2022 DRIVER LINEUP - WHO NEEDS A NEW DEAL?
With Lando Norris recently announcing his commitment to McLaren for the next few years, I look at the other drivers who's current contract expires at the end of this year and see where they might end up...
Status Quo - Drivers who will stay where they are
Drivers likely to keep their seat given their performance thus far in the 2021 Season, and the contributions they bring to their team.
Sergio Perez - Red Bull
Perez has been teetering on the borders of brilliance and below par since replacing Alex Albon for 2021, until a superb holding position in Baku allowed him to inherit the win from his retired teammate. It is these kind of scenarios that Red Bull have severely lacked, with Verstappen often having to sit back and watch as both Mercedes pincer him out of a win. With Max still under contract until 2023, the current Red Bull lineup looks to be one for the foreseeable future.
Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes
Close to retirement? Probably. Tired of the sport? Not just yet...
Mercedes look on the verge of their first driver change in 4 years (spoilers for below), and with the introduction of new rules and an entire car design overhaul in 2022, changing both drivers might prove to be one change too many for the team. This is of course based on the assumption that Hamilton himself wants to remain in the sport. Lewis has increasingly expanded his scope into social justice and inclusivity initiatives within the sport, so sticking around for a little longer will certainly help him there. Though in all honesty, my guess is that Lewis is also anxious to test the competitiveness of the Mercedes in the new era.
Nicolas Latifi - Williams
Williams are slowly but surely working their way back up to the midfield largely helped by the backing of Sofina Foods Inc., i.e. the company owned by Nicolas Latifi's dad. Latifi isn't setting the world alight with his performances, but avoiding Mazepin-style write-offs on top of his family fortunes look to all but confirm his future in the sport.
Tentative - Drivers who will may stay, but may leave
Drivers who's futures are a little uncertain at this point in the season.
Yuki Tsunoda - Alpha Tauri
Honda-backed rookie Tsunoda has had turbulent debut. His opening race saw him breeze past veteran 2-time champion Alonso like a Londoner overtaking a tourist on the Northern Line. Despite a recent deterioration of form (including a series of temper spills and costly mistakes), the Gen Z driver recently moved to Italy to be closer to the team and rebuild the confidence from his opening race. If his recent P7 finish in Baku is the product of that relocation, I think it'll be one worthy of a second season in the Alpha Tauri seat but any future mistakes will certainly ask the tough the questions of the young Japanese driver.
Antonio Giovanazzi - Alfa Romeo
Quiet and understated Giovanazzi has been consistent for the "2nd Ferrari team" throughout the first 6 races of 2021. Whilst the Ferrari Academy driver was overlooked for the works Ferrari seat in favour of Carlos Sainz, Giovanazzi looks to be a steady hand. Recent rumours are that he's looking to renegotiate his contract, so this could potentially be an early announcement similar to Norris. Though interestingly, photos appeared this weekend of another seemingly available driver in discussion with team boss Frederic Wasser which may throw a cat amongst the pigeons. Read on to find out more...
Estaban Ocon - Alpine
Ever-patient Ocon seems to be directly competing with Russell for the Mercedes seat in 2022, but the only way I see this move happening is if Hamilton decides to retire. Even then, the chances of an open Mercedes seat will likely cause a scramble amongst the paddock and one which I think Ocon will likely lose out on. He's remained on par with Fernando Alonso so far this season, and the bonus of a French team/driver partnership also likely to help, so for now I think he's safe at Alpine.
Changing Places - Drivers on the move
The drivers who (I believe) won't be in their current seat in 2022.
Mercedes backed driver Russell has shown his stars in Bahrain 2020 as a substitute for Covid-hit Hamilton. A lot of fans wanted Russell to be promoted to the Mercedes before the 2022 Season started - alas when Bottas was confirmed they were, as George probably was, sincerely disappointed. With Russell's impressive qualifying performances and a raging appetite to compete (just look at the coming together between Russell & Bottas in Imola), this move won't come as a surprise to many fans.
Pierre Gasly - Alpha Tauri to Alpine
2021 Podium sitter? 2020 race winner? What more does Pierre Gasly need to do to keep his seat? Sadly, I believe out-of-favour Gasly could surprise even the stubbornest critics (I'm looking at you, Helmut) and still be snubbed by the senior team. Gasly has publicly stated he wants to progress forward (ideally to Red Bull), but Marko's recent comments about how Max could have easily beaten Gasly's P5 in Bahrain look to be the final nail in the Red Bull coffin. Will he leave the sport? I doubt it. He's a top, talented young driver with a proven record, but who's place could he take? Read on...
Fernando Alonso - Alpine to retirement
Controversial, I know. Fernando is a superb driver, but with an reported annual salary of $20m (apparently the same as Max Vestappen), Alpine might decide to opt for Gasly, a second French driver, to complete their set. It's a huge question mark, and one that will depend on both Alonso & Ocon's performance for 2021. I don't think the lineup will stay the same next year, and right now round 1 has gone Ocon's way.
Mick Schumacher - Haas to Alfa Romeo
Reigning F2 Champion Schumacher has made the most of the struggling Haas and averaged about 1 second-per-lap in front of teammate Mazepin during early qualifying. He's certainly part of the long-term driver plan for Ferrari, and they'll be keen to partner him with a more experienced driver. It's possible he'll make the move to Alfa Romeo, the team whom he completed several tests for in 2020 and one that many fans thought he would be moving to before the Haas announcement.
Kimi Raikkonen - Alfa Romeo to retirement
Kimi is a part-owner for Alfa Romeo and appears to be driving for the shear joy of it. There is nothing wrong with that whilst the youngsters fight to prove themselves worthy of an F1 seat, but the ever present destiny of another Schumacher en route to Ferrari might be the final push needed for veteran Raikkonen to make way.
Valtteri Bottas - Mercedes to Alfa Romeo?
For a number of years, Bottas has been accurately aware of the looming shadow of George Russell, and not just because of his height either. Bottas is a good driver, and being Hamilton's teammate is only comparable to being Verstappen's, and we know how tough that is. Given that, Mercedes have grown used to success and they have set a bar seemingly too high for Bottas to reach (another Russell height joke, sorry) and recent results including the most recent P13 finish in Baku have left their patience wearing... Finn.
Alright I'll stop.
The cat amongst the pigeons I mentioned early was photos that emerged of Bottas talking to Frederic Wasser en route to the Paddock during the Azerbaijan GP. Of course, this sent the rumour mill into overdrive, and one that I'm helping along here. It's certainly one to keep an eye on but regardless, it looks like we'll be seeing the end of Bottas' time at Mercedes.
We're only 6 races into this season, so of course it's challenging to predict these things. These are of course just predictions, but some changes have seemingly been set in motion so it's only a matter of time before we start to see them unfold.