My hunch is Mercedes makes a big splash hiring Verstappen for 2021 - probably still in the first half of the season - and then dominoes start falling from that starting point.
Mercedes' motivation for going for Verstappen is that a) he's the only proven star of the new generation that is attainable (the other, Leclerc, is tied to their rivals), and likely even the one outstanding quickest driver of his generation; b) Hamilton will likely start fading (or losing motivation) within a couple of years and they need to start planning for the transition; and c) they have no guarantee they'll continue to be a top team under the new regulations - technical and financial - and therefore need to move for him now whilst their hand is strong. Verstappen's motivation is a) Mercedes are more competitive than RB at the moment (though he could wait a bit more to see what happens in 2021); and b) money - Mercedes would pay him very well.
So I think step 1 is Mercedes announce Verstappen. And they give Hamilton the choice on whether he wants to stay as team-mate or not.
Step 2 is after a period of much deliberation Hamilton decides not to stay. a) Why stay when you're yesterday's news, plus probably Verstappen's management team will try to lock in some clauses to prevent the team from doing #2 things to him - which makes Hamilton feel like he'd be #2 instead. b) It's time for a new challenge, after 6, most likely 7 titles what else is there to do beyond... going for a little risk and trying to win a title with Ferrari? It's not like he has much to lose, he's a massive legend already. Success there would make him an even bigger legend. Plus there's a very open seat there, as clearly the relationship between Vettel and Ferrari is getting strained after these years of insuccess. And Hamilton seems to get along well with Leclerc. And Ferrari always want a world champion in their books. It just fits perfectly.
This leaves Bottas as Mercedes #2 for the sake of continuity and peace in the team. Although there's an outside chance of Vettel going to that seat - on the basis of nationality, he's a hugely successful German champion, Mercedes would surely like to have him driving in their colours at some stage.
So by now we have
Mercedes - Verstappen / Bottas
Ferrari - Hamilton / Leclerc
Ricciardo will push like hell for that Ferrari seat and when that chance is gone, next best thing is going back to Red Bull. Red Bull can go with either Vettel or Ricciardo or even both of them in case Albon flops (although Vettel would hate going against Dan again and might defect to Renault instead). I think likeliest is Vettel-Albon. Leaving Ricciardo resigned to an unchanged Renault lineup of Ricciardo-Ocon. Not a terrible place for Ricciardo to be at actually, there's always an outside chance a works team like Renault can get things right for the new regs
Red Bull - Vettel / Albon
Renault - Ricciardo / Ocon
With all the seats above being locked out, there is no place for the McLaren guys to go to, plus that lineup clearly works (although with a few years of friction I don't know if we'll keep seeing the happy-goofy-meme-guys dynamic). Racing Point also clearly isn't changing with a driver under contract and the other the son of the owner.
McLaren - Sainz / Norris
Racing Point - Stroll / Perez
Williams also seem unlikely to change, unless Russell kicks ass and Mercedes finds somewhere else to park him. I'm running this little fantasy scenario under the assumption team ownerships won't change much (so no more Mercedes-aligned B-teams, for example)
Williams - Russell / Latifi
Now, 3 teams are left. For Alfa, assuming they remain aligned to Ferrari (big if), I think Kimi retires at last (he's 40 years old already right now and we're talking 2 seasons from now!!!), Giovinazzi has been quietly improving and might get a 3rd season, and Mick Schumacher is clearly the big name in waiting. But I don't know what would happen if Schwartzmann (or Armstrong) outperforms him as a rookie in F2. I'm gonna go Gio/Mick as the likeliest duo, but I'm not super 100% confident of that.
Alfa Romeo - Giovinazzi / Schumacher
Toro Rosso, err Alpha Tauri is every year's usual random nonsense. Just pick whatever up and coming RB junior might be hot next year, and pair him with a random guy that's left over. Gasly has been outperforming Kvyat so I think Kvyat loses that seat again. Surely he can't have 19 lives? As for who gets the 2nd seat, it's wide open between Vips, Tsunoda, Lawson, whoever else they might suddenly poach. They might all suck and they're stuck with Gasly/Kvyat again. Idk. I'm gonna guess Vips does well in Japan (though that's a tough ask).
Alpha Tauri - Gasly / Vips
And now we're left with Haas. Surely they can't go for a 15th consecutive season with these 2 jokers? I like Romain but he's starting to get a little old, too. This is a complete unknown, and you wouldn't even rule out a change of ownership for this franchise. My random guess is Grosjean out Kvyat in. Note: if Shwartzmann/Armstrong outperform Mick in F2 and Ferrari still want to promote Mick anyway, they could persuade Gunther to drop his silly "no rookies" policy and park the other junior in here.
Haas - Magnussen / Kvyat
And now I've given away all my game for the Silly Season Trophy, crap. And this post is gonna look very silly in 12 months time, too.
Edited by noikeee, 12 November 2019 - 23:01.