With the 2018 F1 season just a few months away, ESPN takes a look at which drivers will be under pressure to perform this year, whether they are looking to secure their futures on the F1 grid, or land a front-running drive…

Valtteri Bottas

Valtteri Bottas did enough in 2017 to earn himself another season at Mercedes. He had a mixed first year with the team, with some career-best results and performances scattered amongst what was ultimately a disappointing campaign (by his own admission) which saw him unable to replicate teammate Lewis Hamilton’s title challenge. A big improvement is necessary this year if he wants to still be driving for the Silver Arrows come 2019. Two men in particular are going to place immediate pressure on Bottas’ seat.

Daniel Ricciardo is going to be the hottest commodity on this year’s driver market as he enters the final season of his current Red Bull deal — one he is happy to delay extending while he assesses his options. Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon’s reputation continues to rise and another good season at Force India might make Toto Wolff seriously consider promoting the Frenchman. Bottas can help make the decision easier with a strong season of his own — but a dip in form similar to the one we saw after 2017’s summer break could have bigger consequences this time around.

Kimi Raikkonen

Once again, Kimi Raikkonen enters a season in a perplexing situation. He showed glimpses of the old Raikkonen in 2017, securing a pole at the Monaco Grand Prix, but still operated a long way off the levels we used to expect from the 2007 world champion. He got another contract extension last year, but Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne — who labelled the Finn “a laggard” mid-way through the season — has suggested this will be Raikkonen’s last chance to show he deserves a place on the grid beyond 2018.

“My personal opinion is that if we find the right key, Raikkonen drives like a God,” he said during the Christmas break. “But we need to find it. When things go right, it’s a pleasure see him driving. He has an incredible coldness. Otherwise, in other moments it seems like he takes a break.”

He added: “Probably this is the last season to find the right key and we must do it. I think that would be a shame if he would leave F1 without showing his real potential.”

With Charles Leclerc set for a rookie season at Sauber, come this time next year the team may have a ready-made replacement for the Finn should it choose to finally end his frustrating second stint at Maranello.

Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean joined Haas to keep himself in the sights of the American team’s technical partner Ferrari, but his chances of a job at Maranello seem to be waning thinner every season. With the prospect of the team dumping Raikkonen after 2018 a very real one, and the emergence of Ferrari junior Leclerc, Grosjean’s window to make a step to a front-running team appears about ready to slam shut unless he does something drastic this year.

Though he could be a viable candidate for a post-Raikkonen world at Ferrari if the Italian team feels it is too early to promote Leclerc, the fact he has been overlooked by the bosses at Maranello so far suggests he is not high on their wish list for the future.

Nico Hulkenberg

What could have been for Nico Hulkenberg? He was tipped as world champion material when he arrived on the F1 grid with Williams in 2010, but the jigsaw pieces have never really fallen into place for the German. His switch from Force India to Sauber at the end of 2012 looked a sensible one at the time, but it ended up coinciding with the start of a reversal in fortunes for both teams. A low-key year at Sauber meant he was unable to show his talent, and he ultimately missed out on a possible career-defining move to Ferrari in 2014.

Hulkenberg holds the unenviable record for the most grand prix starts without achieving a podium finish (135), and will be hoping Renault can make the performance (and reliability) steps required with its power unit to make a long-awaited podium appearance. Having held his own against Sergio Perez and overwhelmingly beaten Jolyon Palmer, he will face a stern test in the shape of new teammate Carlos Sainz in 2018.

Sergio Perez

Another man who appears to have missed a second shot at a drive at one of F1’s top teams. Sergio Perez’s consistent levels of performance over the last few years has rightly seen his name floated around with the likes of Ferrari, but the Raikkonen-Leclerc situation at Ferrari, Red Bull’s faith in its junior programme and Mercedes’ decision to sign Valtteri Bottas last season, have left Perez’s chances of landing a competitive, front-running drive, hanging by a thread.

Entering the final year of his contract with Force India, Perez faces another problem in the shape of the younger, Mercedes-backed, Esteban Ocon. The French driver impressed in his first full-season in F1, and while Perez beat him in the standings in 2017, Ocon has cemented himself as somewhat of a headache for the Mexican.

Marcus Ericsson

While he scored no points in 2017, Marcus Ericsson was often closer to highly-regarded former Sauber teammate Pascal Wehrlein than many expected, particularly towards the tail end of the campaign. Even so, Ericsson was left sweating over his F1 career at the end of last season and he could face a similar scenario at the end of 2018 due to the Swiss outfit’s tie-up with Alfa Romeo. The partnership, coupled with Ferrari’s engine supplier deal with Sauber, has allowed the Scuderia to shoehorn the highly-rated Leclerc onto the grid.

But with Ferrari also keen to provide Antonio Giovinazzi — who made his F1 race debut with Sauber at the start of 2017 — a spot in F1, the Italian could be a threat to Ericsson’s position depending on how well the Swede performs against Leclerc this year. It is a rivalry that is likely to be heavily scrutinised. Performance-aside, Ericsson could be spared a seat for 2019 in a scenario where Leclerc was instantly promoted to Ferrari to replace Kimi Raikkonen.



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