F1 2015 Driver Predictions: 6 Key Switches That Could Take Place Next Year

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2014

F1 2015 Driver Predictions: 6 Key Switches That Could Take Place Next Year

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    Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press

    Predicting the 2015 Formula One driver market is a little bit like trying to predict the route of a vehicle on a journey to an unknown destination.

    There are so many variables at play that even a single wrong guess can render the rest of the predictions incorrect.

    In August last year, I predicted the 2014 driver line-ups. A few weeks later, Sky Sports pundit Martin Brundle and former driver Anthony Davidson did the same.

    We came up with very similar predictions and failed in an equally spectacular manner. The two sets of predictions scored an identical two (Red Bull and Mercedes) out of 11 correct.

    But the market for 2014 was unusually active and volatile, so unless it was the start of a trend, things should be quieter this year.

    Looking at everything from subtle hints to form, and adding in a little bit of gut feeling, here are six connected driver moves which could well occur for 2015.

Jenson Button: McLaren to Retirement

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Jenson Button spoke to The Express last week of his desire to remain in F1 for 2015, but there's a strong possibility it might be out of his hands.

    If McLaren want to return to the front of the field, they need a top, top driver. One of the stellar talents capable of doing things with a car that it shouldn't be capable of doing.

    Though Button has had an excellent career, he doesn't fit that bill anymore.

    His contract is up at the end of the year, and Ron Dennis wouldn't hesitate to drop a driver if he felt a better alternative was available. It's quite likely one will be.

    Maybe he would go for a Kimi Raikkonen-style final foray at another top team, but it's unclear whether any such opportunity would arise.

    Button comes across as a genuine and nice guy, and having spoken to him I can say he's extremely polite and accommodating toward the press as well. His departure would not be welcome news.

    But he's 35 next year, with nothing left to prove. He has a lot of life outside of F1so retirement may prove a more attractive proposition than a move down the field.

Fernando Alonso: Ferrari to McLaren

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    Luca Bruno/Associated Press

    If your aquarium has dirty water, you don't just change the filter. You change the water too.

    Ferrari replaced Stefano Domenicali as team principal, but that won't do anything to address the pervasive culture of failure which seems to have settled upon the team in recent years.

    So, it's becoming increasingly likely Fernando Alonso will finally lose patience and move on. He's coming toward the end of his career, and he needs to find a new team to help him add to the two world titles he won in 2005 and 2006.

    The Spaniard is the best driver of his generation, so he should have the pick of where he'd like to go.

    The right destination is McLaren.

    The Woking team will have had a year back under Ron Dennis and Eric Boullier's stewardship, former Red Bull aerodynamic ace Peter Prodromou will have finished his gardening leave, and Honda will have had a year to observe, learn from and perhaps even copy their rivals' engine designs.

    It would mean linking up with Dennis again, but the Alonso of 2014 is a far more assured, confident man than the one who fell out with the McLaren boss in 2007.

    When asked late last year if Alonso could ever return, Dennis told BBC Sport, "Whatever obstacles sit between a team wanting to win and winning, be it engineering, fiscal or human issues, you resolve them. You never say never."

    The pair could definitely work together again.

Sebastian Vettel: Red Bull to Ferrari

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    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    If Alonso goes, Ferrari will want the best possible replacement. With Lewis Hamilton secure at Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen very close to retirement, there is only one truly proven talent who might become available.

    Sebastian Vettel needs to spread his wings and leave the safe environment provided by Christian Horner and Helmut Marko at Red Bull. He has four world titles, and the time is right for a new challenge with a new team.

    Where better than Ferrari?

    Their recent form has been poor, but they have a massive budget and the magnetic, romantic lure no other team can match.

    Of course it'd be a risk, but Vettel is still only 26.

    He has time on his side. Even if it turns out to be a mistake, he'd have many years left to try to win more titles elsewhere if he wished.

Nico Rosberg: Mercedes to Red Bull

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    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    Without Vettel, Red Bull will be in the market for a new man to drive alongside Daniel Ricciardo. They, like Ferrari, will look for the best driver available.

    Nico Rosberg might be their man. If he is beaten convincingly by Lewis Hamilton this year, he may consider a move to be in his best interestsespecially a move to another top team.

    Of course, this depends on how the current season goes, but at the moment it seems likely the German will be runner-up.

    So if Vettel leaves, Rosberg may well grab a move to the Austrian team with both hands.

Nico Hulkenberg: Force India to Mercedes

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    Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

    Mercedes would want the most talented driver available if Rosberg left, but another German would also be handy for the all-important domestic PR work.

    But as luck would have it, the stand-out candidate is a man who fits both requirements.

    Nico Hulkenberg has been knocking on the door of the top teams so long it's a wonder he still has skin on his knuckles. He was disappointed to miss out on a Ferrari seat for this season, but a switch to Mercedes in 2015 would more than make up for it.

    Even if he has a contract at his current team, no force on Earth could stop him taking the opportunity.

Robin Frijns: Caterham Reserve to Force India

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    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    If Hulkenberg leaves, a seat opens at Force India.

    The team have a history of at least trying to sign good drivers, even if they don't come with insane quantities of sponsorship cash.

    Robin Frijns is a former Formula Renault 3.5 champion and currently Caterham's reserve driver. They rate him highly enough to give him testing and Friday practice opportunities for freehe doesn't pay for the privilege.

    But he should be in a race seat by now. He would be if he had a bit of sponsorship cash, but last year he couldn't even afford GP2.

    He would be the ideal candidate to replace Hulkenberg and completes this six-driver chain.

    Agree or disagree with any (or all) of my predictions? Feel free to comment below!

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