Feature F1 Unlocked
DRIVER MARKET: There are no changes this season, but who could be on the move for 2025?
For the first time in Formula 1 history, the grid for the coming season is exactly the same as the previous year with not one single driver change – but a repeat for 2025 is less likely with plenty of contracts set to expire and several teams looking to freshen up their line-ups. F1 Correspondent Lawrence Barretto casts his eye over those who will be available from 2025 and beyond…
World champion Max Verstappen is staying put at Red Bull until at least the end of 2028, while Mercedes have locked in Lewis Hamilton and George Russell until the end of 2025. McLaren also have Lando Norris until the end of 2025 and Oscar Piastri to the end of 2026. If Lance Stroll stays at his father Lawrence’s Aston Martin team, that leaves 14 driver contracts drawing to a close on December 31.
Perez’s seat to lose at Red Bull
As the reigning world champions and current class-leaders in F1, Sergio Perez’s seat at Red Bull will be one of the most sought after. Team Principal Christian Horner has said it’s the Mexican’s seat to lose. Do a good job – and improve significantly in qualifying where he struggled in 2023 – and the team have no reason to change.
Fail to do so and Red Bull can dip into their driver pool which includes Daniel Ricciardo, Yuki Tsunoda and Liam Lawson.
As it stands, it is believed Ricciardo tops senior management’s list of suitable replacements. The Australian will need to get back to his very best this year, and with many insiders feeling his AlphaTauri team will make a big step forward this year in terms of competitiveness, there’s a strong chance he’ll deliver.
That’ll give Red Bull a good kind of headache, as a 2018-spec Ricciardo might be too strong an option to turn down.
All to play for at AlphaTauri
Should AlphaTauri become more competitive this year, as they begin a new era led by former Ferrari Sporting Director Laurent Mekies, their seats will become even more sought after.
Red Bull Motorsport Adviser Helmut Marko has hinted Liam Lawson is likely to get a race seat for 2025, but for that to happen, Ricciardo or Tsunoda need to make way.
That call will be made for them if Ricciardo steps up to Red Bull, as it’s likely that another good season for Tsunoda will be enough to keep him alongside the returning Lawson.
But if Tsunoda or Ricciardo struggle, it would be a no brainer for Red Bull to slot Lawson in for one of them.
Ferrari set to stick rather than twist
A busy end to 2023, with Ferrari locked in a battle with Mercedes for P2 (which they ultimately lost), meant there was not much time for chatter about contract renewals for Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
Both are keen to get their futures sorted soon – ideally before the start of the season – and there appears to be desire from senior management at Ferrari to get that done.
Sources say contract talks with Leclerc are taking precedence, with the Scuderia keen to ensure the driver they handed a huge contract for the last cycle continues his stay at the Prancing Horse for the foreseeable.
Once that is done and dusted, Ferrari are likely to move quickly to lock Sainz down. The Spaniard is keen on a two-year deal to give stability and take him into the first season of the new rules cycle (in 2026) where Ferrari have a chance to make a big leap forward.
If an agreement can’t be done, Ferrari have no shortage of options to look upon with Alex Albon possibly one of the most highly-rated that is available. But as it stands, retaining Leclerc and Sainz is understood to be the priority.
Albon set to be a wanted man
Albon’s stock in Formula 1 has never been higher, the Thai driver essentially single-handedly guiding Williams to P7 in the constructors’ championship last season.
Sources say Williams are very keen to keep him beyond 2024 as they want to make him a focal point of their rebuild – and Albon is open to such a move if they make a big step again this year.
But equally Albon knows that he has several admirers elsewhere in the paddock, and it would make sense for him to at least hear them out and explore what’s on offer. He’s done more than enough to prove he can deliver at a high level consistently – and a move to a bigger team further up the grid would be a logical next step while his stock is high.
Logan Sargeant has a second season to prove he belongs in F1 after a low-key rookie campaign. The American will need to be much closer to Albon this season if he wants to make it into year three.
Should Williams make a good step – and there’s a good chance that can happen given they stopped development on their 2023 car after race eight to throw everything at 2024 – they will suddenly become a more attractive proposition and for the first time in years, give them more choice in the driver market.
Aston want Alonso to stay
Team Principal Mike Krack has made no secret of the fact he would love Fernando Alonso to stay beyond the end of 2024 – and sources say senior personnel within the team back that view.
It’s up to Alonso, then, to decide if he wants to stay. Right now, he looks to be loving it and should Aston Martin make a step on their 2023 performance and give him a car that can achieve more than the eight podiums he clocked up, it’s difficult to imagine how this partnership won’t continue into 2025.
Equally, it’s difficult to imagine a world where Lance Stroll isn’t driving an Aston Martin while his father remains the owner, so it’s almost certain he’ll stay put for 2025 too.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in 2026, though, when Honda become their works engine partner. Should Tsunoda kick on this year and again next year, might the Japanese manufacturer want to take the racer they’ve long mentored and financially supported to Aston?
Alpine have both seats free for 2025
Esteban Ocon’s lengthy contract comes to an end this year, with the Frenchman having impressed during his stay at the Enstone team.
He outscored double world champion Fernando Alonso in 2022 and was only four points adrift of Pierre Gasly last year despite seven DNFs.
Gasly settled in well at Alpine and achieved his principal goal of beating Ocon – but like his team mate, must negotiate a new deal if he is to extend his stay.
Alpine are in the midst of a overhaul, having lost a string of senior management last year – the majority of whom will have made the calls to recruit both Ocon and Gasly – and while those now in charge are believed to be happy with what their driver line-up delivered in 2023, they will play the market given how many good drivers are potentially available.
Sauber-run Stake have Audi in mind
While Alpine may be interested in keeping Ocon for another season, sources say Sauber-run Stake have the Frenchman very high up on their list as they prepare the operation to become Audi in 2026.
He is one of a number of drivers CEO Andreas Seidl is believed to be assessing as he looks to morph the team first into a serial midfield contender and then an operation that can fight for podiums, wins and ultimately championships.
Audi’s imminent arrival – and the financial backing a manufacturer brings – will be an attractive proposition for drivers in the medium-term and therefore it is unsurprising that Seidl has held meetings with driver managers up and down the grid about the future.
Incumbents Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu will have the opportunity to make their cases this year.
Ten-time race winner Bottas is super hungry to keep racing – and would love to spearhead Audi’s challenge. Zhou made a step last year and will finally get a chance to race in front of his home crowd when China returns to the calendar in April. Both, though, need to up their respective games.
Haas in no rush to decide on 2025 line-up
Haas stuck with their strategy of running experience when they handed Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen new deals for 2024.
Thinking about their 2025 line-up will be nowhere near the top of Gene Haas and Guenther Steiner’s agenda right now, with the full focus on getting the team back in the midfield fight after finishing last in 2023.
That means Hulkenberg and Magnussen will likely have most of the season to prove they should stay on for another year.
Haas will also consider taking a Ferrari junior, particularly someone like Oliver Bearman who impressed when he drove for them in two FP1 sessions and the young driver test in Abu Dhabi and is highly-rated by them and Ferrari.
Outside of the current crop on the grid, there are several rising stars who could be in contention for a seat.
Last year’s F2 champion Theo Pourchaire will fulfil reserve duties for Sauber-run Stake this year and be pushing to earn promotion to a race drive next year.
And Felipe Drugovich, F2 champion in 2022, still has dreams of turning his Aston Martin reserve role into a race seat.
However, perhaps the most intriguing prospect lies within the Silver Arrows family in the form of Andrea Antonelli, who is more commonly known by his middle name Kimi.
The Italian joined the Mercedes junior programme in 2019 and has been a serial winner in single-seater racing since, last year winning the Middle Eastern edition of Formula Regional before triumphing in the European version by Alpine, too.
So highly-rated is the 17-year-old, he’s skipping F3 and heading straight for F2 this year, debuting in the series with Prema alongside Bearman. Deliver the kind of rampant success he has shown so far and he could yet be a contender for a seat next year.
While there would be no room for him at Mercedes, Toto Wolff could perhaps look to place him at another team to build up his experience. He did just that with George Russell at Williams – and they might be on the look out for a driver anyway in '25...