F1 Driver Market – The Latest Rumours Analysed
It’s been a wild day for the 2020 F1 Silly Season, with new rumours exploding left right and centre, so let’s take a look at why these are appearing
Pérez to Williams, Russell Out:
George Russell in 2019 // Image credit: Planet F1
Probably the most surprising rumour to come out of today is the talk of Sergio Pérez signing for Williams Racing for 2021, replacing George Russell. On the face of it this seems absurd, why would Williams even dream of replacing George? He’s a driver who is not only under contract anyway, but one who is young, has an immense amount of talent, and comes with a significant discount from Mercedes for their parts that Williams use thanks to being a Mercedes contracted driver.
It has been understood that George is pretty much set in stone at Williams until Mercedes want him, so what is it that Checo brings that Russell does not? While Checo is very much a freelance driver (not part of any driver programme) so wouldn’t bring any discounts on parts, he does bring a lot of money with him thanks to his Mexican telecommunications sponsors Telemex and Telcel, as well as fellow telecommunications sponsor Claro.
Despite Williams having been recently bought by Dorilton Capital, and the income of money that Nicholas Latifi’s and Roy Nissany’s sponsors bring, the team will still have a significant budget deficiency to the other teams and will therefore take as much money as they can get in order to capitalise the most on the upcoming 2022 regulation change. Another reason that George could be dropped is that his contract and agreement with Mercedes was done under the management of the Williams family. Now they are out of the equation, Dorilton and new Team Principle Simon Roberts may well have other plans for the team, of which being an effective Mercedes junior team is not one. If this is the case, it could well hurt George’s chances of keeping his seat at Williams going forward.
Hulkenberg to Red Bull, Albon out:
Alex Albon on the podium in Mugello // Image credit: F1
The talk surrounding the 2nd Red Bull seat is extremely confusing; however before the Eifel Grand Prix I felt certain that Alex Albon was safe for that seat in 2021. Now I’m not so sure.
The circumstances surrounding Red Bull’s decision to retire Alex from the race is certainly very dodgy, with the team saying his radiator had been punctured by a piece of debris. It had already been a tough race for the Anglo-Thai, with a big lockup in the early laps leading to an early pitstop and a collision with AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat into the final corner. Red Bull still say that Alex is currently top priority for that seat, with his fate being reliant on his performances for the rest of the season.
Crucially, regarding potential replacements for Alex, Helmut Marko has said "Up to now we have always recruited our drivers from our own junior squad. But there's nobody here at the moment”. This indicates that in the eyes of Red Bull management, Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat are no longer a part of the Red Bull driver programme. He did reference F2 driver Yuki Tsunoda, but said that placing him at Red Bull in his rookie season was too great a risk.
That leaves them with the drivers on the market – they will not be able to sign drivers affiliated with other driver programmes, which narrows it down to two, Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Pérez. Out of the two, Nico is looking the most likely to get that Red Bull seat, with Marko revealing that he had spoken to the German before the Eifel Grand Prix about driving that weekend after Alex returned an inconclusive COVID test. As it happened, his second test proved negative, and Nico was subsequently called upon once again by Racing Point after Lance Stroll fell ill unrelated to COVID.
Taking on a driver outside of Red Bull’s programme would also follow a prediction of mine which I spoke about in a previous article. If Red Bull take on a driver outside of their programme, it is rumoured that the Red Bull Driver Programme would be shut down. It is known that Red Bull are wanting to buy the IP of Honda’s power units to develop themselves, which would require a massive amount of money. Where would this money come from? The defunct Red Bull Driver Programme.
After the race, Marko spoke again about Nico, saying he was impressed with his performance, and even stated that both Nico and Checo are the two drivers along with Alex that they are considering for a Red Bull drive in 2021. With both drivers being linked to pretty much every available seat in every series on the planet, that 2nd Red Bull seat situation is going to remain fluid for a while, however Red Bull are hoping to make a decision on its 2021 driver lineup by the Turkish Grand Prix on November 13th-15th.
Hulkenberg and Mazepin to Haas:
Mazepin after winning in Mugello // Image credit: Formula 2
Another team that Hulkenberg has been strongly linked to is Haas, with Team Principle Günther Steiner stating that there are 10 drivers on the shortlist. My thinking is that those 10 drivers are Kevin Magnussen, Romain Grosjean, Callum Ilott, Robert Shwartzman, Mick Schumacher, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Pérez, Louis Delétraz and Nikita Mazepin, however he has also stated that Callum is not on the shortlist despite having meant to have driven for Haas in FP1 at the Eifel Grand Prix. If we are to replace Callum on the list, I would say Pietro Fittipaldi is there instead.
We can eliminate four of those drivers straight away – Romain has done his time in F1 now; Robert, unless he dominates in Bahrain and wins the F2 title, needs another year in F2 after slipping away in the second half of the season; Louis, despite being the Haas reserve, is yet to win an F2 race from 88 starts; Pietro, also a Haas reserve, has slipped out of the racing scene this year, currently not racing in anything but having previously raced in IndyCar and DTM.
We can eliminate Mick as he is pretty much sorted at Alfa Romeo for 2021 unless he lets an almost certain F2 title slip away. This leaves Kevin, Callum, Nico, Checo and Nikita. Nico and Checo are in high demand; Callum is a Ferrari Driver Academy member and Haas is a Ferrari customer team; Kevin has experience in F1 and with Haas and Nikita brings an eye-watering amount of money for a small F1 team.
Honestly, I can’t see either Nico or Checo heading to Haas – there are much more attractive options on the table for them. That leaves Kevin, Callum and Nikita. We would hope that Callum’s deal is as good as done for a Haas 2021 seat, however the team has been giving us mixed signals about the Brit’s chances. At the end of the day, it depends on if Haas want two rookies or not, and if they are won over by Nikita’s money. My prediction (and hope), is Callum and Kevin for 2021, however with rumours of Nikita’s dad, businessman Dmitry Mazepin, buying a stake or the whole team outright, there’s still a chance the Russian could be on the grid next season.
Gasly to Alpine, Ocon out:
Gasly celebrating his maiden F1 win at Monza with Carlos Sainz Jr and Lance Stroll // Image credit: AlphaTauri
Like the Checo-Williams rumours, the Pierre Gasly to Alpine rumour has also taken the F1 community by surprise, however it is one that could well happen. Why? Because Pierre will want to do anything to get out of the Red Bull family.
We all know Pierre’s history with Red Bull, after being dropped midway through the 2019 season despite Red Bull saying he would stay on, and it is clearer than ever that both Pierre and Daniil, both once dropped from the senior team, will not be welcome back, despite two podiums and a win for Pierre and a podium for Daniil with AlphaTauri/Toro Rosso. In fact, the three most recent drivers in that 2nd Red Bull seat have had more podiums and wins than Alex has since, with one podium for Alex and 4 podiums and one win for Pierre, Daniil and Daniel (increased to 6 podiums if you include Carlos).
The fact that despite his win, Marko does not want Pierre back at Red Bull shows that if he wants his career to survive, he needs to get out of Red Bull ASAP. How would Pierre at Alpine work however? Firstly, Alpine/Renault is a French manufacturer, and Pierre is not just French, but probably one of the most loved French sportsmen at the moment after becoming France’s first F1 winner since Olivier Panis at the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix. On the other hand, Esteban Ocon is also French, however has suffered a much poorer season in comparison to current teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
Daniel has over double the amount of points that Esteban has (78 to 36), and scored Renault’s first podium under the Renault name since 2011, and the first podium for the Enstone team since 2015. Next season, Fernando Alonso will replace the McLaren-bound Daniel, and with Renault currently upping the marketing for the Alpine brand by entering F1, signing Fernando, and also entering the top tier of the World Endurance Championship in 2021, signing France’s most recent F1 race winner would certainly be a massive boost as well.
Esteban is managed by Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff, and he may not let Renault drop his driver and risk him losing out once again on a seat in F1, which does give Esteban an advantage. It would certainly be a shame for Esteban to lose his seat as he is racing in his first season back after being forced to take a year out in 2019, but an Alonso-Gasly lineup would certainly be a mouth-watering lineup for Alpine both on and off the track.
The 2020 Silly Season has certainly been a rollercoaster, and it shows no sign of slowing down, which makes predicting next season’s grid lineup extremely difficult, however this is my shot at who I think will be on the grid in 2021 (NB: this is what I think will happen, not necessarily want):
• Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team – Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas
• Scuderia Ferrari – Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jr
• Red Bull Racing – Max Verstappen, Nico Hulkenberg
• McLaren F1 Team – Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris
• Aston Martin Racing – Sebastian Vettel, Lance Stroll
• Alpine F1 Team – Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon
• Scuderia AlphaTauri – Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda [R]
• Haas F1 Team – Kevin Magnussen, Callum Ilott [R]
• Alfa Romeo Racing – Kimi Räikkönen, Mick Schumacher [R]
• Williams Racing – George Russell, Nicholas Latifi
Thank you for reading, I really hope you enjoyed it and found the article interesting. Feel free to let me know your opinions on the rumours and your predictions for the 2021 Formula 1 grid in the comments!