The rumour mill will slowly begin to ramp up as the season continues but the whispers about potential changes in Formula 1 driver line-ups for 2022 have already started.
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are both out of contract at the end of the current season, meaning two of the most coveted seats in the sport are potentially up for grabs.
Max Verstappen might have signed a deal with Red Bull to stay for the foreseeable future and the team is looking competitive, meaning a shock switch to Mercedes looks less likely than it did last year.
Charles Leclerc is tied down long-term at Ferrari, while Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris look set at McLaren, but there are plenty of other seats with multiple candidates up and down the grid.
Here are the latest bits of news and rumours surrounding every team and every race seat for the 2022 F1 season.
Click here to jump to a specific team
2022 F1 driver and team line-ups
|Red Bull||Max Verstappen|
|Aston Martin||Sebastian Vettel|
- Both Hamilton’s and Bottas’s contracts expire at the end of 2021
- Mercedes junior driver George Russell a likely candidate for one of the seats
- Hamilton aiming to sign 2022 deal before summer break
The biggest potential story in 2021 is at Mercedes and what it will do for 2022. Its world champion in Lewis Hamilton is out of contract after signing just a one-year deal following late negotiations on a seat for this year, but Bottas is once more in the same boat having signed yet another year-long extension himself.
Hamilton has made the best start to a season in his career with three wins and a runner-up finish out of four race so far, and said over the Spanish Grand Prix weekend that he was hoping to sign a new Mercedes deal before the summer break this year.
Team principal Toto Wolff said he expects a deal to run for two years though it isn’t out of the question that there might be an additional ‘plus one’ tagged on to the end to round the deal up to three years in theory.
In terms of the other car, an obvious driver to point to is George Russell who impressed many deputising for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020. Russell was unfortunate to miss out on victory but he, like Bottas, is out of contract at the end of the year at Williams which lines up nicely for a possible promotion.
Bottas seems a little more apprehensive about his future with the Silver Arrows, as the direct comparison we’ve had on track between himself and potential replacement Russell went the way of the young Briton.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 18, 2021
Radio messages from Toto Wolff mid-race have become more and more frequent in trying to encourage Bottas to perform at a higher level but the Finn has remained some way off of his team-mate’s pace.
At the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, we got a little more insight into the tension behind the scenes as Russell and Bottas collided on track and the two were steadfast in their blame for the other in the immediate aftermath.
Russell suggested the crash happened because Bottas had raced him differently with the Mercedes 2022 seat at stake, though walked those accusations back in private and publicly a day later.
As a known-quantity within Mercedes, Bottas could be the more attractive proposition and be in line for another extension. Heading into the unknown of the 2022 regulation changes that could tip the scales in the Finn’s favour, but in Russell, Mercedes could have one of the stars of the future.
Another possibility is Esteban Ocon. The Frenchman is still under the Mercedes umbrella and despite being paired up against two-time champion Fernando Alonso at Alpine, has made the better start for the French squad this year.
Wolff said that the “stars [are] aligning” for Ocon over a potential route back to the head Mercedes table should the team go in a surprising direction with its line-up next year.
One to keep an eye on all year.
- Max Verstappen under contract with Red Bull until 2023
- Sergio Perez on one-year deal for 2021
- Yuki Tsunoda highly-rated by team and head of driver development Dr Helmut Marko
Talk of a performance clause in the contract of Max Verstappen seems to be a distant memory now as the Red Bull 2021 car looks to be a title contender. It couldn’t come at a better time for the team as rumours surrounding the potential departure of its star driver never were far away during the Mercedes-dominated years.
The RB16B looks as though it is more predictable and quicker than its predecessor and for the first time in his career, the Dutchman has a title-capable car in his hands.
It means a shock move to Mercedes is likely off the cards, though he was already under contract with Red Bull until the end of 2023 anyway.
Attention then turns to the other seat currently filled by Sergio Perez. Something of a poisoned chalice so far, the second Red Bull seat has had a great deal of speculation around it following the departure of Daniel Ricciardo.
Pierre Gasly’s future looks to be outside of the Red Bull system after the Frenchman penned a very honest blog on his career since his demotion from the senior Red Bull team, but new star Yuki Tsunoda has already started turning heads in his short time in F1.
The Japanese driver was reportedly an option for 2021 to slot in alongside Verstappen but the team opted to put him in at AlphaTauri, though if he can show the same speed and overtaking prowess as he did in Bahrain on debut, he’s surely the favourite for the drive next season.
- Both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo under contract for next season
- Team building new windtunnel at Woking factory
- 3rd-place in 2020 constructor’s standings best result since 2012 season
On one side of the garage, McLaren has an experienced veteran in Daniel Ricciardo and on the other it has a driver with a high ceiling and one that’s improving all the time in Lando Norris. Along with a Mercedes power unit and continued improvements to its factory in Woking, McLaren’s immediate future is looking strong.
Its combination of Norris and Ricciardo might be one of the strongest on the grid but which way the battle between team-mates will ultimately go is up for debate.
The younger of the two has staked his claim early on this season, as Norris achieved the first McLaren podium of 2021 at round two in Imola, a race that included a request and subsequent team orders to have Ricciardo let him by for position.
Ricciardo said he had to “swallow his pride” as he grows into the team and becomes accustomed to his new car but on the contract front there are no dramas. Both are tied up for the foreseeable future at the team.
- Charles Leclerc under contract until end of 2024 F1 season
- Carlos Sainz agreed multi-year deal last season
- Reorganisation of key personnel structure ahead of 2021 season aims to fire Scuderia back to title-winning ways
Charles Leclerc’s long-term contract should keep him in Scuderia Ferrari red until the end of 2024 and Carlos Sainz is set to partner him into the new F1 era having signed a multi-year deal last season.
Another tantalising prospect when it comes to team-mate duels, Sainz has been rated highly but as the bridesmaid, never the bride. Ferrari has undoubtedly placed its full faith in Leclerc to guide the team forward into the future, signalled by the length of the contract he signed at the end of 2019.
Could Sainz destabilise that vision? He will think so and admitted as much ahead of his switch to the Scuderia, but for now, the focus at Maranello is to restore the team to championship challenger.
Ferrari has one of the strongest line-ups in F1 tied up for the long term so is on the way to doing just that.
- Fernando Alonso deal will keep him at Alpine for 2022 F1 season
- Esteban Ocon under pressure to perform well against team-mate after struggling versus Ricciardo in 2020
- Alpine focused on 2022 regulation changes as opportunity to break into top group
Fernando Alonso’s F1 comeback was meant to coincide with the introduction of the next generation of cars. When he did announce his return, the length of the deal was not announced but it’s believed to be a two-year deal, meaning he is contracted for 2022.
Nobody at Alpine seemed to want to own up to who had talks with the Spaniard to bring him back to F1 though the buck ultimately stops with CEO Luca de Meo.
The identity of his team-mate though could be up in the air. Esteban Ocon struggled to match former team-mate Ricciardo across the season and a repeat with Alonso could spell trouble for the Frenchman.
Ocon was on the sidelines after being replaced at Racing Point by Lance Stroll and spent the season in the Mercedes garage serving as its reserve driver in 2019 but a return to the team is unlikely in the future despite being managed by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
One name that has been linked with a potential switch to Alpine is Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman would make sense for a French team and Gasly’s future doesn’t look like it’s within the Red Bull ranks. Switching to a works team would give Gasly the platform to finally show his abilities but would depend on if the Viry and Enstone team can finally deliver a competitive car.
- Both AlphaTauri drivers could be on the move for 2022
- Pierre Gasly has made clear he is looking at future outside of Red Bull programme
- Tsunoda has made strong start to F1 career and could be on the move to senior team, replaced by one of three F2 drivers
There is no shortage of options for Red Bull when it comes to its junior line-up competing in Formula 2 this season. Liam Lawson, Jehan Darvuvala and Juri Vips are all competing in the F2 series under the watchful eye of Helmut Marko.
Yuki Tsunoda has attracted a lot of praise and attention in the opening rounds of the 2021 season and the Japanese driver is highly thought of by Red Bull’s higher-ups. A team that has consistently looked to bring through its young talents as quickly as possible might be exploring the option to promote Tsunoda for ’22, but much will depend on Perez’s performances alongside Verstappen.
On the other side of the garage, Pierre Gasly could be beginning to put out feelers elsewhere with there being no place for him back at the senior Red Bull team and his honest assessment of the driver programme in his Players Tribune blog post.
- Sebastian Vettel has contract with team for 2022
- Unlikely Lance Stroll leaves for another rival
- Can focus on 2022 regulations push Aston Martin to upper-midfield team?
Sebastian Vettel’s deal with Aston Martin is said to be ‘multi-year’ so the four-time champion looks set to continue with the team beyond the 2021 season. Whether or not he can recapture similar form to his 2017 and 2018 title-challenging seasons when the new regulations come in for 2022 is a different question.
The likelihood of Lance Stroll leaving the team while father Lawrence has ownership is extremely low. The Canadian has been with the team since Lawrence Stroll’s investment while it was racing under the Racing Point banner, so this could be one of the F1 line-ups that doesn’t undergo any change between ’21 and ’22.
- Will 2021 be Kimi Raikkonen’s final F1 season?
- Antonio Giovinazzi under pressure from Ferrari juniors?
- Team could undergo rebrand after FCA-PSA merger
The contract extension for both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi to continue on with Alfa Romeo for 2021 might have raised a few eyebrows from fans, but the team was sound in its reasoning.
Why would it want to undergo the difficulties of getting a new driver acclimatised to the team during a season in which development of the ’22 car would be ongoing in the background? Focus on the new regulations means that a stable driver line-up gives team boss Fred Vasseur one less headache to deal with.
What it chooses to do beyond this season though may well depend on its experienced Finn’s feelings on continuing in F1 for another year. The Iceman says he will only stop when he no longer enjoys driving, but one has to wonder whether the media commitments might catch up sooner rather than later and be enough for Raikkonen to say goodbye.
On the other side of the garage, Giovinazzi admitted in the Netflix F1 Drive to Survive season 3 that he was feeling pressure from Mick Schumacher, but the Italian might be saved another season unless a star pupil from the Ferrari Academy can capture the F2 title.
Robert Shwartzman and Marcus Armstrong are the young drivers in question, though it’s the Russian that stands the greater chance of promotion on paper, driving for the team Schumacher captured the 2020 title with last year.
It might not just be a change of driver line-up either at Alfa Romeo. Early rumours suggest that there is one team on the grid considering a rebranding for 2022. The merger between Alfa Romeo’s parent FCA group with Groupe PSA under the Stellantis banner certainly makes the team a possibility.
Any brand under the new umbrella could be the focus of the rebranding, though Peugeot’s emergence in the hybrid motor racing era could make more sense than others.
- Williams looks likely to lose George Russell to Mercedes for next season
- Nicholas Latifi should be safe with his funding
- Team has options in F2 and beyond including W Series champion Jamie Chadwick
Star pupil George Russell looks set to join Mercedes for 2022 barring a miraculous season by Bottas against Hamilton and Verstappen. The Finn seems fairly resigned to his fate with Toto Wolff’s younger charge the more attractive option for the team’s F1 future.
Russell has been with Williams for all but one of his F1 races, and that single race was in a Mercedes and he beat Bottas in a straight fight. If the team somehow keeps Russell around, it would be an unlikely triumph for the Grove squad.
Current team-mate Nicholas Latifi is another driver unlikely to move anywhere with his father’s investment helping the team as part of its promising future.
Ex-Volkswagen fixtures Jost Capito and François-Xavier Demaison have been signed by the team to lead it into the new era of ’22 and beyond as CEO and technical director respectively.
Williams does have a handful of junior drivers to pick from should it look at promoting from within. F2 drivers Dan Ticktum, Roy Nissany and W Series champion Jamie Chadwick are all part of the Williams young driver set-up, though of the trio it’s Nissany that could arguably stand the greatest chance of a call-up due to the significant financial backing he brings.
- Dmitri Mazepin’s sizeable investment in the team means his son Nikita is going nowhere without withdrawal of sponsorship
- Mick Schumacher brings less funding but greater sponsorship opportunities, but will that be enough to keep him?
- Team fully focused on 2022 and won’t develop this year’s car
What will Haas do with its line-up in 2022? Nikita Mazepin is unlikely to be going anywhere with the sponsorship he provides to Gene Haas’s team and Mick Schumacher brings his own commercial benefits to a team desperate for money.
The team has already said that it will be focusing primarily on the 2022 car and that limited development of its ’21 car will cease following the first few rounds of the season. It opted not to spend any development tokens on what team principal Gunther Steiner called “pointless” investment in terms of both time and money, so this year will be ugly for Haas on track.
Steiner said that he has accepted the risk of no development and the result it will have on the pace (or lack thereof) this season, but could that hurt the team off it?
If there is space elsewhere, Schumacher could potentially find an avenue out of the Haas nightmare to another team though Mazepin is unlikely to follow such a path. Is the Russian’s funds, courtesy of father Dmitry Mazepin, enough to turn Haas back into a semi-competitive midfield operation in 2022?
The prospect will be doing the heavy lifting of attracting a driver should Schumacher leave.