With the mid-summer beak in full swing and a full three weeks until we go racing again at Spa, the gossip columns of F1 sites and blogs are full to the rim of possible driver moves and reshuffles.
As is always the case this time of year, teams and drivers alike are starting to look beyond the final race showdown in November and into next year; next season's cars will soon become the focus, as will driver line-ups. There's plenty of speculation about who's going where.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
The most prolific of rumours currently running riot within the F1 paddock is Sebastian Vettel's intentions for next season. The German currently leads the F1 World Championship in his Ferrari, but rumours persist that things aren't all rosy within the Italian garage.
It's almost common knowledge at this stage that Vettel and Mercedes had contact last season, when Ferrari where struggling and Mercedes running riot for a third consecutive season. Did Vettel agree to become a Silver Arrow driver for next year? Is that why Valtteri Bottas only signed a one-year deal when switching from Williams to Mercedes?
Either way, it seems a gentleman's agreement was made last season, but it looks unlikely that such a deal will be struck for next season. The main reason for this is that Ferrari are 'back'. Few could have predicted the strength of the Prancing Horse's resurgence this season. Not only do they have a driver in the title lead, they have arguably the most complete car on the grid. Mercedes and one of their drivers may well clinch the title this year, but the Scuderia seem very well placed to end their long trophy drought in 2018, so it seems like Vettel is staying for one more season at least.
Alonso On The Move Again
Dust off the bunting and get those homecoming banners out once again, it seems like Fernando Alonso could be planning yet another return to a former team over the winter. The two-time champion has had a torrid time of it during the past two seasons at McLaren; his dream of a Honda-led world title seem as unrealistic as ever, and it looks like he'll part company with the Woking-team for a second time at the end of the season.
But where can the Spaniard go?
His options are limited by the looks of things. Ferrari will not take him back, and barring an implosion by Bottas between now and Abu Dhabi, Mercedes will not be looking for a driver for next season. The Red Bull driver seats are under lock and key, so that leaves a potential return to Renault.
In today's age, as Alonso has argued in the past, only a manufacturer can realistically expect to win an F1 title. Red Bull aside, that's essentially true. Renault are in the infancy of their F1 return and have potential to challenge, but not until 2020. That's too long for Alonso to wait, and if he joins next season the most he can expect is to be the best of the 'rest' and perhaps challenge for a podium or two throughout the season.
Therefore, he's either likely to stay at McLaren and continue through gritted teeth, or leave the sport entirely. He enjoyed his Indy500 stint in May, so he may be exploring shifting formulas and head to the US next season. But he has so much more to give on the F1 stage, it wouldn't be a sensible career move. He has one more title fight in him, but the stars aren't aligning t make it a possibility.
Young Guns Plotting Their Moves
It seems like only yesterday we were charting the rise of the next great F1 generation: Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, all racing wonderkids at one stage, have shared the spoils over the past decade. With nine world titles between them, it may be time to move aside for the next era of champions.
Chief amongst them is Max Verstappen. The Dutch teenager's season has been an ordeal at times this season, suffering a run of five retirements from seven races at one point. He has the ability and mindset to win multiple championships, but does he have the right car. Red Bull are a solid outfit, but how likely are they to challenge next year, or even in 2019? It seems like Mercedes will continue to dominate with Ferrari challenging until 2020. A move to the Scuderia has been mooted, but it will unlikely be next season. A switch to the Italians is more likely in 2019, and then we'll see the true potential of this potential legend.
Elsewhere, Esteban Ocon has heavily impressed in his Force India this season, rivalling Sergio Perez for the 'best of the rest' title in midfield. The Frenchman has shown he's competitive, coming to blows with Perez at times this season. He's also quick, which is what you need in this sport. He seems like a star in the making, but expect him to return to his parent team Mercedes in 2019.
We may well see a couple of new starlets joining the sport next season. Pierre Gasly, a gifted young Red Bull driver, is likely to join Toro Rosso, with one time hopeful Daniil Kyvat likely to leave the sport. Gasly, a junior champion, is expected to make a big impact eventually at Red Bull in the coming years. Meanwhile, over at Sauber, they will likely be receiving a Ferrari young driver next season; either Antonio Giovinazzi, the young Italian who impressed the team at the start of the season, or a young Frenchman by the name of Charles Le Clerc. He has impressed in testing sessions with Ferrari this season and seems likely to be slotted into Sauber next season to learn his trade. As is the common theme with the current new crop of drivers, 2019 may be the season where he really starts to push on.