Last year’s silly season we saw NASCAR’s new quote on quote “youth movement” take center stage. Gone were the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. Also let go, but not retiring, was Kasey Kahne. For those counting, that’s seven open rides in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series over the last few years and all with top teams.
Prior to this season, Hendrick Motorsports had won 249 races and 12 championships. They now had three rides available. Stewart-Haas Racing is among the top organizations in the series now and they have had two rides open in the last two years. Joe Gibbs Racing is also among the top teams in the business and had two seats available.
All those rides with the exception of the two SHR cars were filled with drivers in their early 20s. Hendrick lost 11 of their 12 championships and 185 wins from their arsenal. Replacing them was three drivers with zero combined Cup Series championships nor wins. JGR went in the same direction. Replacing Edwards and Kenseth were two drivers with zero wins and zero championships.
See the theme here?
Out with the old in with the much younger and less experienced.
Now, that is trickling into Formula One and the INDYCAR Series.
Two of the top three teams in F1 right now have openings for their seats for 2019. Ferrari’s second seat with Kimi Raikkonen is right now open next season as is Red Bull’s top seat from Daniel Ricciardo. Both drivers are currently free agents past this season. Since 2014, no other team other than Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull have won a race in F1. So, for two rides to be available, it could shift the future of the sport.
Also, Fernando Alonso is open for next year too.
Combined, Raikkonen, Alonso and Ricciardo have won three world championships, all from 2005 to 2007 and 59 Grand Prix’s. Alonso has made 300 starts at the moment, Raikkonen 278 and Ricciardo 136. All three are available for different rides.
Ferrari though is looking at replacing Raikkonen with a 20 year old driver in Charles LeClerc. The team has never done something like this before. Usually, they hire on talent yet experienced drivers. They don’t hire a project of a youthful driver. But, in this day and age, anything is possible.
Raikkonen would have made 292 F1 starts by the end of the season 151 of which with Ferrari. LeClerc, well he’s made seven career starts at the moment and would have only 21 races under his belt before a move to one of F1’s top teams in the history of the series.
That would equate to Hendrick hiring William Byron who only had two years of NASCAR experience in total before moving all the way up to Cup.
McLaren is courting Ricciardo which would likely see him replace Alonso if he were to join the team. Alonso, well he’s eyeing a move to INDYCAR. Speaking of that, RACER confirmed the hot rumor that’s been floating around the paddock over the last few months that McLaren who’s inevitably likely going to be racing in INDYCAR in a full capacity in 2019, that they’re courting none other than Scott Dixon.
Yes, that Scott Dixon.
Would Dixon really leave Chip Ganassi Racing after 17 years to join a new team in the series? Well, with McLaren’s money and what they could offer him, plus a likely joint effort with Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing or Andretti Autosport, why not? On top of that, Dixon’s idol and racing hero he’s always looked up to is Bruce McLaren. Why not race for a team under the late hero of the Aussie?
It’s not as far fetched as it seems and could happen. That means a ride with Ganassi could be open and they’d likely court Felix Rosenqvist. The Swede tested a couple of times with Ganassi in the past and word was the team was so impressed with him that they wanted to hire him to replace Tony Kanaan this season. But, he was under contract with his Formula E ride.
Stefan Johanssen is tied to both Rosenqvist and Dixon. He’d be the top option. But, so could Brendan Hartley who’s in F1 right now too. He was tabbed as a potential for the No. 10 Honda seat for this season too. The team went with Ed Jones, but with Hartley’s future in F1 in doubt, either he and Rosenqvist would be the top replacements.
Another possibility with Sebastien Bourdais who’s a Ganassi driver for the endurance IMSA races. Ganassi would court him too.
Nevertheless, the last few years, we’ve had open rides with Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and now Chip Ganassi Racing. All are seeing youth movements replace him.