Veteran racers make way for a younger generation
At least one new face will appear on the 2017 grid as Felipe Massa and Jenson Button step away from the cockpit
Formula 1 is undergoing huge changes as events both on and off the track suggest the sport is entering a new era. In addition to the arrival of new owners (see Insider, p12), a long-standing generation of drivers is moving on and will be replaced by promising young stars.
The retirement of Felipe Massa, together with Jenson Button’s decision not to race in 2017, mean there will be at least one, and very likely two, new faces on the grid, in addition to recent newcomers such as Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein.
Button will be replaced by McLaren’s highly rated reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, while Canadian Lance Stroll is favourite to replace Massa at Williams. Belgian Vandoorne, 24, is expected to be a future star after a stellar career in junior categories and a highly accomplished one-off grand prix debut in Bahrain earlier this season, in which he outqualied Button.
Stroll, who turns 18 on 29 October, does not have such a strong reputation and his early promotion is strongly related to the wealth of his father, Lawrence, one of Canada’s richest men and a major investor in fashion brands such as Tommy Hilger and Ralph Lauren.
Williams’ deal with Stroll has not yet been nalised, but it is widely expected to happen. Stroll, who is a Williams development driver this season, is currently leading the European Formula 3 series, where he is competing with the class-leading Prema team.
Stroll is believed to be bringing a budget of at least $40m to Williams and is currently being quietly prepared for his F1 graduation with tests in two-year-old cars. One insider said: “He will have done so many miles by the time he starts, there will be no excuses for him. He will be at the level he will be.”
Elsewhere, Renault are expected to place Esteban Ocon, 19, in one of their cars next year. Ocon has been driving for Manor since the Belgian GP and is a Mercedes protégé like his current team-mate Pascal Wehrlein. Either could end up with a Mercedes drive after 2018 if they prove themselves. Ocon, like Vandoorne, is thought of as a major talent, having won both the European F3 series in 2014 – when he beat Max Verstappen – and the GP3 series in 2015. • Turn to page 66 for our interview with Ocon
Veteran racers Jenson Button, 36, and Felipe Massa, 35, will not be competing in Formula 1 in 2017