract with an option; Hülkenberg had wanted a two-year contract with no option.
Earlier this week, Hülkenberg said in an interview with the German newspaper Westdeutsche Zeitung that he had offers for a Formula One comeback. has only ever driven for four teams in Formula One, namely Williams, Force India (now Racing Point), Sauber (now Alfa Romeo) and Renault. If any comeback offers were given to the German, it is likely that it would be given from one of those teams, owing to his age. With Williams and Racing Point appearing to be retaining their current lineups for 2021, it leaves only Alfa Romeo and Renault as the only plausible options for the German driver to receive an offer from.
What Renault Stands to Gain: An extremely talented, consistent and fast driver, who is a known quantity.
Why Renault should think twice: Renault currently has Esteban Ocon, who is signed with the team until the end of 2021, and ultimately may not stay with the team for 2022. Renault is a team that lacks stability, having changed at least one of its drivers every season since it’s 2016 return. Hülkenberg is currently 32 Years Old, and the question is how long more will he be willing to drive in F1 for?
Why Hülkenberg should think twice: His teammate for 2021 will be the driver that replaced him and received the 2 year contract that he wanted. When Ricciardo announced his departure from Renault, a short press release was issued by the team. Abiteboul stated in the release, “In our sport, and particularly within the current extraordinary situation, reciprocated confidence, unity and commitment are, more than ever, critical values for a works team. ”
How horribly ironic. Hülkenberg wanted a 2-year contract, as a form of commitment from the team to himself. They did not see it the same way, and after Ricciardo’s departure, they chose to make a veiled dig at him, rather than gracefully accepting the reality of the situation.