Why 2017 I hear you ask, well Fernando Alonso will be out of contract at Ferrari, so will that trigger Sebastian Vettel’s move away from Red Bull? Will Jenson Button still be at McLaren? Which new drivers will have made the step up? Here’s who I think will fill the 22 seats in 2017 (providing there are 22 seats available – i.e. Bernie isn't behind bars and the sport of F1 in a death spiral!).
Red Bull: Daniel Ricciardo and Antonio Felix da Costa
Quite a simple one in my opinion, I am expecting Daniel Ricciardo to move to Red Bull in 2014 with 2017 perhaps the last year on the contract. This will be the second year without Sebastian Vettel for the Austrian team and the second year with this partnership. Antonio Felix da Costa will have shined in his 3 years at Toro Rosso and replace Vettel for 2017.
Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel and Jules Bianchi
Ferrari will have made the most anticipated change in drivers in recent history as 5 time champion Sebastian Vettel moves away from Red Bull and replaces the retiring triple champion Fernando Alonso. A second driver change will occur as Jules Bianchi replaces Nico Hulkenberg who completes a successful 3 year stint at the Scuderia after replacing Felipe Massa for 2014.
McLaren: Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen
Another driver retiring after 2016 will be Jenson Button, the 2009 champion will be replaced by young prodigy Kevin Magnussen. The defending world champion will be Sergio Perez, Checo will have won the previous year overcoming Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in an amazing 2016 season, he will be full of confidence and the McLaren Honda partnership will be going from strength to strength.
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton and James Calado
Double world champion Lewis Hamilton will be entering the twilight of his career having won the 2015 championship. Nico Rosberg will have become frustrated with Hamilton at Mercedes and moved teams after 2015, his replacement is James Calado who will be entering his second year at the team.
Lotus: Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg
Bottas will have replaced fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus for 2016 after the Finn announces his second retirement. Romain Grosjean will have stayed at the team until 2016 before making a move away from F1, Hulkenberg will change from Ferrari to Lotus.
Force India: Felipe Nasr and Pastor Maldonado
Force India will have the same partnership for second straight season. Pastor Maldonado will have replaced Paul di Resta for 2015 as the Scot becomes frustrated with lack of progression in his career, he is joined by young Brazilian Felipe Nasr who makes a move from Caterham to the team replacing James Calado for 2016.
Williams: Stefano Coletti and Tio Ellinas
Perhaps the strangest line-up in terms of countries F1 has ever seen as Monegasque Stefano Coletti enters his third year at Williams after replacing Pastor Maldonado, while Cypriot Tio Ellinas will be in his second year in the sport after replacing Valtteri Bottas.
Sauber: Sergey Sirotkin and Esteban Gutierrez
After overcoming financial troubles Sauber will be in F1 and have the same line-up for the fourth straight year as 21 year-old Russian Sergey Sirotkin partners 26 year-old Mexican Esteban Gutierrez.
Toro Rosso: Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat
Continuing it’s tradition of bringing through young drivers from the Red Bull young driver program, Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat will be holding the two Toro Rosso seats, Sainz will be entering his third year after replacing Jean-Eric Vergne will Kvyay will be in his debut year replacing Antonio Felix da Costa.
Caterham: Alexander Rossi and Charles Pic
Another long standing partnership at Caterham as Pic and Rossi enter their third year together at the Malaysian owned team. Rossi will have joined for 2015 replacing Heikki Kovalainen who announces his retirement from the sport.
Marussia: Max Chilton and Dino Zamparelli
Still struggling to catch the midfield Marussia is also struggling to survive financially as a result Max Chilton remains at the team, he is joined by Dino Zamparelli who replaces Bianchi after his move to Ferrari.
What is interesting about my predictions is the number of current GP2 and GP3 driver’s that will have made the step up, currently eight of these drivers are in GP2 or GP3 with another 2 in other series, so-called pay drivers are still playing a key role though an improved economic climate will make it less of an issue.
Some of the current top driver’s will be entering the final years of the career in-particular Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, while Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo and Antonio Felix da Costa will be taking the sport into a new generation of rivalries. PureF1 (with death spiral piece from Ar1.com)