We haven’t seen any automobiles racing on observe in 2020, however Formula 1’s driver market has been something however quiet – shifting into overdrive in the course of the sport’s enforced absence, with a number of surprises and high-profile strikes.
So what now for the F1 2021 grid? Which groups have drivers signed up, what have they been saying about their line-up, and who’re they linked with?
Ahead of the brand new season – beginning subsequent weekend in Austria, dwell on Sky Sports F1 – we have a look at every crew’s 2021 potentialities…
Mercedes: ? and ?
Mercedes, F1’s double world champions for the final six seasons, are out of sync in comparison with their ‘big-three’ rivals in that they don’t but have a driver signed up for 2021.
Lewis Hamilton is nonetheless the crew’s undisputed star and – given he has long-insisted he desires to stay within the sport – he appears sure to remain, significantly after Ferrari’s transfer for Carlos Sainz ended that long-running saga. Both Hamilton and Mercedes have spoken positively about contract talks, which ought to ramp up as soon as the season begins.
There is, nevertheless, but once more lots of hypothesis in regards to the different seat regardless of Valtteri Bottas’ greatest F1 season to this point final yr.
Toto Wolff overtly admitted the unexpectedly-available Sebastian Vettel is an possibility – and pairing two multi world champions collectively in Vettel and Hamilton would definitely be blockbuster (though Bottas instructed Sky F1 he had been given assurances that the German is not within the working).
What is clear is that the crew’s ‘inside’ choices are very a lot into account regardless of driving elsewhere this yr. George Russell, who boosted his status in the course of the enforced low season by dominating the Esports sequence, can be determined to impress with back-runners Williams once more, whereas fellow graduate of the Mercedes driver academy Esteban Ocon is again within the sport with Renault – who insist he is not simply on a two-year ‘mortgage’.
The respective performances of Bottas, Russell and Ocon can be crucial as F1 favourites Mercedes think about their subsequent transfer, significantly with Vettel lurking.
Ferrari: Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz
Ferrari kick-started the 2021 driver market with the bombshell that was Vettel leaving – however simply as rapidly because the Scuderia entered the market, they exited it by confirming Carlos Sainz as Charles Leclerc’s new team-mate.
Sainz and Leclerc are signed on till 2022 and 2024 respectively, giving Ferrari some younger and regular constructing blocks as they appear to turn out to be a title-contending pressure once more.
Red Bull: Max Verstappen and ?
Just like Mercedes with Hamilton and Ferrari with Leclerc, Red Bull are totally dedicated to getting the perfect out of their star, Max Verstappen – the 22-year-old who has yet another probability to turn out to be F1’s youngest world champion this yr.
Alex Albon, who confirmed lots of promise after unexpectedly becoming a member of the crew final September, is actually in pole place for the 2021 seat subsequent to Max, and has been praised by crew boss Christian Horner.
But there is one key query: What if Albon doesn’t carry out this yr?
The crew say they might need to choose from their pool of drivers no matter occurs subsequent season, so that may imply returns are attainable for the previously-axed Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, the AlphaTauri team-mates. And though Horner has downplayed this concept, is a transfer for an additional ex-driver, Vettel, completely off the desk? Stranger issues have occurred…
McLaren: Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris
Losing Sainz, the Spaniard who led the spectacular Woking crew final season, to Ferrari was actually a blow for McLaren – however they might not have discovered a greater substitute than Daniel Ricciardo. You may say they’ve really improved. The seven-time F1 race-winner can be a great benchmark for Lando Norris, who has additionally been confirmed for 2021.
Renault: Esteban Ocon and ?
Ferrari obtained their man. McLaren obtained their man. Renault misplaced their star to their predominant rivals.
You needed to really feel for Renault throughout that frenzied week of transfers again in May – as after investing a lot into Ricciardo, the Australian snubbed contract extension talks to leap ship.
But with that disappointment, comes a possibility for the French crew to take their time and choose the proper companion for Esteban Ocon, who is signed up for 2021 and all of a sudden the crew’s chief for the long run regardless of having but to make his debut in yellow.
Renault have been understandably instantly mooted as an possibility for Vettel – though whether or not the German would transfer to a midfield crew is actually debatable. Links to Fernando Alonso, nevertheless, have been extra persistent and Renault, the place he gained his two F1 titles, appears to be the perfect touchdown spot for Alonso ought to he want – as has been strongly implied – to return to the game.
Cyril Abiteboul has not dominated both of these high-profile stars out, though Renault additionally need to take advantage of of their driver academy. If they go down that route, Abiteboul has named Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard, who’re each competing in F2 this yr, because the main contenders. And may Nico Hulkenberg, who was unfortunate to lose his seat final yr, even be an possibility?
The decisions for Renault may nicely be dictated by how nicely Ocon performs this season.
Racing Point: Sergio Perez and ?
Racing Point have massive ambitions heading into F1’s new period as soon as they morph into Aston Martin from subsequent yr, however have downplayed recommendations they might make a shock big-name driver signing – resembling Vettel – to companion Sergio Perez, who is signed on till the top of 2022.
Instead, it appears sure that Lance Stroll will retain his seat.
“I think eventually Lance will overtake Sergio and having that combination of youth and experience is perfect for us,” stated crew boss Otmar Szafnauer.
Alfa Romeo: ? and ?
Both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi’s contracts expire on the finish of the 2020 season however don’t depend out both staying put. That can be significantly noteworthy for Raikkonen, the 40-year-old who, offering there are sufficient races, can break the all-time F1 race look report this yr.
Giovinazzi, in the meantime, can be trying to kick on after impressing within the second half of 2019. The Italian was even mooted as an outdoor guess for the Ferrari seat for subsequent yr – and though he would have jumped at that chance, admitted himself that it was “not the right time”.
AlphaTauri: ? and ?
The newly-named AlphaTauri’s line-up will probably be dictated by what senior outfit Red Bull determine to do.
Pierre Gasly confirmed the kind of type that earned him a call-up to Red Bull within the first place upon re-joining Toro Rosso final season, whereas Daniil Kvyat additionally carried out admirably in his first season again.
AlphaTauri would certainly be completely satisfied in the event that they obtained to maintain that younger, but skilled, line-up for subsequent yr – with few younger drivers leaping off Red Bull’s traditional conveyor belt of academy expertise proper now.
Haas: ? and ?
Given how a lot they clashed final season, it was considerably of a shock for each Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean to retain their seats at Haas for 2020. They got the profit of the doubt as a result of shortcomings of that 2019 automotive, however with the crew anticipating rather more competitiveness this yr, they may certainly be much less forgiving of their drivers.
Both have the pace – though Haas can be watching the driver market develop with curiosity.
Williams: George Russell and ?
George Russell’s contract with Williams runs till the top of the 2021 season, though he may but be known as upon by Mercedes as Bottas’ substitute. Williams, distant back-runners final season and in want of enchancment in 2020, can be determined for the younger British star to remain and assist them rebuild.
Alongside him in 2020, Nicholas Latifi solely has a one-year deal – so his rookie season can be crucial for his prospects. Williams now has no scarcity of choices in its reserve driver pool – with Jack Aitken, Dan Ticktum, Jamie Chadwick and Roy Nissany all half of the crew.