Sunny skies and a picturesque setting underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the perfect scene for the launch of the 2020 Supercars Championship season.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of days you should hopefully by now know that Daniel Ricciardo has signed a two-year contract with Renault Formula One team starting in 2019.
The seven-time Grand Prix winner informed Red Bull team principle Christian Horner that he would be leaving the team where he has called home for the past five years.
Lots has been written about the whole signing fiasco, more or else purely about Ricciardo and Renault. But what happens to the seat that he has left vacant after such a curveball signing?
Option 1 – Carlos Sainz
The young Spaniard was loaned to Renault by Red Bull at the end of the 2017 season and still has control over where he races until the end of September.
After September, Sainz is a free agent and can go wherever he feels is the right place.
He has scored in eight of the twelve races so far this season but clearly that hasn’t been enough for the team to continue having him there alongside Nico Hulkenberg.
But Red Bull is the right place isn’t it? When Max Verstappen and Sainz were teammates at Torro Rosso there reports of quite a rugged relationship between the two.
If Sainz feels as though he will not be given equal opportunity to new parts or driver preference then I believe he will not want to sign with Red Bull. So where will he go? Perhaps McLaren?
Strong rumours in the paddock suggest that Sainz will sign with the Woking based team and pair up with his childhood hero and fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso.
Option 2 – Pierre Gasly
History suggests that Red Bull promote their drivers from Torro Rosso to the senior team when a driver decides to move on or retire (Vettel replaced Coulthard, Ricciardo replaced Webber, Kvyat replaced Vettel just to name a few).
Gasly is in a prime position if he is to get the nod in the big sister team. He has performed well considering the current piece of machinery he is in. He notched a solid fourth and sixth in Bahrain and Hungary respectively.
The young Frenchman has been in the Red Bull Junior Driver Academy for years and has worked his way up in the junior categories where he has enjoyed some success along the way as well.
The only issue I see that could be made of this is just how young the combination of Verstappen (21) and Gasly (22) would be at the beginning of next season. Verstappen has more experience but Red Bull have always had an experienced and older driver alongside their up and coming (Webber with Vettel, Ricciardo with Verstappen as examples).
If Gasly doesn’t move up to Red Bull next year I see him having another season in Torro Rosso.
Option – 3
Now this option is a very ‘out there’ chance. Fernando Alonso perhaps?
It’s a highly unlikely choice but is this what Formula One needs? The double World Champion returning to a top team after the years of suffering at McLaren. Will the opportunity to race in a competitive car again reignite the fire to stay in Formula One?
Alonso did not enjoy having the Honda engine in the back of his McLaren and with Red Bull now signed with Honda for next season may this deter him from pursuing the opportunity.
Honda have shown improvement over the last 12 months with their engine especially in the reliability and power which is what Alonso always made sure the world knew about on those infamous team radio messages.
I think we will either see Alonso continue with McLaren and hope for the best, somehow sign with Red Bull or retire from the sport completely and go on other ventures, the latter being in my opinion the one he will be doing.
I think Carlos Sainz will be in the Red Bull next year. He’s fast, hungry for success in a top team and keen to show the bosses at Red Bull that he can be faster than Verstappen.