The 2021 Driver Market Will Turn F1 Upside Down
As we all know, the supposed 2021 new regulations for Formula One will attempt to make the sport more competitive with the possibility of a budget cap and more, however arguably what will make the 2021 Formula One season more interesting isn't the new regulations, but the drivers market.
2019 hasn't been a barnstorming year in the Silly Season, and it wasn't certainly like 2018 where Daniel Ricciardo shocked the world and moved to Renault whilst Fernando Alonso retired and Charles Leclerc went to Ferrari, however it is setting up a monumental shift at the top tens like it did in 2010.
Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen are all out of contract. These three drivers have dominated Formula One over the past five years, whilst Hamilton and Vettel's rivalry has spanned all the back to 2010.
There are questions of retirement, shock moves and final legs in their careers for the trio of drivers who have 143 wins between them, or 13% of all wins in Formula One history (OK, Hamilton and Vettel make up 12.5% of them), so without further adieu, let's dig in as there is a lot to cover.
LEWIS HAMILTON: THE QUESTION OF RETIREMENT/MOVE TO FERRARI
Lewis Hamilton will wrap up his sixth world champion in Mexico or the USA in the coming weeks and will move to one behind the all-time great Michael Schumacher's tally of seven titles, but the mystery still remains about whether or not Hamilton will be on the grid in eighteen months time.
The Brit is currently thirty-four years old and if he decides to remain on the grid in 2021 he'll be thirty-six. Sure, the durability of an F1 driver has increased in recent years, with Kimi Raikkonen at the still tender age of fourty years old.
However Hamilton has other aspects in his life. He is very passionate about his campaigning of environmental sustainability, fashion and music, and with the new regulations coming in in 2021, there is no guarantee that Hamilton will be at the top spot like he has been for the past five years.
For that reason, it might be a clever part on his side to part with Formula One at the end of the year. In this way, he will leave on a high, possibly with a whopping seven drivers titles, and would leave a timeless legacy on the sport.
Furthermore, we mustn't forget that it would be preferable for Mercedes as well, as they would be able to start the new dawn of Formula One with fresh propsects in their driver line-up, with the combination of Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon being touted as a possibility.
However Hamilton has repeatedly stated he has had no thoughts of retirements and is in early talks for a new contract for 2021 and beyond. Is this the right move for Mercedes? And, more importantly, is this the right move for Hamilton?
Recently Toto Wolff stated that Hamilton would likely remain at Mercedes for 2021, with the rates at 75%, however there is speculation that Hamilton could end his career at Ferrari, propelling them back to the front of the grid, however I honestly can't see this one happening.
SEBASTIAN VETTEL: PERSEVERE WITH FERRARI, GAMBLE WITH RED BULL?
At thirty-two years old, Sebastian Vettel is no spring-chicken, however he still has one more contact left in him.
Currently he is signed with Ferrari until the end of 2020, which will take him into his sixth season with The Prancing Horses. Whilst he hasn't been able to yield any titles to emulate his hero Michael Schumacher, he has been able to take Ferrari back to the front of the grid with a total of fifteen wins in the past five years.
However he now has the problem of Charles Leclerc. The young Monegasque has been clearly been trying to put a coup d'etat into action and take Vettel's leadership status away, and whilst he was achieving this in the stint between Silverstone and Monza, Vettel had fought back, however in the final stints of the calendar no driver was better than each other.
In Singapore he came from behind to take the win of him, in Russia he led the race to perfection until his MGU-K fell apart, costing him what would have been a likely win, and in Suzuka he took a perfect pole position, and whilst he had a slow start, he still managed to hold off Hamilton to take a second place.
Vettel will not give up. It is as simple as that. The German is viewing 2020 as the perfect opportunity to finally take the title, as Ferrari, at this moment in time, clearly have the fastest car on the grid, but the only thing that will be stopping him is his pesky team-mate Leclerc. OK, Leclerc is stunningly quick, and there should be some sort of equilibrium Ferrari can find, if they had a half-clever team-principal, but Vettel should treat 2020 as his last chance with Ferrari.
This is what Mercedes and now Red Bull have mastered. They have clear second drivers in terms of Valtteri Bottas and Alexander Albon, although the former is starting to grow weary of his status and wants to challenge for titles on his own. Ferrari have two drivers that desperately want to win the title, and this could shape their decision for 2021.
I don't think it's the question of whether Vettel will be forced out of Ferrari in 2021. For the amount of work he's put in over the past demi-decade, he'll have the opportunity to sign one final two-year contract, but there has been ever growing speculation that he could return to the team where it all started for him to finish off his career: Red Bull.
Christian Horner has been adamantly open to the idea of the four-time World Champion returning to the British outfit, and whilst Red Bull aren't quite there in terms of winning a championship, they have consistently been knocking on the door, taking eleven wins in the past four seasons in Formula One, compared to Ferrari's fourteen.
But the one hiccup for Vettel is the situation with Verstappen. A Verstappen-Vettel team-up would simply not work, it could in fact be even worse than the Vettel-Leclerc team-up at Ferrari. So Vettel's move to Red Bull would fully depend on Max's future in 2021. Speaking of the Dutchman...
MAX VERSTAPPEN: A POTENTIAL REPLACEMENT FOR HAMILTON?
Whilst Red Bull have given Max Verstappen everything since gambling to put him in their line-up all the way back in 2016, it is clear that their progress has halted, with team now just comfortable with take 2-4 race wins a year. This doesn't correspond with Verstappen's aims and goals.
Whilst 2020 is an unknown factor, it is hard to see Red Bull overcoming their deficit at the moment to Mercedes and Ferrari, and whilst they may be closer than they are now, it will only enable them to take race wins rather than championships.
Verstappen's contract is up in 2020. His father, Jos, has been clear to the press that he and Max are both angry about the lack of progress Red Bull are making, however remain committed to their plan.
2021 will see the new regulations come in, and Red Bull have had a good history of those. In 2009, 2010, and 2014, they have mastered them relatively well, and I cannot see why 2021 will not be different.
The question remains whether or not Verstappen will commit to Red Bull post 2020. What would draw him away from a team, which, frankly, he owns right now?
Mercedes are the only big team that would draw him away from Red Bull. Sure, there could be some interest from McLaren, but Mercedes would have to risk to it whatsoever.
This would only occur though if Hamilton departs from Mercedes at the end of 2020. As we stated previously, two Alpha males in a Formula One team just doesn't cut it anymore. Look at Hamliton-Rosberg, Vettel-Webber at times, Leclerc-Vettel and more.
But we should look at this from Mercedes's perspective. Who would you want to replace Hamilton with? It's some big shoes to fill in.
Whilst Bottas is consistent and has the potential of becoming a F1 World Champion, he isn't the future of Mercedes at the age of thirty years old.
Verstappen would be a possibility, especially considering that Mercedes let go of Esteban Ocon to Renault for 2020 and most likely beyond.
There's the potential for George Russell. The Brit will have had two years experience with Williams, and whilst it's hard to see if he could make the jump, he certainly has impressed with the poor car this year.
Carlos Sainz could be a wildcard. The Spaniard is the King Of The Midfield, and with the McLaren-Mercedes deal coming into effect in 2021, Mercedes could attempt to poach him, but this remains unlikely.
For Mercedes, the possibility of signing Verstappen could be too big of an opportunity to let slip by them, and for Verstappen, it could be the opportunity to change gears and aim for even bigger goals than before.
There is no reason why McLaren should change their driver line-up. They have two drivers that are the future of Formula One. Whilst Norris is still learning in his rookie year, Carlos Sainz Jr. has been there to dominate the midfield, and there is no reason why not that he won't do this again next year.
Furthermore, it is clear that Sainz believes in what McLaren are doing, and is talking about the McLaren-Mercedes deal for 2021 as if he will be there.
Due to this, I think Sainz's aim is to take McLaren back into the fight for wins in 2021, and will stay with them to attempt to finish what his hero Fernando Alonso started.
Like McLaren, I don't see any changes here. Esteban Ocon is back in Formula One and has a two year contract for 2020 and 2021, whilst Daniel Ricciardo, who would love to be in the big leagues again, seemingly has committed himself to purgatory with Renault. However I've just realised we've missed something...
IF VETTEL DOES LEAVE FERRARI, WHO WILL TAKE HIS PLACE?
This is a big move for Ferrari. If Vettel does leave the team in 2021, then by sods law Charles Leclerc will be the new team leader with two years of experience with the team, having won races with The Prancing Horses.
Due to Leclerc's relative youth, Ferrari should be looking for someone in the age bracket of 27 and above. They need a Bottas, someone who is consistent, but could also pick up the championship fight if Leclerc falters.
Daniil Kvyat could be an option. The Russian will be 27, in his prime in terms of experience and raw pace, and would be an ideal choice to partner Charles Leclerc in the future of Formula One. He has tons of experience, and has taken three podiums in his career, so isn't completely unknown when it comes to racing at the front of the grid.
Kevin Magnussen could be another option. The Dane would be 28 years old, and whilst he hasn't been able to break through with Haas, he does have a huge amount of potential, not to mention the clear Haas-Ferrari links which could propel him to the front of the list.
Sergio Perez could be a wildcard. The Mexican will be at the prime age of 31 and has experience that we don't really need to go into, taking eight podiums in his career with the midfield teams of Sauber and Force India-turned-Racing Point.
As for wildcards, they could be Alexander Albon, who has made it clear he absolutely loves Ferrari, particularly due to their history, and has impressed a lot in his four races with Red Bull so far.
Finally, the fan-favourite Daniel Ricciardo shouldn't be ruled out as he is a seven-time Grand Prix winner, however, whilst the loveable Australian will be at the prime age of 32, the problem of having two Alpha males in a top team could be the one thing preventing him from the big leagues.
Who knows, maybe if Mercedes kick Bottas to the curb, Ferrari could pick him up as a No.2. He was a strong contender for the 2016 seat at Ferrari.
Personally, if I were Ferrari, I'd go with either Magnussen, Kvyat or Hulkenberg, as all of them could be molded into whatever Ferrari pleased them to be.
PREDICTED 2021 LINE-UPS:
Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Max Vertappen
My Prediction: Valtteri Bottas & Lewis Hamilton
Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Kevin Magnussen, Daniil Kvyat, Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg, Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniel Ricciardo
My Prediction: Charles Leclerc & Sebastian Vettel
RED BULL CONTENDERS:
Max Verstappen, Alexander Albon, Sebastian Vettel, Daniil Kvyat, Pierre Gasly
My Prediction: Max Verstappen & Alexander Albon
MCLAREN: CARLOS SAINZ JR. & LANDO NORRIS
RENAULT: ESTEBAN OCON & JAKE AITKEN/SERGEY SIROTKIN
So what do you think? Will Lewis Hamilton leave Mercedes at the end of 2020, and who would take his place? Would Max Verstappen leave Red Bull for Mercedes, and would Vettel return and take his place? And if he did so, who would replace him at Ferrari? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.