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An Early Prediction of the 2026 Formula One Grid

Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina

2026 is set to be a landmark year in Formula One history. Changing regulations, automotive stalwarts joining (or returning to) the grid, and the wishes of every Formula One fan set to come true — it is truly set to be a new dawn in the sport’s history.

Engine changes, the arrival of Audi, the return of Ford and Honda to the motorsport series, along with potential new teams on the grid — this looks set to be a resurgence for the sport.

With the regulation changes covered, and the new names looked at, let’s turn our attention to the drivers themselves!

Did you know: Only one driver on the grid currently possesses a contract extending beyond 2026. And that driver is none other than Max Verstappen, whose existing contract runs out in 2028!

Each Formula One driver’s existing contracts, as of September 2023, (before Tsunoda and Ricciardo were announced for 2024)

With that, you’ve got as many as 19 seats up for grabs, before taking into account the likes of the new team(s) joining Formula One in 2026.

So, what does the driver market hold for us then? Having taken the drivers’ contracts into account, and assumed each driver races for a team until his contract expires, I’ve attempted to predict the outlook of the 2026 Formula One grid. What could the grid look like in three years time? Dive into this article to know more.

Red Bull - Max Verstappen, Liam Lawson

This one is an obvious shout — Max Verstappen is the only driver on the present grid to have a contract extending beyond 2025, and he will definitely remain at Red Bull, long into the future. The Dutchman is in prime form right now, and recently broke the decade-old record of nine wins in a row, held by former Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel. With 13 wins in 16 races this season, and many more to follow, expect the Dutchman to stay at Red Bull for longer than his existing 2028 contract.

Partnering Max Verstappen would be Formula One’s latest debutant — Liam Lawson. While Yuki Tsunoda would be the first-choice to head to the Milton Keynes outfit, I sense the Honda wave at Aston Martin snapping him up to join forces with Fernando Alonso. With Daniel Ricciardo well into his thirties at this point, it makes great sense to sign one of the latest sensations in motor racing.

Lawson would be perfectly poised to replace the departing Sergio Perez — who will finally call an end to his F1 career in 2025, a la Mark Webber in 2013, just before the new engine regulations come into place. With sufficient racing experience under his belt, Lawson would be in prime position to grab a Red Bull seat, come the dawn of the new regulations.

Liam Lawson, the next Red Bull star; Image Credits - Liam Lawson's website

Ferrari - Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz

You’ve probably heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, right?

That would be the case for the current Ferrari line-up of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. Both drivers still have a lot of racing left in them, and have proven to be rapid on track. Sainz has improved over the course of 2023, even taking two poles in a row at Monza and Singapore. He even clinched the first non-Red Bull win in 2023 at Singapore.

The Spaniard hasn’t just proven to be an ideal foil to Leclerc, but has also got the consistency to back up his speed. He’s scored in all but one race in 2023 (so far), and only missed out on scoring in two races in his debut season with the team. A prized asset for the future, one the Scuderia wouldn’t let go of. Leclerc and Sainz also share a strong relationship off track, which bodes well for the future.

On the other hand, Leclerc will sign a new deal with Ferrari to spearhead the Prancing Horse in the future. The golden boy, Il Predestinato, the joy of winning for Ferrari, while keeping his godfather Jules Bianchi at the back of his mind…. as he dreams of becoming the next champion wearing red. Thus, he will be motivated all the way through, despite the struggles and obstacles in his path.

Mercedes - George Russell, Esteban Ocon

After a starring role as Mercedes driver for 13 seasons, Lewis Hamilton could well and truly call it a day, and bow out of the sport as a legend. He will depart, knowing the future of the team is in safe hands, on the track.

George Russell will step up to become the next team leader of the Brackley-based team. With four seasons of racing at the Silver Arrows under his belt, the Briton will have ironed out any faults and errors in his driving, and lead the team into future championship battles.

With as many as three drivers in contention for the prestigious race seat, I predict Esteban Ocon to edge out teammate Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Lando Norris to race for the team in 2026.

Having been close to team principal Toto Wolff for a long period of time, as Mercedes’ reserve, and put in some stellar underdog drives across the years, Ocon’s consistency will be the defining factor to get the call-up. In addition, he would be the perfect aide to Russell, and the duo would go on to make a strong line-up for the future.

McLaren - Lando Norris, Oscar Piastri

The papaya-orange team will be at full-strength come 2026, armed with a new wind tunnel, and a state-of-the-art simulator at their Woking facility. And the Andrea Stella-led team would be showing signs of returning to their form from the 80s and 90s, having already witnessed an uptick in form midway through 2023.

And with a young line-up in Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, I simply wouldn’t see any reason for McLaren to chop and change their pairing for 2026. Having fought tooth and nail to bring Piastri into their stable, the team would be looking to provide the young star with the best possible equipment. Piastri has also shown glimpses of Norris-rivalling pace in 2023, and looks to match his older teammate more often in the future. Piastri even scored his maiden podium finish at the recently concluded Japanese Grand Prix, becoming the first rookie to podium since Lance Stroll at Baku, in 2017.

And I see Norris going on to become the future star at McLaren, in the league of generational talents such as Verstappen, Russell, and Leclerc. Aged 23, he’s already taken on the mantle of team leader at the Woking outfit, and has a long racing career ahead of him. McLaren would see every reason to hold on to him for many years to come.

The future Aston Martin line-up?; Image credit - Alpine on X

Aston Martin - Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda

To some, it might be bold, to some, it might be obvious. But I would go with the line-up possessing a wealth of experience and youthfulness at the British Racing Green for 2026.

With Honda coming in to power Aston Martin’s machines from 2026, they would look to use their swing and bring Tsunoda, who is supported by the Japanese manufacturer. Tsunoda possesses a rare talent, and the feat of making it from Formula 4 to Formula 1 in only four years. He’s also proven to be the shining light for Alpha Tauri in a tough season for the Faenza-based team.

Despite the team being owned by Lance Stroll’s father Lawrence Stroll, I would expect the Canadian not to be retained by the team for 2026, and the team continues with the evergreen Fernando Alonso into 2026. Alonso is the epitome of the saying, “Age is just a number” as he still has the hunger and drive of a 20-year old, despite his age being double that.

The duo have also been good friends off the track, with Tsunoda and Alonso sharing admiration for each other’s skills, and even exchanging helmets. The ideal line-up for the team heading into the future.

Alpine - Pierre Gasly, Victor Martins

The team has an all-French line-up in 2023, and I predict another all-French pairing at the Enstone-based team for 2026.

This pair consists of a veteran Frenchman with a hungry youngster. Pierre Gasly has already shown he’s got what it takes to be a star of the sport in the future. In addition to his accomplishments at Alpha Tauri, the 27-year old has already podiumed once for Alpine, at Zandvoort, along with a third in the sprint at Spa. He will be 30 by the time 2026 rolls around, and well into the peak of his career. Perhaps it’s time to take up team leadership at Alpine?

And in the other Alpine seat will be a young driver, brimming with talent and bringing a youthful touch to the team. I expect Martins to be the first name to step up from the lesser-known Alpine Driver Academy, to drive for the team. Martins has already shown plenty of promise in his rookie season of Formula 2, as he sits fifth in the standings. His feature race win at Silverstone, despite copping a penalty, was a sign of the raw speed and talent he possesses. I believe he’ll leapfrog even the favourite Jack Doohan, and bag that lucrative Alpine seat.

Theo Pourchaire will finally get his big break in 2026; Image credit - Sauber Group

Audi - Nico Hulkenberg, Théo Pourchaire

The newest outfit on the 2026 grid, Audi will take over the reins from the existing Sauber F1 Team. And with a fresh start, the team will look to bring in some fresh energy too.

Being a German team, the four rings will want a German piloting one of their machines, and Nico Hulkenberg could be the ideal foil for a team just starting out. With his wealth of Formula One experience, the experienced German could be an asset to the team in their early days, helping the team improve their operations and machinery. In addition, Hulkenberg would be fresh off prior racing experience for Haas, and would step in and be quick from the outset.

Like Aston Martin, Audi would want to sign another young talent, and in homage to the erstwhile Sauber Driver Academy, they would promote reserve Théo Pourchaire to a race seat. The French youngster is currently leading the standings, in his third Formula 2 season. Should he win the championship, he will remain as Sauber reserve in 2024, either stepping up to a much-deserved seat in 2025, or with Audi in 2026.

Haas - Kevin Magnussen, Valtteri Bottas

Haas is usually a team requiring experienced drivers, capable of getting the best out of the car regularly. Having signed Nico Hulkenberg, who hadn’t done a full season since 2019, in place of the incumbent Mick Schumacher, the team clearly went for experience over youth, and it looks to have worked wonders.

In the same vein, I expect the team to sign Valtteri Bottas for 2026, an able replacement for the departing Nico Hulkenberg. Bottas certainly knows how to get the best out of a car, having scored 49 points in 2022, helping Alfa Romeo to sixth in the constructors standings, ahead of Aston Martin. He also knows the ins and outs of a top team, having driven at Mercedes for five years, and being the teammate of a seven-time world champion.

Kevin Magnussen would continue his F1 career with Haas, and help them grow as a force in the years to come. A strong qualifier, Magnussen took the team’s first-ever pole position at Brazil in 2022. He also finished fifth on his return to the team at Bahrain, a “Viking comeback” in the words of team principal Guenther Steiner. He will also sharpen his racecraft, and go on to become a solid racer for the Swiss team.

The feeder series giant that is Antonelli; Image Credit - Mercedes AMG

Williams - Alexander Albon, Andrea Kimi Antonelli

A bold call for the Grove-based team, as you can see by the second name in the line-up.

Although, the first name is an obvious shout. Considering Albon’s ambitions, along with his desire to remain at Williams, and take them back to their yesteryears, I see him locked in at the team for many years to come. Albon’s performance certainly merits a seat at the team, who are looking to make giant strides under James Vowles’ leadership.

Completing this potential driver line-up is a feeder series giant who will make the step up to the pinnacle of motorsport. Yes, Andrea Kimi Antonelli, the Mercedes junior making waves in the feeder series, will step up to partner Albon at the Grove outfit in 2026. Antonelli boasts a stellar karting resume, and currently races in the Formula Regional European Championship (FRECA). The Italian is even rumoured to move to Prema in Formula 2, skipping Formula 3 altogether. Such is the talent he possesses, and he could well be fast-tracked into Formula One for the new era.

Lindblad is one of motorsport’s rising stars; Image credit - Red Bull Content Pool

Alpha Tauri - Ayumu Iwasa, Arvid Lindblad

Another intriguing question emerges at Alpha Tauri — With Lawson departing to Red Bull, and Tsunoda to Aston Martin, who will step up from the coveted Red Bull Driver Academy to take the seats at the sister Red Bull team?

The answer lies in the form of two supremely talented Red Bull juniors: Ayumu Iwasa and Arvid Lindblad. Iwasa currently races for DAMS in Formula 2, and after a sensational fifth in his rookie season, he currently sits third in his sophomore season of Formula 2. He is the highest-placed of the Red Bull juniors, and could well be heading to the Faenza-based team in 2026.

At the other end of the line-up comprises another rising star. Lindblad has been known as the next big thing, having won plenty of karting championships in Europe. He took part in his maiden Formula 4 race in the 2022 Italian F4 Championship. In the next few years, he could be fast-tracked by Red Bull into Formula One, as early as 2026, should he keep up his career progression in the next couple of years.

1 comment

1 commento

17 gen

Mercedes have never rated Ocon highly enough to take him, so why now? With much better options available. (IF Lewis even calls it a day)

Mi piace
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