2021 F1 driver line-up: latest news and rumours

F1

The latest news and rumours on the 2021 Formula 1 driver line-ups

F1 drivers' parade at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix

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The cogs have already started to turn in the 2021 Formula 1 driver market before the teams have reconvened in Barcelona for 2020 testing.

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc have both announced contract extensions with their respective teams, closing off two coveted seats more than a year in advance.

Elsewhere, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo are among the majority of the grid that is out of contract after the final race of the 2020 season in Abu Dhabi.

It’s likely to make for a chaotic driver market, particularly as teams prepare for new regulations in 2021 and drivers will assess their options ahead of the reset.

Potential vacancies at Mercedes and Ferrari will no doubt be the target for many, while a possible return for Fernando Alonso is a twist that could add to the drama.

Who will gamble on a new home for 2021 in the hope that their team has aced the new regulations; who will be content to stay put in familiar surroundings; and 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 and will play a big part in the driver market.

Would he move away from Mercedes where he has achieved the majority of his F1 success and take on a new challenge in what would be the final few years of his career?

Ferrari is an apparent option for him after it was confirmed last year that he had met with Ferrari president John Elkann.

Though Ferrari has played down the meeting since, should Hamilton equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven F1 world championships in 2020, there would be something poetic about returning the championship title to Ferrari while breaking that record with the Prancing Horse.

The 2019 champion moved to play down speculation that discussions over a new contract were already underway ahead of the new season.

In an Instagram post, Hamilton revealed that talks between himself and Toto Wolff had not even begun despite a supposed deal in place.

Valtteri Bottas’s current Mercedes deal also expires at the end of 2020, after the team took up an option to extend his contract for a further year last season.

While the Finn achieved his best season to date in 2019, Mercedes may be looking elsewhere once more.

Esteban Ocon had been considered for the second Mercedes seat before Bottas was retained, but George Russell waits in the wings at Williams.

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

Read more: Hamilton could favour Ferrari over Mercedes with new 2021 F1 contract

 

Ferrari: Charles Leclerc & ?

2019 Ferrari F1 pit garage

Ferrari committed to Leclerc early but where does it leave Vettel?

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Just a handful of days before Christmas, Charles Leclerc was handed an early present as Ferrari announced he would remain with the Scuderia until the 2024 F1 season, having signed a five-year deal.

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.

It’s a deal that marks Leclerc out as the future of the Italian team, though who will partner him in 2021 remains to be seen.

Vettel has struggled to deal with Leclerc since his arrival at Ferrari. Many have questioned whether the four-time champion still loves the sport. His radio message in Russia, urging F1 to “bring back the V12s” as his hybrid unit developed a problem, evidence of frustration that has only grown in recent championship-less seasons.

With his current contract ending at the end of the 2020 season, could retirement be an option for a family man disillusioned with F1? Will he remain at Ferrari, or will he surprise everyone and look at other available seats?

Read more: Charles Leclerc signs five-year Ferrari contract extension

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 is unlikely that Red Bull would hire from outside of its own driver pool, so form in 2020 will play a pivotal role as the driver market ramps up in the summer.

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

 

McLaren: ?

2019 McLaren pit garage

The pairing of Sainz and Norris has brought a feel-good factor back to McLaren

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McLaren looks to be on the up and the team moved early to confirm its driver line-up for 2020.

The team has enjoyed an upturn in form with Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz earning an extension on their current deals, and will likely remain with the McLaren into 2021.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown said both were crucial in helping the team improve in 2019, noting that both “have made a real contribution to the positive momentum and morale within the team.”

The Spaniard recording his best F1 season to date, finishing sixth in the drivers’ championship while Norris’ rookie season was solid and the team looks to be on a good footing for the future, ahead of a reunion with the Mercedes engine in 2021.

 

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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After Mercedes opted for Bottas, Esteban Ocon was released from the Mercedes driver umbrella and was quickly snapped up by Renault for 2020 on a two-year deal.

Daniel Ricciardo’s future looks less certain, however.

The Australian left Red Bull in 2018, hoping that Renault would be able to continue improving and then get a jump on the field in 2021.

His time with the French manufacturer though has been a struggle and other options are available to him should he look at leaving.

Ricciardo has been linked with Ferrari as a replacement for Vettel. He and Leclerc would certainly make for one of the strongest line-ups on the grid.

Will he remain patient with Renault and stick with the French team? Or is it time to make another move?

Read more: Esteban Ocon signs with Renault for 2021 Formula 1 season

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, the team looks to have its immediate future planned out with both Perez and Stroll remaining where they are.

Read more: Sergio Perez signs three-year deal with Racing Point

 

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 Aitkin 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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