F1 silly season steps up a gear after Haas announcement
By Mat Coch
Friday 23rd October, 2020 - 12:00pm
The Formula 1 silly season has stepped up a gear following news that Haas has dumped both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean for 2021.
Yesterday the team confirmed both drivers were set to leave the operation, with Grosjean stating Team Principal Guenther Steiner described it was a financial decision.
Though owned by billionaire Gene Haas, speculation surrounding the future of Haas has swirled for a number of months.
That went so far as to suggest the team could simply call time on F1 sooner rather than later, but in recent months it reaffirmed its place on the grid by signing the latest incarnation of the Concorde Agreement, binding it to the sport for at least another year.
A change in driving roster is a significant development though, especially since there are a myriad of potential replacements currently on the market.
In total, three teams are yet to announce their driver lineups, namely AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo, and Haas, while neither Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Alex Albon (Red Bull) have been confirmed beyond the end of the current season.
On course to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven World Drivers’ Championships, Hamilton is expected to renew his contact for potentially another three years.
At Red Bull, things are less certain for Albon with Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg, and Pierre Gasly all linked to that drive.
Publicly the British-born Thai driver has the support of Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, but there is no hiding away from the fact that he has been comprehensively overshadowed by Max Verstappen in 2021.
Hulkenberg has demonstrated his well documented ability with three cameo performances for Racing Point this year (two, if you exclude the DNS in the British Grand Prix), and while that door is closed for next season courtesy of Sebastian Vettel’s arrival he remains one of the most attractive free agents on the market.
That said, he’d be the first driver appointed to a Red Bull seat from outside its programme since Mark Webber joined the team in 2007.
The other option is Perez, who comes with both an abundance of talent and strong backing, the latter of which is less important to the squad.
Instead, that could prove useful to a team such as Williams, with the Mexican linked with the seat occupied by George Russell for next year.
Speaking to Speedcafe.com prior to the team being sold, Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams confirmed that Russell was to remain with the operation for 2021.
Under new ownership, the Mercedes-backed driver has been the subject of growing speculation despite his strong performances.
Such a move would put a highly rated youngster on the market, but with no Mercedes aligned seats currently available it’s possible he’ll be sidelined for a season in the same way Esteban Ocon was.
Of the three teams without a confirmed driver, two of them are aligned with Ferrari.
While Haas’ relationship is largely technical in its nature, Alfa Romeo is somewhat more closely linked, with the Scuderia having input into driver selection.
That is how Antonio Giovinazzi found his way there, and is how the likes of Mick Schumacher could do the same for 2021.
There is something of a log jam in the Ferrari Driver Academy with Schumacher, Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman all waiting in the wings.
The former two were scheduled for testing outings at the Eifel Grand Prix with Alfa Romeo and Haas before conditions saw opening practice cancelled, while Shwartzman is slated for an outing at Abu Dhabi come year’s end.
It is not irrational to suggest Ferrari could leverage those relationships and place one or more of its drivers at either of those teams, using them as a pseudo AlphaTauri of sorts.
At Red Bull, things are equally unclear, with a similarly long laundry list of names linked to both its teams.
Hulkenberg and Perez have both been mooted by Marko as viable candidates for the seat currently occupied by Albon, which therefore begs the question as to where the Thai driver ends up.
AlphaTauri currently has Pierre Gasly, who has been in strong form, and Daniil Kvyat, who seems on the way out.
Japanese Formula 2 driver Yuki Tsunoda has been tipped as a possible candidate for Kvyat’s seat, which on the surface would make the other a straight fight between Albon and Gasly.
Of the two, Gasly has been the more impressive in 2021, but he didn’t perform when in the senior team in 2020.
How that one resolves itself will be a case of who Marko and Red Bull sees as a strong long-term prospect while another youngster looks destined to be turfed.
All told, it creates for a fascinating silly season with next year’s grid to look rather different no matter what happens from here.
2021 F1 driver contracts
|Team||Driver 1||Driver 2|
|Mercedes||(Lewis Hamilton)||Valtteri Bottas (2021)|
|Ferrari||Charles Leclerc (2024)||Carlos Sainz (2022)|
|Red Bull||Max Verstappen (2023)||(Alex Albon)
|McLaren||Daniel Ricciardo (2021+)||Lando Norris (2021)|
|Alpine||Fernando Alonso (2022)||Esteban Ocon (2021)|
|Aston Martin||Sebastian Vettel (2021+)||Lance Stroll|
|Alfa Romeo||Antonio Giovinazzi
|Williams||George Russell (2021)
|Nicholas Latifi (2021)|