This year’s Formula One silly season has been a pale shadow of 2022 where driver shock announcements and contractual legal battles were the talk of the paddock week in and out. Mercedes finally extended Lewis Hamilton’s contract by two years although it wasn’t the big ‘end of career’ five year deal Hamilton had hoped for.
George Russell too has been awarded a drive at Mercedes until 2025 and Red Bull in Japan made it clear that Liam Lawson would be just a reserve driver for both teams as Tsunoda and Perez cling on for now.
Sainz contract ultimatum
A number of team are yet to formally announce their driver lineups for next season, but the well oiled paddock rumour mill appears to believe little will change for most teams.
Both Ferrari drivers are out of contract at the end of 2024 however Carlos Sainz has given the team a deadline of this “winter” to indicate whether he is to stay for 2025 and beyond.
The Spaniard issued a vague ultimatum stating, “I’m not going to lie, I don’t like going into my last year of a contract without really knowing where I’m racing the next year.
“I went through that process both with Red Bull and Renault, and I know it’s not ideal as an athlete, and as a driver. It’s just not the right thing. And that’s why I have put this winter as a reference to try and figure out my future,” said Sainz in June.
Rookie gets 3 year deal
McLaren have just awarded their star Australian rookie a three year extension which sees him committed for a year beyond Lando Norris whose five year deal expires in 2025.
With one year extensions handed to Zhou, Hulkenberg and Magnussen, Alfa Romeo and Haas F1 are certain of their drivers until the end of next season – as are Alpine.
This leaves Aston Martin and Williams both of whom have one driver in Fernando Alonso and Alex Albon committed for the long term, but each also have a driver each whose future is uncertain.
Lance Stroll, son of billions owner of Aston Martin is on a permanent one year rolling contract, though the performance gap to his team mate this season may finally awake the possibility in his father’s mind, that Aston Martin would have finished one or two places higher in the constructors’ championship had Alonso a better team mate.
Red Bull shuffle drivers
The almost universal opinion now is that Logan Sargeant who was recruited by the previous Williams team boss will be ending his one year stint in Formula One this season.
Sargeant had another abysmal weekend in Japan last time out crashing out of the race again and facing a 10 second time penalty being carried forward to Qatar with a pit lane start position.
Red Bull have been most exciting team this season in shuffling their driver line up which all began with the sacking of Nyck de Vries just ten races into his first season with Alpha Tauri.
In came Daniel Ricciardo who appeared to have the beating of Yuki Tsunoda despite having seven months not driving an F1 car competitively.
Then on his third weekend in Zandvoort, the Aussie broke his hand creating the opportunity for the Red Bull reserve driver Liam Lawson to make his F1 debut.
Lawson has beaten his experienced team mate hands down over the three Grand Prix events in which he has competed so far.
His average qualifying position is 13.00 (Tsunoda 13.88) and his average finishing place is 11.00 (Tsunoda 12.93) add to this that Lawson has scored two points in this time which has taken the team’s cumulative total for the season to five.
The big mystery then is why he has not been offered a seat with Red Bull for 2024.
Lawson delivers points
The Japanese company Honda supply Red Bull and their sister team with over units and when Tsunoda was recruited there would have been some accommodation between the parties to deliver a Japanese driver to the F1 grid.
Yet with Honda moving to Aston Martin in 2026, that leverage has faded and is surely not the reason Yuki has been retained over Lawson.
The Lawson “mastery” deepens further, given Williams will have an opening when Logan Sargeant moves on to his next venture in 2024.
The iconic British team has already stated they will not be recruiting Mick Schumacher which leaves them with a choice of Lawson or another promising but unproven rookie.
Lawson mysteriously rules out Williams
In Suzuka, Lawson ruled himself out of the running for the Williams seat following the announcement that Tsunoda would be staying
“I’m a Red Bull driver and the Red Bull seats are filled,” Lawson said. “Unfortunately for me that means that’s for now and I’ll be a reserve driver [for Red Bull],” said the New Zealander.
“I’m going to keep head down at the moment and try to make the most of these races. Ultimately my goal has been F1 from day one, so I’ll try and do what I can to achieve that in the future.”
Scott Mitchell-Malm of the Racer believes the ‘mystery’ surrounding Lawson refusing a Williams seat and settling to sit out the 2024 season as a Red Bull reserve lies with the troubles Sergio Perez has experienced this season.
Perez ‘on his way’
Back in 2021 because the Mexican failed to deliver a reasonable number of points compared to his team mate Verstappen, Red Bull lost the constructors’ championship, handing Mercedes their eight. Red Bull now have six instead of seven.
Again this year Sergio has almost half the points of Verstappen and with 2024 maybe a tighter fight between the F1 teams, Checo may once again let the side down.
“It’s the risk that Perez could cost them in a championship battle that would be so concerning for Red Bull,” Mitchell-Malm observed.
“As it is for 2024, I think he’s set, locked in, and as we know after this weekend, AlphaTauri will have Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda driving for them next year. Red Bull has initially named Liam Lawson as its reserve driver.
“It would be extremely surprising if something happens in the final six races for Red Bull to bin off Perez and name Lawson or anybody else alongside Verstappen for 2024,” concluded Scott.
Lawson will fill the gap
However given Red Bull’s previous record of removing a number of their drivers mid-season and replacing them, Perez starting next season may not mean he will finish it.
If the constructors’ battle is tighter and Perez is not delivering, “In that scenario, if you’ve got Ricciardo excelling at AlphaTauri, then maybe Red Bull would be inclined to dump Perez, put Ricciardo in the Red Bull.
“And because Lawson is hanging around – if he doesn’t get the Williams drive for 2024 – you could plonk him in the AlphaTauri alongside Tsunoda and just say goodbye to Perez,” suggests Mitchell-Malm.
Were Lawson to sign up with Williams if would be difficult contractually to pull him out mid-season to fill the gap in AlphaTauri created by a Perez departure.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 25, 2023
MORE F1 NEWS – Marko: “completely done with Perez”
Much has been written this season about the genius of Max Verstappen’s performances this season as he is set to claim the F1 drivers’ title in Qatar with a record number of Grand Prix remaining.
Yet unlike during the Mercedes era of dominance when more often than not their drivers came home in first and second place, much has been written about Sergio Perez inability to… READ MORE ON THIS ARTICLE