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The state of play in the F1 driver market

Written by Paul O'Grady, Edited by Yu Xi Wang

Photo Credits: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

It may seem a little early to be discussing driver moves for 2024, but just three years ago, many driver moves were announced before the season had even begun. With Audi soon to enter the sport and with ageing drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso surely coming towards the end of their careers, how the 2024 driver jigsaw will fit together is tricky to guess. Here’s what we know so far…


Red Bull

Max Verstappen - contract runs until 2028 Sergio Perez - contract runs until 2024 Driver contracts in F1 are notoriously poor indicators of how long drivers will actually be at their current teams. Things like compensation packages and break (performance) clauses are built-in, which means switching between teams can happen. As such, although Verstappen has a contract until 2028, one can never be certain that he will not be there for that length of time. After all, competitiveness is not guaranteed, and Verstappen will want to be winning if Red Bull are not. All of that being said, it would be a huge shock if Verstappen were to line-up in anything other than a Red Bull in 2024, considering the success that this partnership has yielded.


For the second seat, the landscape is somewhat different. Perez is the current occupant and has a contract until 2024. However, it is clear that the relationship between Verstappen and Perez deteriorated in 2022, culminating in Verstappen refusing to hand Perez an extra position in their infamous São Paulo Grand Prix debacle. With Daniel Ricciardo rejoining the team as the third driver, it is thought that the Australian could replace Perez if the current pair’s relationship continues to worsen next season.


Before Perez signed for the team, Red Bull’s driver strategy was to promote from within their ‘juniors’ program, handing race seats to those who had performed well at sister team AlphaTauri. It is feasible that Red Bull’s decision makers will revert to this strategy once again, but it would be highly unlikely, one would have thought. Yuki Tsunoda has shown flashes of speed in his two seasons in F1, but does not seem like a realistic candidate to make the step-up. Their other driver, Nyck de Vries, is making his season debut with AlphaTauri next year, and it is theoretically possible that he will perform well enough to impress Christian Horner and Helmut Marko. It may not seem that realistic, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out.


Ferrari

Charles Leclerc - contract runs until 2024

Carlos Sainz - contract runs until 2024

Whilst Ferrari improved in 2022, they arguably underperformed by winning just four of the 22 races. This was predominantly the fault of the team rather than the drivers, with Leclerc and Sainz forming one of the most competitive pairings on the grid. Both drivers have a contract until 2024, and they will be expected to receive contract extensions unless one of them seriously underperforms during the 2023 season or next.


With Ferrari’s catastrophic strategic decision-making defining their 2022 season, is it possible that the drivers may look elsewhere? It would be extremely unlikely, but top drivers, such as Alonso, have left Ferrari before, after getting frustrated with the Italian team. You’d think that Sainz will stay no matter what, but Leclerc? Again, unlikely and almost unthinkable, but you never know. There may be a seat at Mercedes soon, if Hamilton were to retire - a distinct possibility, given that he’s 38 years old.


Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton - contract runs until 2023 George Russell - contract runs until 2023

The double British line-up of Hamilton and Russell is arguably the strongest on the grid in 2023. Both men’s contracts expire at the end of the 2023 season, but it would be very strange if Mercedes were to let George Russell, in particular, leave the team. Having secured his first Grand Prix victory in November last year, the 24-year-old cemented his place as one of the rising young stars of Formula One. Team principal Toto Wolff has hinted on many occasions that Russell is the future for Mercedes, and has expressed that his protégé has done enough to earn himself a new long-term deal with the team after a strong 2022.


Hamilton’s situation differs slightly in the sense that he is considered an ‘old’ racing driver. 2023 will be Lewis’ 17th season in F1, making him one of the most experienced racers of all time so naturally, there are questions about when he will stop. It’s because of this that Hamilton will not be handed anything more than a two-year deal nowadays, but you get the sense that this suits Hamilton. Should the W14 have the pace to win Lewis the championship, I’d expect Hamilton, who would then be a record-breaking eight-time World Champion, to retire. If not though, Wolff and Mercedes have indicated that Lewis would continue.


If Hamilton does retire at the end of 2023, who would be next in line for that Mercedes seat? Mercedes could take two options. Assuming that George will stay on for 2024, Mercedes could either bring in another top-level driver to compete with Russell or they could support him with a ‘number two’ driver. Mercedes’ 2023 reserve driver is Mick Schumacher, but I would be surprised if he were to be promoted to a race seat.


Alpine

Esteban Ocon - contract runs until 2024

Pierre Gasly - ‘signed a multi-year deal’, expected 2024+1

It’s a new driver pairing in 2023 for Alpine, with Gasly joining the team and replacing Alonso to join Ocon. Having clashed in junior series, there is potential for friction between the new pairing this season, but Alpine’s CEO Laurent Rossi has warned the Frenchmen to be on their best behaviour. Both drivers have at least the next two years together, with Gasly having an option of another season after that, so there shouldn’t be any change for 2024.

Photo Credits: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

McLaren

Lando Norris - contract runs until 2025

Oscar Piastri - contract runs until 2024

Another new driver pairing for 2023 is the one over at McLaren, with former Formula Two champion Piastri making his debut alongside Norris, who is entering his fifth season with the team. On paper, this appears to be a very strong line-up. Norris was one of the standout drivers in 2022, being the only driver outside the big three teams to stand on the podium and regularly finishing top of the midfield places. There is no doubt that he is one of the hottest properties in F1 right now, and he will surely be considered if a seat in a top team were to arise. Norris’ contract runs for another three seasons but as previously mentioned, contracts in F1 aren’t always a guarantee.


His new teammate, Piastri, really impressed in 2021 when he won the F2 Championship and was expected to have a long and successful career in F1. The two-year contract he has signed with McLaren should allow Piastri sufficient time to prove his worth to the team, whilst providing McLaren with sufficient evidence over whether to retain the Australian or not.


Should Norris leave or should it not work out with Piastri for any reason, one would guess that McLaren would look at other series to recruit their drivers, after offering IndyCar racers Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward free practice sessions towards the end of 2022.


Alfa Romeo

Valtteri Bottas - contract runs until 2025

Zhou Guanyu - contract runs until 2023

Alfa Romeo is an interesting one, because they are entering what will end up being years of transition. 2023 will be the last season we see the Alfa Romeo name on the grid, as their sponsorship of the Sauber team ends. Indeed, for 2024 and 2025, the Sauber name will return, before the team morphs into Audi in 2026. The process to ensure that the transition is a smooth one is already well underway, with ex-McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl joining the team as CEO.


Whilst there is much change going on around the team, the driver line-up for 2023 is stable, with Bottas and Zhou continuing next season. Bottas has a contract until 2025, and to have a proven race winner in the car was a big part of why Alfa Romeo finished sixth in the Constructor Standings last season. With Bottas, you are getting an experienced driver who delivers a consistent and solid level of performance, perfect for what Alfa Romeo currently requires.


Zhou currently only has a contract until the end of the 2023 season, so he will need to perform well in the first few races to gain an extension. He performed okay in 2022, but will really need to kick on if he wants to stay in F1. Should Sauber feel the need to replace him, they will do so, knowing that they are an attractive proposition long-term as they are due to be taken over by Audi. This opens up a world of possibilities for the team. Should they choose to go down the route of choosing a driver from F2, Theo Pourchaire would surely be the main contender.


It’s possible that the executives at Audi will want a German driver, so perhaps we’ll see Sebastian Vettel or Mick Schumacher return to the sport - either would be pretty sensational. They may of course go down neither of these routes and try to sign a top driver, like Lando Norris from McLaren, which would reunite the Brit with Seidl.

Photo Credits: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Aston Martin

Fernando Alonso - contract runs until 2024 Lance Stroll - essentially has a contract for life

Aston Martin has replaced one World Champion with another in 2023, with Alonso signing for the team in place of Sebastian Vettel. Part of the appeal for Fernando was the security that Aston Martin was willing to give him, handing him a two-year contract with options for extensions in the future. That, together with the fact that Lance Stroll’s father Lawrence Stroll owns the team, means that this line-up should continue into 2024.


Haas

Kevin Magnussen - contract runs until 2023

Nico Hulkenberg - contract runs until 2023

The American team has brought in Hulkenberg, who is an older, more experienced hand than the outgoing Mick Schumacher, for the 2023 season. With Hulkenberg now 35 years old, and Magnussen 30 years old, this is clearly not a line-up for the long term, evidenced by the fact that both only have one-year deals. Of course, there is potential for extensions, especially for Magnussen as he is the younger man, but this will depend a lot on performance in 2023.


Looking towards the future, Haas could do anything in terms of driver recruitment from looking at the top prospects in F2 to offering someone like Perez a seat if he were to leave Red Bull, like what Alfa Romeo did with Bottas last season. Another option would be to bring in a driver from another series, like Colton Herta from IndyCar, perhaps.


AlphaTauri

Yuki Tsunoda - contract runs until 2023

Nyck de Vries - contract runs until 2023

AlphaTauri will enter 2023 with a fairly inexperienced line-up, with Tsunoda being the lead driver with just 42 starts under his belt. The jury is still out on the Japanese driver, who will need a solid season to justify his place in F1. As we have seen with the arrival of de Vries, AlphaTauri are not afraid to sign drivers outside the Red Bull Junior Team. Therefore, even though there are no outstanding candidates to step up into F1 at the moment, Tsunoda’s position will not be safe unless he improves.


On the other hand, de Vries impressed the paddock on his F1 debut last year for Williams, finishing 9th in the slowest car on the grid and beating established teammate Nicholas Latifi. If the Dutchman continues on that sort of form, he will surely earn a contract beyond 2023. There is always the chance to graduate into the senior Red Bull team too of course, but talk of that is still a long way off.


In terms of potential drivers for 2024 if Tsunoda or de Vries needs to be replaced, it is hard to know what the landscape will look like in a year’s time. Of course, AlphaTauri could look outside of their Red Bull family, but if they were to promote from within, the leading contenders look like F2’s Liam Lawson and Dennis Hauger. An exciting prospect may be to fast track Juan Pablo Montoya’s son Sebastian into a race seat, with the 17-year-old joining the Red Bull Junior Team at the start of 2023.

Photo Credits: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Williams

Alexander Albon - contract runs until 2024

Logan Sargeant - contract runs until 2023

Albon made a superb comeback to the grid in 2022, rebuilding his reputation and earning himself a contract with Williams through to the end of 2024. Whilst a spot on the grid is not to be sniffed at, Albon surely impressed so much in 2022 that he may become frustrated should the Williams be the slowest car on the grid again and would want to think about a move up the grid. Perhaps he will be the man to eventually replace Alonso at Aston Martin when he retires? Or maybe he’ll move to McLaren if Norris were to move on?

He has a new teammate in American racer Sargeant in 2023, who finished fourth in F2 on his way to being named rookie of the year last season. Time will tell if Sargeant has what it takes to make the step-up to F1, but Williams themselves clearly want this one to work. Sargeant was a part of the Williams Driver Academy, providing owners Dorilton Capital with a real return on their investment after supporting him in getting an F2 drive. Sargeant becomes the first American F1 driver since 2007, which is important due to the huge growth F1 has seen in the US in the last few seasons. Having a successful American driver gives Williams ample marketing opportunities, so they will be crossing their fingers that he is at least an upgrade from Nicholas Latifi.


Sargeant only has a one-year contract, so it is possible that Williams will be looking for a new driver in a year’s time, and one would expect them to go down the F2 route again like they have with their last few drivers - Latifi, Russell, Stroll and Sirotkin.


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