How is 2021 F1 Driver Market Shaking Up?

With changes afoot for 2021, we take a look at the current driver market and make predictions on vacant seats. (Image credit: Dan Istitene/Formula 1/Getty Images)

With just six races left of the 2020 Formula One season, attention is fast turning towards 2021 with several seats still to fill in an open driver market. 

There are eight seats still vacant with six of those positions coming from across three individual teams in Alpha Tauri, Alfa Romeo and Haas whilst Mercedes and Red Bull have one seat up for grabs each.

McLaren, Racing Point, Renault and Ferrari have meanwhile filled their seats already, whilst Williams are the only team who have retained their 2020 line-up, so here is the current situation in terms of who is driving for which team in 2021;

Team Driver Driver
Mercedes TBC Valtteri Bottas
Red Bull Max Verstappen TBC
McLaren Lando Norris Daniel Ricciardo
Racing Point Lance Stroll Sebastian Vettel
Renault Esteban Ocon Fernando Alonso
Ferrari Charles Leclerc Carlos Sainz
Alpha Tauri TBC TBC
Alfa Romeo TBC TBC
Haas TBC TBC
Williams George Russell Nicholas Latifi

Now here is a full look at the contenders for each vacant seat in depth plus predictions for who will fill those seats.

 

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton is yet to sign a new contract with Mercedes. (Image credit: LAT Images)

 

Having already confirmed that Bottas will remain with the team in 2021 for a fifth consecutive season, Mercedes are still yet to tie reigning World Champion, Lewis Hamilton down to a new contract amidst recurring rumours that Team Principal, Toto Wolff could depart the team at end of season.

Even if Wolff does leave, I can’t see Hamilton not signing a new contract with the Silver Arrows given that he is on course to claim a record-equalling seventh F1 title this season and could break that record next season given the stability in regulations due to Coronavirus pandemic pushing back the regulation changes until 2022.

Add in the fact that Ferrari have finalised their driver line-up whilst Red Bull definitely won’t risk pairing Hamilton with Verstappen then it makes sense that he would stay with Mercedes and the contract finalisation is just a formality that should hopefully be completed once the title is sealed.

Should Hamilton decide to retire though then Mercedes would be wise to promote George Russell from Williams and give him a season to bed in alongside the experienced Bottas who should be capable of leading the team to an eighth consecutive driver and team title.

Prediction: Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas

 

Red Bull

Alex Albon could lose his seat after a disappointing full season for Red Bull. (Image credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

With Max Verstappen already confirmed for Red Bull next season, his partner however is a huge question after a series of disappointing performances from Alex Albon this season despite claiming his first F1 podium in Tuscany.

There however are two positives swinging in Albon’s favour in that Red Bull probably needs a consistent driver lineup if aren’t to draw more questions around their junior programme and when scoring points, he has been consistent even if not regularly in the top five race finishers.

Red Bull however are expected to have both drivers regularly pushing for the top five and sadly Albon probably isn’t the right driver at present when there are more experienced and consistent drivers like Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg who can deliver plenty of points when given the right car to help them do so.

Perez and Hulkenberg would also be ideal number-two drivers who can push Verstappen but not get too cocky and try to dethrone Verstappen as Red Bull’s top driver, plus they’re both free agents at present if Helmut Marko wants to act soon in finalising their 2021 driver line-up.

An alternative option could be recalling Pierre Gasly who has bounced back from his demotion in middle of last season with a series of strong performances, especially to benefit from a chaotic Italian Grand Prix to take victory from McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.

Gasly however struggled in last season’s Red Bull which is a concern that might point towards Alpha Tauri’s environment suiting the Frenchman more than Red Bull where there is less pressure which some drivers are able to thrive on more than others who prefer the high pressure environment of front-running teams.

This is therefore a tough call for Red Bull to make but if I was Team Principal, I would be tempted to go for Perez because he has been super consistent this season in terms of scoring points from wherever he is on the grid, particularly in Styria when he drove from 17th on grid after a wet qualifying to sixth at the flag and ahead of his teammate who started 13th on grid in comparison.

Prediction: Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez

 

Alpha Tauri

If Gasly doesn’t go to Red Bull then I definitely can see him staying at Alpha Tauri given his performances this season but as for his partner, I feel that Red Bull would be best off putting Albon in the second car with Daniil Kvyat departing the team after failing to deliver any notable performances all campaign.

Another possibility is Honda protégé, Yuki Tsunoda who has impressed in Formula Two this season but if I was Helmut Marko, I would be prepared to give Albon a chance to reset himself and make a point of 2021 at Alpha Tauri effectively being a shootout between him and Gasly for a 2022 Red Bull seat given rumours that Verstappen has power unit related clauses in his contract.

Tsunoda meanwhile could probably do with a second season in F2 in order for Red Bull to properly analyse him across the course of what is widely expected to be a regular season, given the circumstances of this unique season which he might of been able to work to his strengths more than other young drivers and therefore not provide a clear proper analysis compared to normal.

I however have no doubt of Tsunoda’s ability but given that he is unlikely to claim the title which would justify a move up to F1 next season, keeping him in F2 might not be a bad idea with a few FP1 sessions thrown in because we will see if he is genuinely the real deal or whether he has simply prospered from this unique season, even though his results in lower categories suggest otherwise.

Prediction: Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon

 

Alfa Romeo

Kimi Raikkonen is out of contract at end of season but could stay and mentor a Ferrari junior. (Image credit: Urbanandsport/NurPhoto)

Alfa Romeo could well ring the changes given that Ferrari currently have three juniors banging on the doors of F1 and if Kimi Raikkonen decides to retire at end of season, it would make sense to promote two of Mick Schumacher, Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman given that Antonio Giovinazzi hasn’t shown much reason for him to remain in F1 other than for consistency if Raikkonen quits.

Should Raikkonen who is now F1’s most experienced driver indeed decide to stay then the seat ideally should go to Schumacher given his consistency in F2 which has put him in the title lead and for the young German to partner and learn from the Flying Finn who replaced his father at Ferrari in 2007, it would be a strong partnership which would certainly attract extra publicity for the team.

If Schumacher slips up and concede his F2 title lead to Ilott then I would argue that the Brit should be awarded the seat ahead of Schumacher by virtue of winning the F2 title and therefore more deserving of the seat in the second highest Ferrari powered team, even if means less publicity for Alfa Romeo than a Raikkonen/Schumacher pairing would bring.

Shwartzman is the outsider in the F2 title fight so I genuinely can’t see him securing this seat even if he has a stunning final two rounds in Bahrain to snatch the title as others falter, especially given his weak one lap pace which still needs work.

In summary, Giovinazzi surely will be out at end of season but if Raikkonen stays then he will partner Schumacher otherwise I would punt on a Schumacher and Ilott pairing at Alfa Romeo next season.

Prediction: Kimi Raikkonen and Mick Schumacher

 

Haas

Embed from Getty Images

After two disappointing seasons and constant moaning from Romain Grosjean, Haas will certainly be ringing the changes ahead of next season with Kevin Magnussen likely staying despite underperforming this campaign.

As for the Dane’s potential partner, there are surely no shortage of suitors because if Haas want to continue running independently of Ferrari’s youth system then I can see whoever doesn’t get the Red Bull seat out of Perez or Hulkenberg potentially fitting in at Haas.

Should the team however decide to bring in a Ferrari junior then my punt would be on Ilott or Shwartzman although I personally would go for Ilott because he has been quite consistent on one lap pace all season, even if he has made silly errors in races as demonstrated by his race-ending spin in the British Sprint amongst other mistakes.

Shwartzman meanwhile has excellent race pace but is still weak on his one lap pace despite being of same age as Ilott with the quicker trajectory into F2, so another season in the feeder series might be of more benefit to the Russian with Ilott making the step up to Haas given his stronger overall performances this season.

Ultimately though reflecting on Haas’ current performances, a complete driver change might actually be a wise thing with Hulkenberg coming in as their experienced driver whilst Ilott joins as part of a deal with Ferrari for cheaper power units.

Prediction: Nico Hulkenberg and Callum Ilott

 

Now that I have analysed each of the vacant seats across five different teams, here is my overall prediction for next year’s F1 driver line-up including confirmed drivers for McLaren, Racing Point Renault, Ferrari and Williams.

Team Driver Driver
Mercedes Lewis Hamilton Valtteri Bottas
Red Bull Max Verstappen Sergio Perez
McLaren Lando Norris Daniel Ricciardo
Racing Point Lance Stroll Sebastian Vettel
Renault Esteban Ocon Fernando Alonso
Ferrari Charles Leclerc Carlos Sainz
Alpha Tauri Pierre Gasly Alex Albon
Alfa Romeo Kimi Raikkonen Mick Schumacher
Haas Nico Hulkenberg Callum Ilott
Williams George Russell Nicholas Latifi

 

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