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Formula 1

F1's volatile market is putting a lot of drivers in a weird position

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
6 min read

Unprecedented stability in the Formula 1 grid is giving way to an increasingly volatile driver market as this season progresses.

That means 2025 is going to end up featuring a very different-looking grid – putting several drivers in a strange position until then.

Already in May, we know that at least four of the current 20 drivers are seeing out their final years with their teams before either seeking pastures new or being replaced by the successor that has already been lined up.

Lewis Hamilton’s impending Ferrari move puts both him and Carlos Sainz (the driver he is replacing) in that boat, as does Nico Hulkenberg usurping one of Valtteri Bottas or Zhou Guanyu with an early Sauber/Audi contract in his pocket for 2025.

The upheaval may go even further, as several other drivers are becoming increasingly aware that change is likely coming – they just don’t know in which form.

Sainz needs to find a seat somewhere, all four Red Bull drivers have some kind of question mark over them, both the current Sauber drivers could be replaced, and Hulkenberg’s exit is no guarantee that Kevin Magnussen will be retained by Haas.

Sauber’s Audi transformation is a fascinating variable because what is an unappealing current seat is possibly a really good one in a couple of years’ time. Haas looked like a terrible move six months ago, nobody would want to go there – but now it's a genuinely interesting midfield option again.

Then there’s a works team with potential vacancies (Alpine) that is inevitably attracting people despite underperforming, which partly goes for Williams as well under James Vowles and owner Dorilton – a combination with serious potential that makes it more appealing than results would suggest.

That’s a lot of balls to have up in the air. Some may land in the same place – but it’s not difficult to imagine a lot of drivers moving. Six or seven changes seem extremely likely when you factor in rookie prospects Liam Lawson, Ollie Bearman and Kimi Antonelli.

Even something so extreme as half the grid looking different is plausible - it only needs one or two more switches with significant knock-on effects.


This is fairly straightforward. Hamilton’s going to Ferrari, which displaces Sainz. He could go to Mercedes in a straight swap but is holding out for Red Bull – and is massively favoured by Audi to be part of that project.

But where he goes is less relevant than knowing he is definitely going. A similar logic could apply to the current Sauber drivers. We know Hulkenberg is moving from Haas to Sauber/Audi – which means at least one of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu needs to find a new seat.

That guarantees four changes, which is already an unusually big percentage of the grid spending more than three-quarters of the season driving for a team that they will be leaving in a few months.

Will that awkward position cause some friction? It's certainly worth watching for potential consequences. Sooner or later those drivers will be frozen out of simulator/development work, they may find themselves unfavoured against a team-mate who will still be there in a year’s time, there could be fireworks racing against said team-mate, or they might just lose a touch of motivation or focus.  

There’s no guarantee that happens. Look at how well Hamilton and Hulkenberg drove in the most recent race in Miami – neither looked like drivers about to phone it in.

But go back one event to Sainz and Leclerc having an unnecessarily tense wheel-to-wheel fight, and you can see the kind of scenario in which having one driver on their way out can easily cross over the line. 


There’s an interesting batch of drivers in limbo at the moment.

They could keep their seats, but they are not nailed on – either they do not feel particularly wanted, or like they themselves want to stay, or maybe even both.

For this category of drivers you have at least one of the Alpine pair – definitely Esteban Ocon – plus Bottas, and Kevin Magnussen.

But there are also Red Bull drivers to consider. Sergio Perez, you would think, is quite safe on his current form. If not, though, he will be seeking refuge. The same goes for Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda – the latter’s management is believed to have held discussion with several teams recently.

Not all the drivers in this group are in identical positions. Ocon, for instance, is performing very well but has been at Alpine for five seasons now. This would be a good time for both driver and team to have a fresh start, given the Renault works team has failed to live up to expectations.

Tsunoda’s doing very well at RB, but with key backer Honda separating from the Red Bull teams at the end of 2025, there is a clock on his future there. Especially as Red Bull seems to have no intention of considering him seriously for Red Bull Racing.

Bottas and Magnussen are in different positions and will perhaps be looking for any port in the storm.

It looks like neither is the first choice to be retained by their current employers. In Miami, Bottas had the air of a driver who was fed up with Sauber as well. Seeking another move looks as appealing to him as signing Sainz does to Sauber/Audi.  

Magnussen’s in his second spell at Haas (and his third chance in F1 overall) so if he does get bumped there it would likely be curtains for the Dane.

Another driver to consider is Alex Albon. While he is under contract at Williams for another year if his ultimate intention is to leave for 2026 anyway, then Williams may decide to let him depart early - with Albon someone of interest, to some extent, almost everywhere else. 


It would be slightly harsh to label this the ‘as good as gone’ group – but that is how it feels. And it’s not about losing their seats, it’s the threat of leaving F1 altogether.

With Bearman and Antonelli looking ever more likely to join the grid at the same time, that means two more chairs taken when the music stops for the current drivers still in the game - maybe three if Red Bull follows through with Helmut Marko's repeated hints that Lawson is getting a seat one way or another in 2025.

So, among the many changes are almost certainly going to be one or two departures – and there are two clear contenders for that.

Nobody has much faith in Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu staying at Williams and Sauber respectively beyond this season. Sargeant’s even the subject of a lot of speculation he could be replaced before the year even ends.

As mentioned previously, we know for certain that Zhou or Bottas are leaving Sauber. For Zhou, who has been solid at best in his two-and-a-bit years in F1, the case for someone else picking him up is weaker than his team-mate’s.

F1’s ruthless, and a performance business, so it will always cut from the bottom. Nobody would be surprised if two of the weakest drivers from the past two seasons disappeared.

But with the amount of upheaval on the cards, there could easily be one or two others who are ushered through the exit door as well. 

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