After the last two races in F1 gave everyone enough to talk about, from incidents on track to Esteban Ocon’s first win in Formula 1, the summer break has started and that’s usually a time where the silly season starts. A season where it’s all about rumors and gossip about drivers’ transfers.
Last year some transfers were announced very early with Sebastian Vettel being dropped by Ferrari, which started a chain reaction. Sainz took his seat, while Ricciardo took Sainz’ seat at McLaren and Alonso returned to F1 by taking the vacant seat from the Aussie.
This year there are two key stones that could cause a similar chain reaction. The first and biggest one is all about the second seat at Mercedes. Will they retain Bottas or replace him with Russell. The second one is about Kimi Räikkönen. Will he retire at 41 or stay on for another season? Let’s have a look at the possible scenarios in both cases.
Before we do that, let’s have a look at who is already confirmed for next season:
Although in theory there are still 8 seats left, some seats are very much likely to be filled, but just need official confirmation. We’re talking about Red Bull’s 2nd seat, which will most likely be Perez, who despite his victory in Azerbaijan hasn’t really convinced yet, but expectations are that he will get another year in the Red Bull. Also at Red Bull, but in their second team, Yuki Tsunoda has made quite some rookie mistakes but will get his contract renewed for 2022. Williams is quite happy with Latifi for multiple reasons. The money his family brings to the team is very welcome and on track he is not doing a bad job and even scored his first points last weekend, just ahead of George Russell. Haas would like to retain the services of Mick Schumacher, but is dependent on what happens at Alfa Romeo, but he will drive next season, most likely he’ll stay at the American squad. And last in this list, Antonio Giovianizzi is likely to stay at Alfa Romeo.
All in all that would give us the following line up:
That leaves us with just three seats left. As promised, let’s have a look at the possible scenarios.
Scenario 1: Bottas stays at Mercedes.
Most F1 fans have the firm believe George Russell is a better driver than Valtteri Bottas and deserves the seat at Mercedes. For the Brackley based team there’s more to it than just placing the best driver in the seat. It’s also about chemistry. What gives you as a team the best chance to win the drivers’ title? Two drivers fighting for one bone or one helping the other out? Or, maybe not the most popular opinion, what makes your star driver happy? In my opinion, the Mercedes team will not change the line up as long as they’re winning. But are they winning? That’s too early to say, as they’re in a very heated battle with Red Bull for both the drivers and constructors title and although they are leading now, we’re only halfway through the season and the lead will probably change multiple times before we get to the final showdown at Abu Dhabi. So from a Mercedes perspective, their star driver is staying for another 2 years, they’re leading both championships, so why change what works? So let’s say Valtteri stays put for another year. That will automatically mean that George will stay at Williams and just leaves us the question if Kimi is retiring.
Kimi’s possible replacements? Let’s name a few:
- Ferrari let’s Mick move up in the ranks from Haas.
- Sauber junior Pourchaire gets a chance.
- As the French future star is still very young they may want to wait for another year and put in a temporary driver until Pourchaire is more ready. Just for one year they hire a driver like Hulkenberg.
- A Ferrari Junior like Callum Ilott (already their reserve driver) or Robert Shwartzman. Both are young and talented and have enough F1 License points.
- Another stop gap for 1 year could be current reserve driver and veteran Robert Kubica. Not very likely, but not impossible.
Scenario 2: Russell replaces Bottas at Mercedes.
Okay let’s say they do give Russell the opportunity to drive for the Mercedes team. What does that mean for Bottas and for the team Russell leaves behind, Williams? The easiest option would be to just swap drivers. Bottas would go back to the team he made his debut for and will race there for a few years before he retires. But will Williams want a driver that is in his 30’s, been dropped by a championship team for not performing good enough and that may be demotivated due to his sacking by Mercedes. Or the other way around, will a driver that has been in the top 3 of the championship in the last few years want to go to a team that has been dead last on the grid for 3 years? His only other realistic option is replacing fellow Finnish driver Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo. In this last case that would leave a gap at Williams. Let’s have a look at who could fill that seat if Bottas is not their choice.
- Nico Hulkenberg. The sympathetic German is still trying to make a fulltime comeback, but is already in his 30’s and if they don’t want Bottas, why would they want a driver that’s even older and has a much lesser resume? It makes Nico an option, but not a very likely one.
- Nick de Vries. Formula 2 champion, now leader in the Formula E championship. A Mercedes driver who is a reserve for the Brackley squad and has recently been mentioned by Toto Wolffe as someone who deserves a chance in F1. Also fits the profile of young, very talented and someone you could build a future with. Oh and is George Russell’s brother-in-law, so a good word from their current star driver might even help.
- Daniil Kvyat. The former Red Bull driver is still hanging around in F1 as Renault’s simulation driver and would like to return to the grid. Still young, but unlikely to make another return.
- A Renault/Alpine Junior. The french squad has a big pool of young talents like Zhou or Lundgaard, but no free seats at their own team. They would love to see one of their young talents getting some F1 experience, but Williams will probably prefer someone for the long term.
- Daniel Ticktum. Until 2 days ago this was a very serious option. The young british driver is very talented, has won on all levels, but this young man has been released as Williams test/development driver earlier this week. Why? Because he was singing negative stuff about one of the Williams drivers in an online stream. This wasn’t the first time in his career that he did something controversial, or that his actions got him into trouble. You’d think that someone would learn as they get older. Daniel still has a lot of growing up to do.
- Jack Aitken. He already replaced Russell during the Sakhir GP last year. Although he did very well in his first two seasons in Formula 2, there hasn’t been much progression ever since. In fact 2020 was much worse than the year before and this season he’s not much more than a backmarker. The lack of results is most likely due to the teams he is driving for, but still, it doesn’t look great on your resume to be 4 years in a junior class with declining results.
Enough options for the Williams team if George leaves and they don’t hire Bottas, but not a clear number one candidate.
Enough scenario’s written. With the biggest key in the hands of Toto Wolff and the silly season starting we will soon know what will happen. But what do I think will happen? I think Mercedes will choose safety. To not change the current winning team and renew Bottas’ contract for one more year. After that, he will be replaced by George Russell to let the young brit learn alongside King Lewis in his final contract year, so he can take over as the team leader in 2024.
I can see Kimi retiring at the end of the season. He seems frustrated at times due to the lack of having a competitive car. His replacement will be current reserve Callum Ilott. Ferrari Junior and he’ll get a chance of one year to see if he can beat Giovinazzi. If he does, he has a future in F1. If he doesn’t he’s gone after a year.
So here’s my 2022 line up prediction:
Safe prediction? Maybe, but it would be the first ever time in Formula 1 that there would be only 1 change in driver line ups compared to the previous year.
Do you agree with me? Or not all? Do you think there are other options for Alfa Romeo or Williams? Let me know in the comments.