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With two and a half months remaining in the 2023 Formula 1 season, most of the teams have confirmed their drivers for next season. For the rest though, the F1 2024 Silly Season is still going strong.
The secured seats
Most of the seats are locked for next season, so most teams are not looking in the driver market. In fact, no change has been announced yet, as at least six of the ten teams are looking set to continue with their current lineups.
The two most recent confirmations came from Mercedes, which will retain Lewis Hamilton and George Russell for two more years, and from Haas, which will stay put with Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg. Another recent piece of news came from Aston Martin, as the team announced that Lance Stroll will remain at the team owned by his father, despite recent speculation.
At Ferrari, both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will enter the final year of their contracts next year. Whilst the Monegasque is very close to an extension of his contract, the situation is unclear about the Spaniard, who has been linked to the joint project of Sauber and Audi for the future.
Alpine had already signed Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly to multi-year contracts, so it is no surprise that the two Frenchmen will remain at the team. Its focus will be on the structure of the team, where changes are already underway. The final confirmed lineup is the one at McLaren, which has tied its youthful duo of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri to long-term contracts.
F1 2024 Silly Season: The situation for the Red Bull teams
Then, there is the speculation about both Red Bull and Alpha Tauri. Obviously, the one seat that is secured is the one occupied by the soon-to-be three time World Champion, Max Verstappen. The Dutchman will be at the Milton Keynes team for a long time to come, as last year he signed an extension that will keep him there until 2028.
Sergio Perez has a contract that ties him to Red Bull for 2024, but whether that will be honoured is in doubt. There is a possibility that the Mexican will be replaced, especially if his performances do not improve and become more consistent for the final part of 2023. With Helmut Marko and Red Bull known to be ruthless in managing their drivers, a lot hangs in the balance.
But who would be in line to replace him, if he is dropped? The first, and most possible, contender is Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian was left without a seat at the end of 2022, when he was let go by McLaren. He immediately signed as Red Bull’s test and reserve driver and, when Nyck de Vries was sacked after performing disappointingly, he returned to the Formula 1 grid with Alpha Tauri.
His return was very much perceived as an effort to get a Red Bull seat amidst increasing pressure on Perez, who was in a slump. The 34-year-old performed well in his first two races back, but the hand injury he sustained in Zandvoort is a setback, as he is set to miss two more races at least. The better he performs when he comes back, the bigger his chances of replacing Perez become.
The second name mentioned in the rumour mill is Yuki Tsunoda. The Japanese driver’s performances is also going to be assessed against the known quality of Ricciardo and, in case he performs well against him there is no reason to believe he will not be a contender for the second Red Bull seat.
If Perez is replaced, the situation at Alpha Tauri will become much clearer. Whoever of Ricciardo and Tsunoda does not the Red Bull drive, will remain at the Italian team and be partnered by Liam Lawson. The Kiwi has impressed with his performances in the first two Grands Prix, as well as a very good rookie campaign at the Super Formula championship, over in Japan.
Of course, the situation gets trickier if Perez stays put, as Alpha Tauri -which is set to change its name next season- will have to choose two of the three drivers. Tsunoda is performing well and has the connection with Honda, Ricciardo will look to remain in contention for a promotion when Perez’s contract ends and Lawson is an up-and-coming driver from the Red Bull Junior Team.
F1 2024 Silly Season: Two more seats up for grabs
Other than the Red Bull teams, there are two more that are looking to complete their lineups. The seats of Alexander Albon and Valtteri Bottas are very much safe at Williams and Alfa Romeo, which is also set to change its name in preparation for Audi joining the team in 2026. But their teammates are yet to be decided.
Logan Sargeant can feel the pressure on his shoulders increasing, as his rookie campaign is coming to its final stretch. While Albon has gone on to score 21 points so far in 2023, the American is yet to finish in the top ten. There have been signs of improvement, but he has failed to beat his teammate in any qualifying session or race and a few crashes have weakened his case to stay.
The primary contender to replace Sargeant if he is dropped is Mick Schumacher, who was left without a drive at the end of 2022 and became the test and reserve driver at Mercedes. Of course, the German manufacturer is Williams’ engine supplier and formerly utilised the connection to give George Russell a seat. Yuki Tsunoda has also been mentioned, if he is dropped from Alpha Tauri.
Over at Alfa Romeo, there is one seat up for grabs too. Guanyu Zhou is the big favourite to stay though, as his improvement has meant he has been on par with Bottas much more consistently over the course of 2023. His big backing from Chinese sponsors is a big plus as well and it will be a big help for Sauber, as it will lose the Alfa Romeo sponsorship and naming rights next season.
The driver with the outside chance is the team’s academy driver, Theo Pourchaire. The 20-year-old has been a member of the Sauber Academy since 2019 and since then he has gone on to finish as runner up in both Formula 3, in 2020, and Formula 2, in 2022. This year, in his third F2 season, he is currently leading the championship with a healthy margin with two race to spare.
He has been labelled as future Sauber driver for a few years, but Zhou’s performance makes matters more difficult for him. Additionally, he has announced that this will be his final Formula 2 season, so where he lands next season remains to be seen.
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