IMOLA, ITALY - APRIL 24: (L-R) Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari, Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari, Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing, Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren, Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Alfa Romeo F1.Fernando Alonso of Spain and Alpine F1 and the rest of the field stand for the national anthem on the grid during the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on April 24, 2022 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)
2023 could see the biggest grid shakeup in F1 history
As fans wait in anticipation for the notorious silly season to begin, what contract changes could we see?
Who could be out of a seat?
With eight drivers’ contracts coming to an end this year, it’s unlikely that all of them will remain in F1.
Red Bull: Sergio Perez
Starting with Red Bull, Sergio Perez is set to complete his current deal this season.
The team recently announced a historic contract with reigning champion Max Verstappen lasting until 2028. It is reportedly worth around £40m a year, further demonstrating Red Bull’s confidence in keeping the Dutch driver.
Speaking ahead of pre-season testing in Bahrain, Perez expressed a desire to remain with the team.
He said: “Without a doubt, I would like something longer. [I’m] looking for a little more stability in terms of knowing and being able to plan more with a team.”
His impressive performances have all but dismissed the conspiracy of the ‘second driver curse’ at the Milton Keynes outfit.
As they fight for further titles, it is unlikely that Red Bull would risk changing their driver lineup.
Alpine: Fernando Alonso
The two-time world champion returned after a brief hiatus last season. He made it clear that the skills that brought him his previous victories have not vanished quite yet.
Alpine currently have a solid pairing in Alonso and Ocon, with the Frenchman having a contract until the end of 2024.
Alonso is the oldest driver on the grid – he will be 41-years-old by the end of the season. However, he appears adamant to remain in Formula 1.
He said: “It’s an age thing that people try to find a way for the young talents. But I think this is about performance.
“As I said at the beginning of the year, I still feel competitive and fast and feel that I am enjoying time in Formula 1.
“So, I will race, I guess, a couple more years – two or three more years.”
Alpha Tauri: Yuki Tsunoda
The young Japanese racer has had a tumultuous time in F1 so far.
Flashes of brilliance, such as his seventh-place finish in Imola, more than justify his place at Alpha Tauri.
Despite this, many believe that Tsunoda must consistently perform in order to remain in the series.
As Red Bull’s sister team, Alpha Tauri is an ideal place for junior drivers to be promoted for their rookie years.
There is a multitude of impressive F2 drivers that could nab Tsunoda’s seat. His F1 career most likely depends on the rest of his performances this season.
Alfa Romeo: Zhou Guanyu
As a rookie, Zhou had a might start to the season, scoring points in his very first race.
Since then, his performances have paled in comparison to experienced teammate Valtteri Bottas, which is largely understandable.
Their driver combination may be just what Alfa Romeo needs to progress and become a consistent midfield team.
Haas: Mick Schumacher
Entering his second year in F1, it could be argued that Schumacher has faded into the background slightly.
His rookie season was overshadowed by Haas’ struggles and ex-teammate Nikita Mazepin, who lost his seat going into this year.
Now paired with Kevin Magnussen, Schumacher has yet to score points. He has come close once or twice, but in a similar vein to Zhou Guanyu, Magnussen’s experience shows him up.
The 2020 F2 champion is a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, and many want to see him follow in his father’s footsteps.
Whilst he does not seem ready to step up to Ferrari quite yet (especially with Sainz signing a contract extension recently), staying at Haas could be useful for his career.
Referencing Sainz’s new deal, he said: “For me, it doesn’t really change much as my job is to do my best here now. And that’s with Haas right now.”
The team appear to have taken a significant leap forward under the new regulations – Mick Schumacher could learn a lot if Haas keeps progressing.
Williams: Alex Albon
Albon returned to F1 after losing his Red Bull seat at the end of 2020, driving in DTM last year instead.
With George Russell moving on to Mercedes, a seat opened up at Williams. As Albon is still managed by Red Bull, they came to an agreement to bring him back into the championship.
So far, he has been a fairly strong driver for the British team. Many hoped the rule changes would lead to major improvements for them, but the car is far from being a regular points-scorer.
Despite this, Albon impressed at the Australian Grand Prix and earned his first point of the season. Staying on the same set of tyres for 57 laps, he went from last on the grid to finish in 10th place.
It looks like he has effectively filled the gaping hole left by George Russell – Williams needs a hungry young driver like Albon to drive them forward.
Red Bull will also want to fulfil their side of the deal by keeping him in F1, meaning Albon will likely get a contract extension.
Williams: Nicholas Latifi
At the risk of sugar-coating things, the Canadian driver has been drastically underperforming this season.
When partnered with Russell, many put Latifi’s driving down to the fact that the young Brit was a special talent destined for greatness.
However, he seems to have become even more underwhelming this year, crashing out numerous times and failing to score any points.
The relatively new management of Dorilton Capital will no doubt want to reinstate Williams’ historic reputation. With a range of junior drivers waiting in the wings, Latifi will have to perform a miracle to stay another season.
Aston Martin: Sebastian Vettel
The team had a slow start to the season, but finishes of 8th and 10th for their drivers in Imola suggested signs of improvement.
The four-time champion has previously explained that his future in F1 predominantly depends on how his team can perform this year.
“I’m not going to speak on contracts yet but obviously if you have a driver like Sebastian Vettel that you can keep motivated by giving him the car that he deserves with the quality of his driving, I think you would be foolish not to try to retain him,” said team principal Mike Krack. “But I 100% understand his comments.
“He wants to see progress; he wants to see the car moving forward because he is not a driver that wants to fight for P18 or P16 or whatever. So I fully understand his comments and it is up to us to deliver the tools that are needed for him to perform.”
Rumours of Vettel’s retirement have circulated for months, but no team would willingly take a seat away from someone who’s broken numerous records.
To that extent, we’ll have to wait for Vettel’s verdict on whether to stay or not.
Teammate Lance Stroll’s contract length is unknown. With his father partly owning Aston Martin, it is probably that Stroll would only be out of a seat if he decided he didn’t want to race anymore.
Who has the potential to sign an F1 contract?
With several teams running junior driver academies, there is a range of young talents waiting for promotion.
Look at any list of potential future F1 drivers and this Australian will feature.
Charging to victory in both his rookie season of F2 and F3, many saw it as a travesty that Piastri did not sign an F1 contract this year.
Recently, rumours have appeared that Williams has expressed a desire to offer him a deal.
“One of the latest paddock rumours has Williams interested in the services of Oscar Piastri,” explained Sky Sports’ Ted Kravitz.
“This is for next year. I said you might see Oscar Piastri potentially at Aston Martin, but it seems I was wrong about that. Actually Oscar Piastri/Alpine are looking at Williams potentially as a place for him next year.
“I don’t know if that will be in place of Alex Albon or Nicholas Latifi as both are very happy and ensconced within this team at Williams, but it’s one to look out for later in the season.”
With Ocon having a contract for another couple of seasons and Alonso wishing to keep competing, it’s unlikely that a seat will open up at Alpine any time soon.
Williams seems to be the team with the most uncertain driver future at present.
Their junior driver, Logan Sargeant, joined the academy last October. He is currently driving for Carlin in F2 alongside Liam Lawson.
With a best finish of third in the 2020 F3 season, the American racer could have a future at Williams.
Calls for an American F1 driver have increased since Drive to Survive opened up the US market.
Whilst there is the potential for Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward to transfer to the series from IndyCar, this would most likely involve one of McLaren’s drivers leaving the team.
As a result, Sergeant could easily become the first American F1 driver since Alexander Rossi competed for Manor in 2015.
This would commercially be a fantastic move for Williams. If he were to replace Latifi, the team could potentially draw in even more US fans.
Vips was a contender for a seat at Alpha Tauri prior to Tsunoda securing the contract.
The Estonian is a member of the Red Bull Junior Team and currently drives for Hitech Grand Prix in F2.
His season got off to a strong start – he sits 8th, 22 points off Theo Pourchaire in first.
Red Bull has a great track record of promoting their junior drivers. After all, six of the current F1 drivers have been a member of the academy during their careers.
Following this pattern, Vips has a strong chance of reaching the pinnacle of motorsport.
It all depends on three factors: Tsunoda’s performance this season, Perez’s contract, and Gasly’s Red Bull future.
Vips’ chances could be further complicated by fellow academy driver Liam Lawson. The New Zealander is five points ahead of him in the standings.
Both drivers are being given opportunities to drive in free practice sessions this season, and very little separates them.
From this year, F1 teams must run rookies in at least two Friday practice sessions. Franz Tost, Alpha Tauri team principal, confirmed that Lawson will drive for his team.
“Of course, this is a decision from Red Bull. Currently, the drivers are Liam Lawson and Vips. I think that Vips will drive for Red Bull Racing and Lawson for Scuderia Alpha Tauri.
“He was also testing with us last year in Abu Dhabi, he did a good job, he is driving this year in Formula 2 and then we will see what the next steps will be.”
Nyck de Vries
Driving for Mercedes-EQ Formula E team, the Dutch racer is hunting down a second championship title this year.
Mercedes are set to abandon their Formula E ambitions at the end of this season before the new Gen3 era begins.
As a reserve driver for their F1 outfit, Toto Wolff will no doubt want to give De Vries another chance.
Russell and Hamilton are set to remain in the team at least until the end of 2023. This means that De Vries would have to look at other teams.
He proved himself to be an incredibly talented racer after winning last year’s FE title by seven points.
Saying that junior drivers could find a seat at Williams is becoming a recurring theme. As a Mercedes customer team with no actual Mercedes drivers, there could certainly be an opportunity for De Vries to sneak into F1 this way.
Theo Pourchaire and Felipe Drugovich
Two lesser-known favourites to move into F1 are Theo Pourchaire and Felipe Drugovich.
The two are battling for the lead of the championship and are separated by just two points after three rounds.
As a member of the Sauber Academy, Pourchaire already has ties to Formula 1.
Like Lawson and Vips, he is set to appear in a practice session this season. He also holds a testing role with Alfa Romeo.
These links could perhaps make it easier for the 18-year-old to progress. With little chance of Zhou or Bottas leaving Alfa, he would need their help in securing a seat elsewhere.
Alfa team principal Frederic Vasseur recently commented on Pourchaire’s future and the general goal of reaching F1.
“You have to get it right. I had the discussion with someone yesterday. They are spending 14 years of their life with the only target to get in F1. And it’s perfectly understandable, when you are in go-karts, when you are in Cadets, and they are 10 or 11, what is your target? To go in F1.
“But when you are close to F1 – I said myself, and I told Theo [Pourchaire] exactly the same – the target is not to do F1. The target is to do F1 in a good situation and to be successful.
“This is a completely different story, because if you do F1 and then you are out after one year, it’s a big disaster. To do well, you have to be well-prepared on the physical side, on the technical side, driving. It’s such a complicated system. If something is missing, you are dead.”
These comments suggest that Pourchaire may have to hold fire before he reaches F1.
What about Drugovich?
However, rival Felipe Drugovich may have a chance. Whilst he is not linked to any F1 teams, his performance in F2 this season has impressed many.
If you believe that F2 should work as an effective feeder series, Drugovich certainly deserves an F1 seat if he keeps this up.
What contract changes could we see?
Looking at drivers whose contracts are set to expire this season, Latifi is most likely to lose his seat.
For some, such as Vettel and Tsunoda, performance is key, whether that’s on the side of the driver or team.
There’s a lot of uncertainty regarding lineups going into next season.
With so many young talents waiting for a chance, the only sure thing is that not everyone will survive silly season.
Lead Image Credit: Getty Images
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