Written by Tiannah Pedler, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Image credit: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images
A clear picture of the 2023 Formula One grid is beginning to emerge, but two seats at Haas and Williams are yet to be decided. The paddock gossip suggests that Haas will be the first domino to fall into place, leaving Williams as the sole remaining team to pick its new driver. Who are the contenders for these seats to complete the 2023 grid?
After Nicholas Latifi’s exit was announced earlier this month, Williams have been left with a vacant seat. Alex Albon remains in-situ with a multi-year contract. Meanwhile, Kevin Magnussen is set to remain at Haas, having signed a two-year deal with the American constructor before the start of this season, but team bosses have been more skeptical about Mick Schumacher.
Tensions appear to be rising between Schumacher and his current team. His contract expires at the end of the 2022 season, and some of the team’s remarks imply that he will not be staying for a third year. The German had terminated his contract with Ferrari earlier this year, adding on to the speculation.
As we approach the conclusion of the season, time is running out to fill those slots. Who could be in with a shot to complete the grid for next season?
Haas: A three-way fight ensues
The Haas seat has raised a lot of questions, with various potential possibilities in contention. Sebastian Vettel initially backed Mick Schumacher for his seat with the British outfit, but they opted to sign Fernando Alonso instead. This led to some fears about Schumacher’s ability to remain in F1, particularly as reports emerged of concerns over his reliability.
So far, three drivers appear to be top contenders for the remaining seat. Mick Schumacher, Nico Hulkenberg, and Antonio Giovinazzi lead the pack. However, names like Pietro Fittipaldi have also been thrown into the ring, as the Brazilian-American is set to drive for Haas in FP1 at Mexico, and in the season finale at Abu Dhabi.
Schumacher has had a rather inconsistent season with Haas, initially racking up a hefty repair bill for the team before earning a sprinkling of points in the middle, not to mention out-qualifying Magnussen thrice in the past five races. Magnussen is a veteran driver with a mountain of experience in comparison to Schumacher, so it is perhaps unfair to judge the German youngster solely on his ability to match the Dane.
Nevertheless, conflicting reports have emerged about Guenther Steiner’s perception of Schumacher. It appears that the young German has managed to develop his racecraft over the 2022 season, and Steiner has admitted that he has a “home advantage” given that he has worked with the team for two years.
Currently serving as Aston Martin’s reserve driver, Hulkenberg is a seasoned driver in Formula One, with over 180 race starts under his belt.
It’s clear that Hulkenberg is on the shortlist for Haas, and his experience makes him an attractive candidate for a team seeking greater reliability and a climb up the constructor’s table. Haas have emphasised on the need for a driver who can “take the team forward” next season, which further strengthens the veteran German’s case.
Supposedly, Magnussen has endorsed this potential move despite the pair having a controversial history, and an infamous spat following the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix.
It remains to be seen whether Haas will opt for experience over youth.
Haas’s engine partner Ferrari has supposedly pushed Giovinazzi up the ranks, stating the Italian driver as its preferred contender for the seat. However, Ferrari has very little say when it comes to making the decision.
That said, Haas did give Giovinazzi a chance to participate in a practice session at Monza. He completed the session just 0.3 seconds behind Magnussen, and will get another opportunity to outshine the Dane in FP1 at Austin.
Notably, Giovinazzi’s brief spell in F1 means he does not count toward the team’s two mandatory rookie practice drivers. Steiner said that this was because Ferrari asked Haas to run their reserve driver as a favour, rather than Haas attempting to test the Italian.
He remains a strong challenger for the 2023 seat, though the team principal is keeping his cards close to his chest.
Williams: Schumacher vs. Sargeant
Alex Albon has collected a total of four points this year, with his current teammate Latifi recently gathering a grand total of two points at the Japanese Grand Prix. Dave Robson, Williams’ Head of Vehicle Performance, has hinted that the team is searching for a driver who can better match Albon’s talent and provide him with a challenge. “We need someone who will push Alex along, and will be fighting with him every race,” he told the media at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Initially, the rumor mill buzzed with excitement at the prospect of Nyck de Vries driving for Williams in 2023. After the Dutchman stepped into Albon’s shoes while the Thai driver was out with appendicitis – earning two points on a sterling drive to ninth in his first ever F1 Grand Prix – de Vries seemed like the obvious choice. However, he has since signed on the dotted line for AlphaTauri.
Other potential links to the seat are Mick Schumacher, already a familiar face on the grid, and Logan Sargeant.
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
Reportedly, Williams boss Jost Capito told RTL that, “Mick deserves to stay in Formula 1. We’ll see if that happens, but he’s definitely an option for us.”
In his RTL interview, Capito also stated that, “Formula 1 is very complex and the step from Formula 2 is so big […]. You have to learn that, you have to give a driver two years to get there and show what he can do in the third year.”
Has Schumacher had significant time to show what he can produce? If not, then perhaps Williams could be the team to give him his spark.
American F2 driver Logan Sargeant is a member of the Williams Driver Academy, so he already has strong links to the team. Sargeant joined the Academy in 2021, entering a list of alumni that includes Nicholas Latifi and Lance Stroll.
Undeniably, Sargeant has talent. He was the first American to win the highest level of junior karting since the 1970s. From there, he went on to excel in Formula 4, with a third-place finish in his rookie season. In 2019, he was promoted to Formula 3, where he took the most top-ten finishes among his teammates in his first season.
Currently, Sargeant races in F2 and sits third in the standings. As a rookie driver, he has really made his mark with a string of top-ten finishes and even a handful of podiums. He is even set to drive for Williams during FP1 at his home event in Austin, which means he would get a chance to get to grips with Formula 1 machinery.
The question mark lingering over Sargeant’s head regards Super License points. As long as he stays in the top five in F2, he would gain enough points for a promotion to Williams. However, it’s possible that he would benefit more from a second season in F2 before he is ready for a full graduation into Formula 1.
How It Will All Pan Out
Nobody can say for certain which drivers will end up where for the 2023 Formula One season. It is fair to guess, however, that Haas will choose a driver first. With Mick Schumacher a strong contender for Williams, it seems that the Oxfordshire outfit will wait to see who is available before making their decision.
In all likelihood, F1 fans will be waiting until after the completion of the season in Abu Dhabi to find out who will fill up the 2023 grid.
Who do you think will fill the vacancies? Leave your predictions in the comments below.