With Piere Gasly given the promotion to the senior team [Red Bull] and Brendon Hartley having an extremely lackluster season as of yet the team could potentially be looking at a completely new driver line-up for next year. But who?
Well, the ties with Red Bull instantly mean looking to promote from within the Red Bull Young Drivers Program allowing young talent to be tested in a less intense atmosphere than the Red Bull's - Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel all took this pathway - the conundrum is though that they can't. To get into F1 you need an FIA Super License which can only be obtained if you accumulate a total of 40pts across the 'Junior' (yes, IndyCar and WEC are classified as Junior) racing categories over the most recent three years. None of Dan Ticktum(0pts), Nirei Fukuzumi(18pts) or Neil Verhagen(0pts) will obtain this required amount of points before the end of this year therefore not eligible for a F1 seat. This has put Toro Rosso in a awkward situation when if they want to remain loyal to the Red Bull Young Driver Program they must retain Hartley for next season having already publicly criticizing his poor form with a huge 26 points gap to his teammate Gasly. So what 10 drivers (according to Dr Marko) could Toro Rosso get?
Option 1 - Former Toro Rosso drivers Jean Eric-Vergne and/or Sebastian Buemi:
Since leaving Formula 1 both men have excelled in their respective series - Vergne winning the 2017-18 Formula-e season with Techeetah, Buemi winning the 2014 World Endurance Championship with Toyota and 2015-16 Formula-e season with Renault.e dams, he also currently leads the 2018 World Endurance Championship - attracting interest from several teams on the F1 pit-wall. Out of all the teams the only concrete interest has come from Toro Rosso who have "apparently" (according to some media outlets) approached them about the potential for a seat vacancy in the 2019 season.
Vergne is clearly talented - shown by his junior form and recent performances- and his return to F1 would be a popular choice, however, would Vergne decide to leave Formula-e on the eve of its most significant series yet as the reigning champion to go to a team which is currently 8th in the Constructors Championship? Yet, I would feel from a Buemi's perspective that this move would in some ways be a step back because he would be effectively putting his Formula-e and WEC career on hold to help Toro Rosso's in the long term and at 29, unless Gasly has a howler first season in Red Bull, Toro Rosso will be as far up the grid he will most probably go. A disservice for a man who has achieved so most in Motorsport in recent years.
Option 2 - Former Toro Rosso driver Danil Kyvat:
As serious as the interest for Danil is from Toro Rosso, for personal reasons, I just cannot see this move materializing. The Russian's F1 experience was that of a racing nightmare. After climbing through the rank of Toro Rosso in a great maiden campaign in 2014 he was promoted to Red Bull in 2015 but in 2016 was quickly made a scapegoat of after a few minor collisions to allow the impressing Max Verstappen to be promoted to Red Bull: Kyvat was demoted to Toro Rosso and dropped at the end of the 2017 season.
Luckily for him, in 2018, Ferrari saw through his torrid time at Red Bull, noting his raw pace, giving him a developmental driver role. Having impressed under Ferrari guidance Kyvat seems to have worked his way back under the noses of F1 teams, looking to re-write his reputation within the sport. Ultimately, though, even if the Russian would consider the offer why move back to the team(s) which almost ruined your career in the sport?
Option 3 - Stoffel Vandoorne:
After only recently being dropped by Mclaren, Vandoorne is currently a free agent for 2019 and armed with 2 years worth of Honda engine experience at Mclaren, Toro Rosso might be the perfect fit. Although a fractured relationship the majority of the time at Mclaren not helped by the on track radio rants by his teammate Fernando Alonso, "GP2 engine", he could bring useful knowledge of the Honda engine and set-up to not only further develop the Honda engine but also re-build his F1 reputation after being dominated by Fernando Alonso in every single Grand Prix and Qualifying (crashes, retirements and grid penalties excluded).
Let's also not forget about Vandoorne's racing pedigree winning the 2015 GP2 series and with the most amount of wins ever in the series as well as other successes within other junior categories is enough evidence to prove to Toro Rosso he can race. This rumour was heightened when Zak Brown the CEO of Mclaren stated that although they had dropped the Belgian he was more than capable of fulfilling the Toro Rosso seat, a suspicious statement to make.
Option 4 - Raid Mercedes for Esteban Ocon and/or Pascal Wehrlein:
Out of all the options I'd argue that these two are probably the least likely to join; regardless still an option. Although already alluded to by senior members of Toro Rosso that the Mercedes ties that the driver's have are off putting (Esteban Ocon, Junior driver, Pascal Wehrlien, Merecedes DTM) the caliber of these drivers is definitely enough to tempt their hand.
Esteban Ocon's future in F1 is in doubt with the inevitable arrival of Lance Stroll due to his father being the leading member of the consortium which bought of Force India and Perez looking to remain in his seat for saving the team by entering them into administration leaving Ocon with only the Toro Rosso or Williams as viable options for next year. So why not take a punt? He's been class ever since hes entered F1 showing the potential to be a future World Champion yet might not even be on the grid next year which, ultimately, could work in Toro Rosso's favour with Mercedes seemingly desperate to get him a seat - Toto Wolf has publicly stated this week that he was consider stopping the junior program if it was hindering drivers future opportunities.
Pascal Wehrlein's short F1 career was straight forward, wrong car at the wrong time. Wehrlein's route via the Mercedes Junior Driver Program entangled him into a sinking Manor team and was made way at Sauber for the excelling Charles LeClerc after getting beat frequently by his teammate Marcus Ericsson during the year that was filled with injuries. Since F1 he has returned to DTM, where he made his name, performing reasonable well with the Mercedes team but there is still an air on unfinished business with F1 for the German which Toro Rosso could definitely offer him.
Option 5 - Marc Marquez - seriously:
Now I know you extreme MotoGP fans are probably thinking that this is a typo but no, the four-time MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez is apparently as fast on two wheels as he is on four. In early June this year Marc Marquez and his teammate Dani Pedrosa tested a Red Bull RB8 in a Toro Rosso livery around the Austrian Red Bull Ring in a special promotional test. Its not unusual for MotoGP drivers to test Formula 1 cars (Lorenzo for Mercedes and Rossi for Ferrari) but Marquez relationship with Honda in MotoGP, the prensence of Dr Helmut Marko and Dietrich Mateschitz at the test combined with positive comments from Marko, "Marc also has what it takes. Today was definitely not the last time he will sit in a F1 car.", give this rumour an actual backbone. If Marquez does have the pace and has proved he can transfer his MotoGP knowledge into the modern F1 cars there is no reason why he shouldn't be considered for the seat.
Option 6 - Antonio Giovinazzi
After a bizarre turn of events which has seen Kimi Raikkonen return to the team which gave him his first F1 drive (Sauber) and current driver Marcus Ericsson performing at his highest level as of yet in an F1 seat, Giovinazzi's destination for next year has become somewhat blurred. A Ferrari Reserve Driver (Ferrari ties are difficult to overcome) Giovinazzi has had a very sporadic F1 career. In 2017 he raced twice for Sauber stepping in for the injured Wehrlein whilst also being a test driver for Haas and Ferrari at the same time which has continued across to this season but instead remains as only Sauber and Ferrari reserve drive, not Haas, taking part in many free-practice and testing sessions in both cars. Although his time in F1 has been limited ,for many reasons, his second place finish in GP2 in 2016 and constant attraction to F1 via the Ferrari driver scheme does highlight his potential and how big of a coup getting his signiture for 2019 could be for Toro Rosso.
Option 7 - F2 youngsters Nyck De Vries and Alexander Albon
Both into their second seasons of F2, doing reasonably well, the advantage of these two youngsters is that they are not tied down to any Formula 1 Junior programs allowing Toro Rosso to approach the two on their terms, an advantage when considering the endless sponsorship and driver program relationships.
De Vries successful karting career has indeed translated on track showing great perfomance shown by winning Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 en route to his current seat in F2. In GP3 and F2 he has shown his consistency always fighting for the points, very promising, however with 27pts off a super license he's need to come a minimum of 4th in the championship otherwise he wont be eligible for Toro Rosso anyway, which he is currently 4pts off with four races to go, not irreversible but definitely tight if Toro Rosso want to give him the seat.
Alexander Albon on the contrary doesn't have the issue of Super License points with his previous finishes and current points hall in the championship surplus to requirements. A former Red Bull Junior Driver also, Albon came second in GP3 in 2016 and after a solid season last year finishing 10th he is currently 3th with an outside chance of 2nd. His former ties to the teams senior outfit might just help his case to the get the drive for Toro Rosso next year in what would be a remarkable turn of fortunes for the Thai-British racer.
Sources: Autosport Wikipedia(drivers racing stats)