Formula 1’s annual game of musical chairs is approaching its end, as teams fill seats and the spaces in the 2021 F1 driver line-up grow fewer.
There are several big announcements left, however, with Ferrari F2 Academy drivers Mick Schumacher, Robert Shwartzman and Callum Ilott jostling for promotion, alongside more experienced – and quick – hands such as Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Perez.
Perez found himself without a seat when Sebastian Vettel’s move to Racing Point – to be renamed Aston Martin – was confirmed. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are also without a drive, as Haas opts for an all-new — but as yet unnamed — line-up for 2021.
Unusually, Lewis Hamilton is still out of contract, with no new deal yet agreed with Mercedes. After becoming the most successful driver in F1 by race wins, he said that he still doesn’t feel that his job is done and that he expects to sign a new contract once the title race is over.
Alex Albon’s current form has raised questions about who will drive alongside Max Verstappen next year, although team principal Christian Horner has been consistently complimentary about his performance.
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? Click to jump to a particular team or scroll down for the full grid
Mercedes | Ferrari | Red Bull | McLaren
Renault | Racing Point/Aston Martin | AlphaTauri
Alfa Romeo | Haas | Williams
Will Mick Schumacher have an Alfa Romeo F1 seat in 2021?
Ferrari appears to be spoiled for choice when it comes to filling the second Alfa Romeo seat next season. Experienced hands like Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Perez are now on the market but its driver academy is the more likely source.
Rumours have slowly started to float around that Mick Schumacher might be on his way to Haas, which will have an all-new driver line-up next year, rather than the Italian outfit.
Schumacher currently leads the Formula 2 championship and may well be getting the call to step up to F1 sooner rather than later. Currently in his second season of F2, the son of the seven-time world champion has come on leaps and bounds to head both of his Ferrari Driver Academy rivals in Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman, who led for the first half of the season.
All three academy drivers conducted a private test at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track ahead of the final race weekend of the F2 season next month in Bahrain, sampling the 2018 SF71H.
With Schumacher and Ilott looking like the two contenders for the title in the remaining two races, both will be hoping to claim the final junior title on the ladder to Formula 1; Ferrari is looking increasingly likely to promote one if not both of them for next season.
Mercedes: Valtteri Bottas & ?
Since the Formula 1 season began this summer, Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton have presented a contract extension as a formality. However, we are now in October and negotiations have still apparently not taken place.
Rumours swirl over team principal Toto Wolff, who is also out of contract at the end of the year. He’s expected to agree an altered role with the team rather than leave for a rival, but the lack of an agreement has been mooted as one reason for the delay in Hamilton’s deal.
After a record 92nd F1 victory in Portugal, Hamilton praised the teamwork that has built Mercedes’ dominant run, saying that the job wasn’t done and that he expected to agree a new contract once the championship was decided (almost certainly in his favour).
The unexpected is not unknown in F1, however, and without a signed contract, questions remain over the future of Hamilton and his seat.
That’s not the case with Valtteri Bottas (until next year’s silly season). Another year-long deal will see him return to the same garage in 2021.
“I’m very happy to stay with Mercedes in 2021 and build on the success we’ve enjoyed together already,” said Bottas. “Thank you to everyone in the team and the wider Mercedes family for their continued support and their trust in me.”
Ferrari: Charles Leclerc & Carlos Sainz
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.
His second F1 podium at the Italian Grand Prix was just the latest bit of proof that the Spaniard has finally hit his stride in F1, and Leclerc will have a more than capable team-mate alongside him next season.
The Monégasque driver has signed a five-year deal until the 2024 F1 season, and is seen as the team’s number one.
Leclerc 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, and has been the quicker of the two so far this season.
Red Bull: Max Verstappen & ?
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 since that swap and brief spell of form for Albon, the outlook looks very different versus 12 months ago.
Gasly’s heroic Monza win has thrust him right back into contention for a second call-up to the senior team as Albon struggles to get on similar terms with Verstappen.
The Frenchman admitted he would be ready for the call should Dr Helmut Marko make the call, but the team has remained supportive of its current number two driver.
McLaren: Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris
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.”
Alpine / Renault: Esteban Ocon & Fernando Alonso
The two-time Formula 1 champion is back. Confirmed for the previously vacant seat alongside Esteban Ocon, Fernando Alonso said he was returning to the team that had given him “my fondest memories in Formula 1”.
The Spaniard had long been linked with a Renault comeback, even before Daniel Ricciardo’s departure was confirmed in response to Sainz’s jump to Ferrari.
The re-signing of Alonso to Enstone is a big statement of intent by Cyril Abiteboul, but can the team he won his first title with give him another, well over a decade on from its glory days?
“His experience and determination will enable us to get the best out of each other to take the team towards the excellence that modern Formula 1 demands,” says team principal Cyril Abiteboul.
Renault will become known as the Alpine F1 Team from 2021 onward, following a number of changes across the Renault Group divisions, and will be running a blue livery next year.
Racing Point / Aston Martin: Sebastian Vettel & Lance Stroll
After months of speculation, Aston Martin’s future line-up received a major boost with the signing of Sebastian Vettel for the 2021 season in place of Sergio Perez.
The Mexican’s seven-year association with the Silverstone-based team currently under the name of Racing Point will come to an end following the conclusion of the 2020 season, and a four-time champion will take his place.
Rumours had been rampant from the weeks following Ferrari’s news that Carlos Sainz was replacing Vettel, but confirmation ahead of Ferrari’s 1000th F1 grand prix celebration at Mugello will no doubt have made Vettel’s news all the sweeter for him.
In the announcement, Vettel’s deal was said to take him beyond the 2021 season so the German is set to race under the new regulations that will be introduced in 2022.
Alongside him will remain Lance Stroll who has scored the only podium for Racing Point in a season that the team appears more competitive than ever.
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 AlphaTauri.
Gasly has so far been the star performer of the three, and his victory at the Italian Grand Prix was a hugely popular victory and one that was hard-earned.
Kvayt’s struggles alongside him and Red Bull’s continued support of Albon in the face of the Anglo-Thai driver’s struggles could be a sign that the Russian’s second coming in F1 is coming to an end.
Having burned through talents throughout the 2010s including names such as Jean-Éric Vergne, Sebastien Buemi and Antonio Felix da Costa, its talent pools have run comparatively dry.
Red Bull has two drivers knocking on the F1 door one category below, with both Jüri Vips and Yuki Tsunoda both proving themselves in Formula 2.
Vips won the ADAC Formula 4 championship in 2017 and finished fourth in his first season in F3 last year, but has been unable to compete in the 2020 Super Formula season as originally planned due to Covid-19 restrictions in Japan.
A lifeline with DAMS in F2 has thrust him back into the spotlight and under the watchful eyes of the F1 team, but Tsunoda has been putting together an impressive run at Carlin.
Alfa Romeo: ?
Both Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi’s contracts expire at the end of the 2020 season, but it looks as if Räikkönen will remain and Giovinazzi will be replaced for next season.
Räikkönen is rumoured to have extended his contract, and is likely to be partnered by one of Ferrari’s Academy drivers. And here is where it may get tricky for the team. While F1 might not be enjoying the most unpredictable of seasons, the F2 championship has been a thrilling contest between three of Ferrari’s junior drivers.
Mick Schumacher leads the F2 championship with Callum Ilott his closest challenger but Robert Shwartzman has faded after leading the series in the first half of the season.
All three tested the 2018 Ferrari F1 car at the team’s private test track in Fiorano, but rumours have grown in recent weeks that Schumacher to Alfa isn’t as nailed on as first thought. Is there a late twist to the 2020 silly season?
What will Netflix do now? The exchanges between team principal Guenther Steiner and his drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were a highlight of the Drive to Survive F1 documentary, but the show will be over at the end of the year: both drivers have said that they will leave the team.
The identity of their replacements seems to change by the week. Initially Sergio Perez looked to be a good fit for a team struggling financially compared to immediate rivals, but he is now not as frequently touted as Mick Schumacher is.
The F2 championship leader had been set to conduct FP1 for Alfa Romeo at the Eifel GP with many believing it to be part of a bedding in process ahead of next season, but a late sting in the tail could lead the German to the Haas team instead.
While the Ferrari link is obvious in this case, another Ferrari junior isn’t believed to be in contention and instead it is F2’s Nikita Mazepin who is rumoured to be closest to signing on for 2021.
The Russian’s father Dmitry Mazepin had been linked with buying a Formula 1 team but it now looks as though his son will head to Haas for next season.
Nico Hülkenberg has said he is in talks with at least two teams over a potential drive next season and Perez is another experienced driver looking for a seat. However Steiner has made it clear that he’s looking for a line-up for the long-term.
Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi
With a 100 per cent record of outqualifying his team-mate and a contract for 2021, George Russell should be feeling secure at Williams. And he says that he is.
When a team refuses to dampen speculation, though, something is usually afoot. “I’m not going to say anything about either of our drivers,” Williams’ acting team principal, Simon Roberts, told a pre-Portuguese GP press conference. “We just don’t want to say anything one way or the other.”
Russell is part of Mercedes’ driver programme but doesn’t bring a financial boost to the team, unlike Sergio Perez, who has been linked with the seat. The team’s new owners, Dorilton Capital, a private investment firm, may find Perez an attractive option, as Williams looks to reposition itself ahead of the 2022 regulation changes.
Team-mate Nicholas Latifi has a contract for next year, and brings significant funding with him. Williams’ reserve driver pool will have to remain patient, with Dan Ticktum, Jamie Chadwick, Jack Aitken and Roy Nissany all in its ranks.