Formula 1

Who will be on the 2016 Formula 1 grid - time for Button to retire?

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Half-way through the current Formula 1 campaign, 'silly season' is in full swing with rumours flying around the paddock and the press.

Which are genuine and which a fake? GMS investigates and predicts the 2016 Australia starting grid ahead of this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest.

Mercedes AMG

Starting with the the championship leaders who are running away with both the constructors and drivers titles, Hamilton and Rosberg are both tied down to contracts that will see them both driving for the Silver Arrows well into the new rule changes from 2017.

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Hamilton, barring any sudden and serious outfall within the team, will remain with the Brackley-based outfit until he retires.

The same can be said of Rosberg who, while showing good speed and extra fight this season, always appears to take one step forward and two steps back. The German will likely be with the reigning champions until they choose to promote either Esteban Ocon or Pascal Wehrlein.

Verdict: Hamilton and Rosberg

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Ferrari

Currently the best-of-the-rest, Ferrari hold the key to the driver market with Kimi Raikkonen under immense pressure to save his seat and career.

Raikkonen has previously stated that Ferrari will be his final drive in F1 and, while he still has the speed, luck and strategy, calls have deserted him this season leaving him 59 points adrift of team-mate and friend, Sebastian Vettel (who will be with Ferrari until retirement).

So who are the frontrunners for the second seat with the Scuderia? 

Valtteri Bottas, Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean have all been linked to the Maranello outfit but Bottas is the favourite to replace his compatriot.

An unconfirmed report by Italy's Corriere dello Sport newspaper claims that Ferrari have struck a €12m to release Bottas from his 2016 option, however it was quickly dismissed as sensationalist.

The 25-year-old is undoubtedly a future world champion but his management team - which includes double world champion, Mika Hakkinen and Mercedes team principle, Toto Wolff - would be wary of allowing their prized asset to become a 'Number Two' driver to Vettel.

The Finn would be better served remaining with Williams for the next two to three years before moving to McLaren as Fernando Alonso's replacement when the Spaniard retires - by which point Honda may have sorted their issues.

Ricciardo, although another future world champion in waiting, has dismissed speculation linking him to Ferrari as 'a bit of a laugh.'

“I don’t even know where the rumours started actually - it’s really exploded,” said Ricciardo on the official Formula One website.

“Ferrari is probably the only top team potentially with a seat open, which is why I guess my name and a few others have been linked to that."

“It’s a bit of a laugh. You know what, it’s fun - we talk about these things now, so it creates some variety in our conversations! Obviously it is nice to be regarded by a top team like that - it’s nice to know there is interest from other teams as well. But I am with a top team too.”

Such a move would never happen as Vettel would no doubt be against the Australian joining the team wanting to avoid a repeat of 2014.

Hulkenberg has been linked to Ferrari for as long as we can remember and this may be his best and final opportunity to drive for the prancing horse.

Fantastic performances for Force India and with the struggling Sauber in 2013 added to his debut win at Le Mans, the German is - in this reporter's view - the clear favourite.

Marketing issues aside for two German drivers, the 28-year-old has been banging on the door of the blue-chip teams for several years and is in danger of becoming a nearly-man of the sport.

A surprise to many to be linked with a race seat, Gutierrez is only in with a chance for sponsorship reasons, but surely the most famous team in F1 would never stoop to such pressure?

Finally the other nearly-man, Romain Grosjean.

The Frenchman, also now in his prime has been a revelation since his return to the sport with Lotus even dragging an uncompetitive 2014 car into Q3 and the points.

For reasons discussed later, the always-smiling Grosjean will be passed over.

Verdict: Vettel and Hulkenberg

Williams

With the reasons discussed above, Bottas will remain with the Grove team for a few more years and lead the team as out-and-out number one when Felipe Massa retires at the end of the 2016 season.

The Finn will move at some point, but McLaren is the likely destination with Hakkinen as part of his management team ensuring the Woking team will have had a Finn racing for them in the last three decades.

Massa will remain with the team before retiring next year to be replaced by GP3 champion, Alex Lynn.

Verdict: Bottas and Massa

Red Bull

Two extremely talented drivers who have all the skills to become world champions, there is no need to change this line-up.

Ricciardo will remain as leader and Daniil Kvyat, after a slow start, is now settled with the prime team after moving from Toro Rosso last season.

Verdict: Ricciardo and Kvyat

Force India

With Hulkenberg departing for Italy, Sergio Perez will lead the team outright with the ever-improving Silverstone team.

As a cusomter of Mercedes, and seen in mid-season testing at Austria, Force India's vacant seat will be given to one of Mercedes AMG's youth drivers Wehrlein and Ocon.

Due to his extensive testing miles for Vijay Mallya's team, Wehlein will take the seat to hone his race craft in F1 after successful DTM showings.

Verdict: Perez and Wehrlein

Lotus

An upturn in form thanks to their new Mercedes power-train has seen Lotus back in the points after a disastrous 2014 campaign.

However, one issue that hasn't gone away is Pastor Maldonado's erratic form and with reserve driver and GP" champion, Jolyon Palmer, waiting in the wings, there could be change.

Although Lotus have previously stated that there won't be any change next season, CEO Matthew Carter told Sky Sports' 'F1 Show' that the Venezuelan is 'not untouchable'.

Age, crashes and worries over his native government's oil money have seen Maldonado's future on the edge.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Palmer says there is a chance of a race seat next year: 

“I don’t want to be a test driver again next year, my aim is still to be racing with Lotus and that is why I am here for the year to be racing. 

“I have been told there could be an opportunity so I just have to try my best and show the team why they should take me."

Palmer has often matched or bettered Maldonado, whose contract states he does not step aside for the reserve driver.

If the rumours of Renault buying the Lotus team back are true - and they appear to be - Grosjean will lead the factory team which could negate the need for Maldonado's money and instead have a talented, young driver who could be Britain's next champion.

Verdict: Grosjean and Palmer

Sauber

With money from their current drivers and the Giedo Van der Garde legal issues behind them, Sauber look competitive with Ferrari's improved engine and new driver Felipe Nasr proving that he is not just a pay-driver.

Marcus Ericsson has looked comfortable and will remain with the team alongside Nasr for next year where, if he doesn't kick-on, he will be usurped by Ferrari reserve driver, Raffaele Marciello.

Verdict: Nasr and Ericcson 

Toro Rosso

Same as their sister team, two immensely talented young drivers with Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Both can become world champions with Verstappen, currently F1's new wonder boy and darling of the media, only just ahead of Sainz Jr.

Verdict: Sainz Jr and Verstappen

McLaren

What a mess McLaren are in.

Honda have dramatically underestimated the new F1 with their engine while McLaren themselves look lost - no title sponsor for two seasons for a start.

Fernando Alonso is locked into a contract for two-three years, so is remaining with the team until his retirement - or a huge falling out with Ron Dennis. 

Jenson Button, though, appears to be on the way out after BBC Sport's Andrew Benson revealed that Button's second year on his contract is an option.

Having only just kept his seat from Kevin Magnussen for this season, JB will almost certainly be facing retirement from F1 at the end of the season.

While Ron Dennis has said the team aren't thinking about drivers for next year, Button said:

"It is not a given, no – there are always options everywhere," when asked if he would remain on the grid for 2016.

The driver who will take his spot is runaway GP2 leader and McLaren reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne.

The young Belgian pushed Palmer all throughout the latter part of the 2014 season and cannot be denied a race seat with the prime team as he represents a talent seldom seen in GP" since McLaren's own Lewis Hamilton.

As much as he is loved by fans, JB could well jump before he is pushed.

Verdict: Alonso and Vandoorne

Manor

The good news is that Manor will be on the grid for 2016 and will have one seat available - the only seat that appears to be genuinely up-for-grabs.

Will Stevens will remain with the team, fulfilling a almost Max Chilton-like role as John Booth will look to replace Roberto Merhi who is under a race-by-race performance contract.

After the shocking crash in the previous World Series Renault round in Austria - caused by Merhi - the Spaniard appears all but done in Formula 1.

The two candidates appear to be Magnussen - whom Dennis said he would do everything to get a race seat - after a strong 2014, and Marciello, who has the benefit of Ferrari.

While engine supplier may decide the driver, Magnussen has experience from 2014 that would be invaluable to Manor and should see him take the seat ahead of the Italian.

Verdict: Stevens and Magnussen

Haas

F1's new team or an unofficial Ferrari B/customer team have already stated their desire for an American driver and Alex Rossi is guaranteed the seat for this reason alone.

The second seat go to one of Ferrari's development drivers, with Gutierrez a probable favourite.

However it is Ferrari's other reserve driver who should get the chance.

Jean-Eric Vergne showed great speed in 2014 when he was unfairly dumped by Red Bull and, unlike the Mexican, has remained in a racing environment in Formula E. 

Even though it is an American outfit and Mexican sponsors via Ferrari may demand it, Gutierrez should be overlooked purely based on JEV's supreme speed.

Verdict: Rossi and Vergne

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