F1 driver market: George Russell vs Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes and the key decisions ahead for 2022
With all-new cars and all-new rules, Formula 1 2022 is already shaping up to be a cracker… and there could also be some key driver line-up changes. As the rumour mill continues to swirl with big seats up for grabs, we round up the latest news, who’s confirmed where and who could step in.
Mercedes: Bottas vs Russell to partner Hamilton
While Lewis Hamilton’s contract – unlike last year – has been sorted early in the season, with the seven-time champion committed until at least 2023, Mercedes have a big decision looming about his next team-mate, which looks set to be a straight battle between current occupier of the seat Valtteri Bottas, and rising star George Russell.
It is by no means the first time Bottas, on rolling one-year contracts since joining the team back in 2017, has been under pressure for his drive, although Russell, the Mercedes junior on loan at Williams, does seem a much more realistic prospect than ever before. That’s not just due to the pair’s somewhat contrasting 2021 form, but also because Russell’s three-year contract at Williams expires at the end of this season.
So do Mercedes opt for Russell, who got a taste of the seat last season and shone in Bahrain, or stick with Bottas, who has consistently delivered for the team? Toto Wolff and Mercedes seem torn – but have hinted a decision could be coming sooner rather than later.
Red Bull: Can Perez secure seat next to Verstappen?
Max Verstappen, like fierce title rival Hamilton, is locked in for two seasons after this one with his current team and set to lead Red Bull into F1’s new era. Sergio Perez will probably join him – although an extension to his one-year deal has not been confirmed yet.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner hinted at a swift negotiation back in July, but perhaps the famously rather cut-throat team want to see a little more from the Mexican, who has proved to be a much more reliable team-mate to Verstappen than his predecessors, but still has not quite been a consistent threat to Mercedes, particularly in qualifying.
If Perez is not retained, Pierre Gasly – who continues to shine at AlphaTauri – would be desperate to jump back into the senior team, with his current team-mate Yuki Tsunoda very much an outside bet due to his rookie struggles.
McLaren: Norris and Ricciardo to lead team long-term
McLaren are all set for 2022 with Lando Norris signing what the team would only state was a ‘multi-year’ deal back in May, while Daniel Ricciardo has a contract until 2023.
Ferrari: Sainz and Leclerc to get at least another year
Ferrari will also have a settled line-up next season, with Carlos Sainz signed up for next year – and in his current form you would suspect another renewal could be coming – while Charles Leclerc has one of the longest deals on the grid, until 2024. The likes of Mick Schumacher will have to wait.
Alpine: Ocon-Alonso partnership to continue
Fernando Alonso agreed a two-year deal upon returning to the sport this year while Esteban Ocon was rewarded for improved form with a new contract until 2024 in June. Alpine are all good to go.
They also have some very talented youngsters to keep an eye on for the future, with Oscar Piastri and Guanyu Zhou – first and second in the Formula Two championship currently – both part of their academy.
AlphaTauri: Gasly and Tsunoda to remain, unless…
Like usual, much of AlphaTauri’s strategy will be defined by Red Bull’s decisions, with both Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda technically out of contract at the end of the season. Team boss Franz Tost, however, has said that he would be more than happy to continue with his current pair, who are more than holding their own in the midfield.
Should something change, such as Gasly being drafted back to Red Bull, there could be room for a return for Alex Albon, who lost his Red Bull seat last year, while the senior team also have a few affiliated drivers in F2 – such as Juri Vips, Liam Lawson and Jehan Daruvala.
Aston Martin: Vettel and Stroll all but set for 2022
Sebastian Vettel is the only driver who Aston Martin have confirmed is signed up for next year – he has a contract until the end of 2022 – although Lance Stroll, the son of team owner Lawrence will almost certainly partner him. The pair have been evenly matched this season, the first of Aston Martin’s new F1 era.
Williams: All eyes on Russell, new line-up an option
Williams’ driver line-up for next season is one of the toughest to predict on the whole grid. The team would obviously sorely love to keep George Russell, although that decision will be out of their hands should Mercedes come calling. Nicholas Latifi, meanwhile, has stated his desire to stay with a team who are making strides under new management – but could they look elsewhere?
There are seemingly plenty of drivers on the lookout for 2022 seats, and Williams could well be a team to profit. The likes of Nico Hulkenberg and Alex Albon have been mooted, while even their former driver Valtteri Bottas could be available for a splash signing. There have also been rumours about Mercedes’ new Formula E champion, Nyck de Vries.
Alfa Romeo: Kimi & Giovinazzi or a new Ferrari youngster?
Alfa Romeo’s line-up is also pretty tricky to call, with both drivers out of contract. You would suspect Kimi Raikkonen would be most likely to leave, with F1’s record holder for race starts turning 42 in October. But while he has not been his best form this year, he is still very competitive on Sundays – and would Alfa let him go if the 2007 world champion wants to continue? Antonio Giovinazzi’s future is also unclear, although the Italian driver is well ahead of Kimi in the qualifying head-to-heads this year and also has nationality on his side.
If Alfa turned to a new driver, look out for one of Ferrari’s many highly-rated youngsters. Briton’s Callum Ilott would be a favourite, having driven for the team in practice this season, while F2 frontrunner Robert Shwartzman would also presumably be a contender.
Haas: Schumacher and Mazepin set to stay
Although neither Mick Schumacher or Nikita Mazepin are official for 2022, Haas were always thinking long-term when bringing an all-rookie line-up to this year’s grid – and Guenther Steiner has indicated both drivers are set to stay. Keeping hold of Schumacher would certainly be a coup for the team given their form this year.
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