As Formula One headed into a two-week summer break, the drivers, mechanics and all team members took some well-deserved time off. What didn’t go quiet though was the rumour mill and transfer talks. Talks about next season’s seats have already begun, and although most of the seats for next season are confirmed, there still are a few that are yet to be finalised and that is what has led to silly season getting underway.
Let’s take a quick look at each team and their current driver scenario and what the future looks for them.
Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas
Let’s start with the big one, the one that probably holds the key to the entire paddock. Current Mercedes pairing Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas has brought four consecutive Constructors’ Championships to the Brackley-based team, and ideally there should be no reason to change the pairing, but it isn’t as easy as it seems. Hamilton, who put pen to paper in July, extended his contract with the Silver Arrows for another two years, but his teammate has not extended his contract and that second seat at Mercedes is hot property.
The next season sees new regulation changes come into play and it is something that might shake up the entire grid. Hence, Mercedes would not only want to start strongly but also build a team for the future. And that future currently is their academy driver, current Williams’ driver George Russell.
Russell is Bottas’ main competition if one might say so, and the most likely candidate for the seat. Although Bottas has been the perfect number two driver to Hamilton, if Mercedes are to look for a long-term team leader, there is no one better than Russell. With Hamilton now 36, he has probably a couple of years left in the sport and Mercedes will look to someone who could take over the reins from the seven-time world champion.
Russell has proved his worth for quite some time now in an uncompetitive Williams side and has pulled their car into positions it does not belong to, on merit, on multiple occasions. When Hamilton contracted the coronavirus last year, Russell filled in for his compatriot at the Sakhir Grand Prix and outperformed his more experienced teammate for that weekend, Bottas, on sheer pace. Had it not been for a pit stop error and puncture, neither of which were driver errors, Russell might have just taken his first career win.
Nonetheless, the young Brit has been driving the wheels of Williams this season and has consistently put his car in Q3. Russell has done everything he needs to have done to get that second seat and all he can do now is wait.
Bottas, on the other hand, has had a mixed start to the season; he is lacking consistency, something which he is known for and one of the main reasons why the Silver Arrows have won the Constructors’ so comfortably over the years.
Apart from a botched pit stop in Monaco and a high-speed crash with Russell in Imola, Bottas was woefully off the pace in Baku and had a horror show in Hungary. Even though he has six podiums to his name, he still is looking for the season’s first victory and the first half of the season has been unsatisfactory for the Finn.
With the pressure mounting on him, both on and off the track, Bottas is driving on borrowed time and knows that this very well could be his last season at Brackley. What goes in Bottas’ favour is his team spirit apart from his raw pace and talent. Ever since joining, he has known his role at Mercedes and has rarely ever questioned it. He has always played the team game and has helped his teammate secure wins by sacrificing his race. Hamilton himself has gone out of the way to praise the Finn on multiple occasions and the kind of sportsmanship shown by Bottas is something that Mercedes might not get from a young and aggressive Russell.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has mentioned that he will give Bottas enough time to prove himself and the Finn has to make every opportunity count in the second half of the season if he wants to stick around for a sixth season at Brackley.
Ferrari – Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr
The Scuderia entered the 2021 season with not only a new driver line up but also their youngest ever driver line up in over 50 years. After recruiting Carlos Sainz to replace the outgoing Sebastian Vettel, the Scuderia paired up the Spaniard with their golden boy Charles Leclerc. Leclerc, who signed a new contract before the start of the season, is due to drive for the Scuderia until the 2025 season and has his seat confirmed.
Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz has been a revelation for the Scuderia. After enduring their worst season for quite some time, Sainz joined the team with a belief in the project and his belief has paid off. Sainz has been right on the pace and has been one of the few drivers who didn’t take too much time to adapt to his new team following a switch this summer.
Sainz currently has a two-year contract which will see him at the Scuderia till the 2023 season at least, but with team boss Mattia Binotto having stated that they will most likely get Mick Schumacher into the second seat in a few years’ time, Sainz might have to shift allegiances sooner rather than later.
Red Bull – Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez
The championship contenders have finally become the championship favourites. Having finally been able to launch a serious title challenge to Mercedes, Red Bull have not only taken the fight to the Silver Arrows but have beaten them comfortably on multiple occasions.
Their dominance has largely been down some supreme driving from Max Verstappen, who with almost all certainty is going to stay with Red Bull for the near future. Much has been spoken about Red Bull’s second seat and how the second driver has not been able to help Verstappen take the fight to Mercedes and has not even been competitive in that car.
The Austrian team’s queries have been answered, though, by their new recruit Sergio Pérez. Pérez has been on the pace on Sundays and even took his first Red Bull win at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Although he has struggled on Saturdays, Pérez has brought stability and reliability to the team, and in the Mexican, the team have found a driver who can not only support Max for the championship but also help the team take a Constructors’ title.
Pérez currently is on a one-year deal and will most likely get a contract extension that will see him with the Austrian team for at least one more year, if not more. Post the Austrian Grand Prix, team boss Christian Horner himself stated that “it won’t be a long conversation” regarding re-signing Pérez, which bodes well for the Mexican.
If for some reason Red Bull do decide to not partner with Pérez, they would still have plenty of options in the bag. They could re-promote Pierre Gasly, although that looks unlikely. Yuki Tsunoda is another option and they also have Alex Albon as their current reserve driver. Even though there are multiple options, it is a safe bet to go with the Mexican for at least another year with Verstappen.
Also Read – Red Bull’s Second Driver Conundrum
McLaren – Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris
McLaren are one of the few teams who will not spend any time over the summer break over their drivers’ future but rather on the car development itself. McLaren have seen a resurgence in the last couple of years that saw them finish P3 in the Constructors’ last season and are engaged in a tight fight with Ferrari for the same position again. Having improved their car massively post 2018, McLaren now have a solid driver partnership to take them right to the top of the grid.
Lando Norris has already signed a multi-year contract with the Woking-based outfit and his current partner Daniel Ricciardo joined the team this year on a multi-year deal which will see the Australian partner the young Brit for at least another couple of seasons.
Aston Martin – Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll
Having signed four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel towards the end of last year, Aston Martin now have a team leader who can help them become serious championship contenders as the new regulations approach. Vettel has enough experience under his belt to build a championship winning team around him and with no pressure like the one he had at Scuderia, Vettel’s on-track performances showcase why the Silverstone outfit signed the German.
Partnering Vettel is team owner Lawrence Stroll’s son, Lance Stroll, now in his fifth season. Stroll is most definitely to keep his seat and the team would want him to take in as much as he can from his experienced partner before leading the team himself in the future. Even though Stroll hasn’t signed a new contract for 2022 and beyond yet, it is unlikely the team will remove him
AlphaTauri – Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda
Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri have one of their seats more or less confirmed for next season. Frenchman Pierre Gasly currently partners rookie Yuki Tsunoda, and the young Japanese is most certain to stick with the Faenza-based outfit for another season with team boss Franz Tost taking him under his own wing and most likely building him for a senior team promotion in the near future.
With one seat confirmed, ideally if AlphaTauri wanted to, they would not have let their race-winner Pierre Gasly leave. But will Gasly stay for a fifth season with the outfit? How long before he wants to consistently fight for wins and podiums. Gasly has already been the standout driver of 2020 and shows no signs of slowing down, and if he does eventually leave, AlphaTauri can always fall back to the Red Bull Junior Academy program where the likes of Juri Vips, Liam Lawson and Jehan Daruvala are waiting for a promotion to F1.
Alfa Romeo – Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi
Alfa Romeo‘s driver pairing for the next season is one of the hardest ones to call. Both Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi have been around with the team for three years now and there hasn’t been much improvement in their performances, largely due to an uncompetitive package.
Although Räikkönen outscored his Italian partner in the first two seasons, Giovinazzi has had a stronger 2021 and out qualified the Finn consistently, even though the 2007 world champion still edges ahead on points.
Räikkönen, who will be turning 42 this October, is most likely going to hang up his boots at the end of the current season, so that one seat at Alfa should open up for sure.
However, should Räikkönen decide to stay, it would pose a catch 22 situation for the team. If Alfa do bring in a rookie like Callum Ilott or Robert Shwartzman, it would be the perfect pairing for the team, having a rookie learn from F1’s most experienced driver ever. But should the Finn retire and Alfa not continue with Giovinazzi, they do have multiple options in the market. With Bottas’ future up in the air, it is understood the Finn is of interest to the Swiss team and along with the Finn, former Sauber driver Nico Hülkenberg is also in the frame to make a comeback to the sport with the team, should an opportunity arise.
Alpine – Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon
Another team that will not be spending any time pondering over their driver seats for the upcoming season are Alpine. Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso has returned to the sport after a two-year break and has been nothing less than at his terrific best and is almost certain to continue with the French team with whom he had won his two world championships, albeit in a different guise back then, as Renault, in 2005 and 2006.
Alonso’s current partner, Esteban Ocon, F1’s latest race winner, signed a new three-year contract earlier this year and will partner Alonso into the new regulation era.
Also Read – The Return of Fernando Alonso
Haas – Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin
American team Haas surprised quite a few in the paddock when they announced an all-rookie line up for the 2021 season. F2 champion Mick Schumacher partners Nikita Mazepin and it is likely that both the rookies will stay on for at least another season, with both being a part of Haas’ long-term plan when they announced their young line up at the end of last year.
Schumacher has been promising for the team, who have fallen like a stone to the back of the grid, and if they do manage to get a competitive package next year, the rookie’s experience this year will be priceless.
Mazepin, who brings a lot of sponsorship to the team will most likely stay too, and although the young Russian had a tough start to the season, he has improved and should be a long-term goal for the team.
However, if team boss Guenther Steiner does want to change things up, Ilott, Schwartzman and Hülkenberg are all options for the American team.
Williams – George Russell and Nicholas Latifi
A large part of Williams’ driver line up depends on the second Mercedes seat. If Russell does end up going to Mercedes, it might be a straight swap with Bottas returning to his old team to partner Latifi.
If Bottas ends up losing the Mercedes seat and take a year off from the sport, Mercedes’ academy driver Nyck de Vries is a likely candidate. At 26, de Vries will not get any more chances to break into Formula One.
Outside their academy, Pierre Gasly is a left-field option. Should the Frenchman decide to leave the Red Bull program and if Williams’ improvement this season has caught his eyes, Gasly is an ideal candidate for Williams in the new regulations era.
Other than Gasly, another Red Bull driver who might be an option for Williams is Alex Albon. Like Gasly, having lost his seat, Albon is currently a reserve driver at Red Bull. With Pérez most likely to keep his seat, a return to Red Bull is unlikely for Albon and he has limited options in Formula One. A competitive Williams can help Albon showcase his talent and reaffirm why he was signed up by the Austrian team.
Nico Hülkenberg, who has not had a seat since his departure from Renault at the 2019 season, is also a safe bet for Williams. A former Williams driver himself, Hülkenberg is a veteran of 182 Grands Prix and would be a solid team leader for the British team.
Like Hülkenberg, Daniil Kvyat is another one who is looking for an avenue back to Formula One. After having lost his seat to Tsunoda this season, Kvyat has effectively severed his ties with the Red Bull program and is currently Alpine’s reserve driver. Kvyat has enough experience and would be keen himself to prove the Red Bull academy wrong after having let him go for a second time.