2021 F1 driver line-up: latest news and rumours

F1

The latest news and rumours on 2021 Formula 1 driver line-ups including Sainz to Ferrari and Ricciardo to McLaren

Empty Ferrari seat

Empty Ferrari seat is the key to the 2021 driver market

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Next year’s F1 driver line-up is certain to be shaken up, with high-profile changes already announced — including Carlos Sainz moving to Ferrari in 2021 — and several seats still vacant.

The breakdown of Sebastian Vettel’s contract negotiations with Ferrari triggered the first major shuffle in the driver’s market, with Sainz replacing the four-time champion and Daniel Ricciardo moving to McLaren next year.

Lando Norris has been given a contract extension and will partner Ricciardo.

The ripple effect of Vettel’s departure now leaves Renault with a vacant seat, where a possible return for Fernando Alonso is being suggested. Rumours in Spanish media suggest that the team will appoint a driver that has worked there in the past.

Three seats at the top teams also remain unconfirmed, with Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon out of contract at the end of 2021.

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc have committed to their future, with contract extensions announced early this year.

Will there be more drama in the 2021 driver market? Who might gamble on a new home for 2021? Who will find themselves replaced with someone younger and faster?

Here is the latest news and rundown of rumours as the 2021 grid begins to take shape

Mercedes: ?

Mercedes garage during the 2019 season

A switch to Ferrari is just one of the possibilities for Hamilton

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Lewis Hamilton will find himself out of contract after this season, but his options are reducing, with Ferrari confirming its 2021 line-up.

Hamilton had met socially with Ferrari president John Elkann last year, and he suggested in February that the team was still key in his thoughts.

With a move to Red Bull alongside Max Verstappen thought unlikely, remaining at Mercedes is the expected outcome.

Who will partner him is another question. Team principal Toto Wolff said cryptically that Mercedes must take Vettel’s availability into consideration,.

Could he be considering a super-team with ten championships between them? A Vettel-Hamilton could risk friction and disrupt the calm atmosphere that has reigned with Bottas in the second car.

The Finn achieved his best season to date in 2019, and has made a strong start to 2020. He also revealed that Wolff has told him Vettel isn’t an option.

Another alternative is George Russell, waiting in the wings at Williams.

The 2018 Formula 2 champion was consigned to the rear of the field last year by virtue of an uncompetitive car, but it is clear Mercedes rates the 21-year-old Brit.

 

Ferrari: Charles Leclerc & Carlos Sainz

Carlos Sainz with Charles Leclerc in 2019

Ferrari has opted for youth in 2021

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Carlos Sainz has been announced as Sebastian Vettel’s replacement, after the four-time champion said that he would be leaving the team.

Sainz is expected to be the team’s number two driver but, after an impressive season with McLaren last year, is unlikely to be intimidated by the formidable competition on the other side of the garage.

Charles Leclerc has signed a five-year deal until the 2024 F1 season, and is seen as the team’s number one.

The Monégasque driver impressed in just his second year in F1, taking on and beating team-mate Sebastian Vettel in the drivers’ championship and scoring three wins to the German’s one.

Read more: Sebastian Vettel to leave Ferrari at end of 2020 season

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & ?

Max Verstappen pulls out of the Red Bull pit garage

Max Verstappen’s three-year deal is a statement of intent

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Red Bull’s announcement that Max Verstappen had signed a three-year contract extension to stay with the team until the 2023 season took one big name off of the market.

Speculation had suggested he would be courted by Mercedes this year but his commitment to the Red Bull Honda team has closed off one of the prime seats in F1.

The identity of the driver that will partner him beyond this season remains up in the air. Alexander Albon was given the nod of approval for this year after replacing Pierre Gasly in 2019, but Red Bull drivers know that they are only a short stretch of poor form away from being dropped.

Head of the team’s driver development programme Dr Helmut Marko admitted that Daniil Kvyat was back in the running for a Red Bull promotion last season before opting for Albon, and he might be in a similar position once again.

It’s thought unlikely that Sebastian Vettel would return to the team where he had his championship successes, given its focus on Verstappen.

Read more: Max Verstappen extends Red Bull contract to 2023 F1 season

 

McLaren: Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris

Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris in 2019

Norris and Ricciardo: team-mates for 2021

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Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris have been confirmed as McLaren’s drivers for 2021, following the departure of Carlos Sainz to Ferrari.

McLaren wasn’t looking to break up its young and promising partnership, but few resist the call of Ferrari.

Ricciardo’s arrival reverses his decision of two years ago, when he turned down McLaren in favour of Renault. With Mercedes engines next year and an improving chassis. Could he return to winning ways in 2021? And how will he compare to Norris, who made the podium in this year’s opening race in Austria?

“Signing Daniel is another step forward in our long-term plan and will bring an exciting new dimension to the team, alongside Lando,” said Zak Brown, the team principal. “This is good news for our team, partners and of course our fans.

“I also want to pay tribute to Carlos for the excellent job he has been doing for McLaren in helping our performance recovery plan. He is a real team player and we wish him well for his future beyond McLaren.”

 

Renault: Esteban Ocon & ?

Esteban Ocon in the Renault pit garage in 2019

Renault got its French driver but will Ricciardo stick around for 2021?

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Renault’s empty seat is currently the subject of most speculation, amid Spanish media rumours that Cyril Abiteboul, the team principal has already made a decision and told veteran mechanics that they had already worked with the driver.

Could it be Nico Hulkenberg, who lost his seat to Esteban Ocon at the end of last season? Perhaps a second stint for Romain Grosjean at the team with which he made his F1 debut? He’s already said that it would be a “nice story” if he was to go back. Grosjean’s Haas team-mate, Kevin Magnussen, has also had a season at Renault — and both drivers are out of contract.

But could the familiar face be Fernando Alonso, who won two championship titles with Renault all the way back in 2005 and 2006, and has already completed two stints with the Enstone team? He is certainly doing nothing to dispel those rumours.

Alternatively, the team could promote its current reserve driver, Sergey Sirotkin or former academy member and F2 racer Jack Aitken – currently reserve at Williams. Guanyu Zhou is part of the Renault driver academy and racing in F2 but would need to finish this season in a position to earn enough superlicence points.

The team had been hoping to keep hold of Daniel Ricciardo, alongside Esteban Ocon who signed in 2020 on a two-year deal.

Talks with Ricciardo over a contract extension broke down and the Australian has confirmed a move to McLaren.

The empty Renault seat is now proving a hotbed of speculation. Is this where Sebastian Vettel might rekindle the swagger that won him four world titles, or could it offer a welcome home to another world champion who left Ferrari in dismay?

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & ?

Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez walk through the paddock in the 2019 season

Perez and Stroll will continue on at Racing Point

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Sergio Perez announced he would be sticking with Racing Point for another three years last season.

The Mexican has been with the team since 2014 under its Force India guise, and while Lance Stroll isn’t signed beyond 2020, he will likely be staying put.

It is doubtful Stroll would leave the team, with father Lawrence investing heavily in the outfit after saving it from administration in 2018.

With a new factory on the way in 2021 and rebrand as Aston Martin Racing, the team looks to have its immediate future planned out with both Perez and Stroll remaining where they are.

 

Alpha Tauri: ?

2019 Toro Rosso car pulling out of the pits

Will Red Bull look at promoting one of its younger drivers or stick with what it has?

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With Gasly, Kvyat and Albon all in the frame for the Red Bull drive in 2021, the pair that miss out on the drive may just stay put with Alpha Tauri.

Red Bull has struggled in recent seasons in terms of promoting younger talent in its driver programme, though Jüri Vips looks to be the most promising youngster in their ranks.

The Estonian won the ADAC Formula 4 championship in 2017 and finished fourth in his first season in F3 last year.

 

Alfa Romeo: ?

2019 Alfa Romeo F1 car in the pits

Could Alfa Romeo be set to bring the Schumacher name back to F1?

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Both Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi’s contracts expire at the end of the 2020 season but don’t count out either staying put.

Team principal Fred Vasseur expects Giovinazzi to improve further next season but should Ferrari come calling for the Italian to partner Leclerc, Alfa may be receiving another Ferrari junior driver as a replacement.

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has already marked Mick Schumacher as a candidate for an F1 seat in the future. The Schumacher name could be back in F1 sooner rather than later.

Vasseur also claimed that Räikkönen could drive with the team for as long as he wanted though other options include Callum Illot, who tested for the team last year, Marcus Armstrong and 2019 F3 champion, Robert Schwartzman.

 

Haas: ?

2019 Haas F1 garage

Haas needs to improve in 2020 and form could tell as it mulls over its driver decisions

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Romain Grosjean was handed a one-year contract extension to partner Kevin Magnussen in 2020, but both drivers are out of contract at the end of the year.

The 2019 season was a dismal one for F1’s only American team and a refresh could be in order if 2020 is a repeat.

 

Williams: George Russell & ?

A Williams leaves the garage during the 2019 F1 season

Could Russell leave for Mercedes? And could Ticktum find his way into F1 without Red Bull

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George Russell went from F2 champion to running at the back of the pack behind fellow rookies Norris and Albon.

The British driver remains a part of the Mercedes driver programme and could be called upon should Bottas not impress in 2020, but his contract with Williams runs until the end of the 2021 season.

New team-mate Nicholas Latifi brings significant funding with him to the Williams team, something that will no doubt work in his favour.

The 2019 F2 runner-up signed with the team ahead of the final round of the season on a one-year deal.

Williams also has no shortage of options if it opted to promote from its reserve driver pool either. Dan Ticktum, Jamie Chadwick, Jack Aitken and Roy Nissany are all in its ranks and any vacancies that need filling could be addressed within the team’s current roster.

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