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Formula 1

What's going on with Ferrari's 'late' F1 driver deals

by Jack Cozens, Edd Straw
5 min read

Considering the Formula 1 driver market is in a period of stasis right now, there's been a surprising amount of off-season interest in both Ferrari incumbents: Charles Leclerc, for the reported mega deal that takes him through to 2029, and Carlos Sainz, for the current impasse that makes him key to many potential 2025 movements.

It was unsurprising, then, that the subject of both drivers' contracts - both of which are up at the end of 2024 - came up when team principal Fred Vasseur faced the media at Ferrari's annual Christmas lunch at Maranello last week.

After all, Leclerc's new deal remains officially unannounced, while Sainz's position seems ever so slightly more precarious as the terms of his contract extension, specifically the length of it, appear to be a sticking point.

Communicating with his characteristic underlying calmness, Vasseur admitted Ferrari was behind schedule in resolving the future of its driver line-up but suggested that was more a result of the frantic nature of the late-season F1 calendar than a sign of any discord.

"They are under contract with us until the end of '24," he said. "It means that we still have 13 months in front of us.

"It's quite comfortable. Mercedes renewed the contracts [for 2024] by the end of August [2023], that means that we still have a lot of weeks and months in front of us.

"I told you one year ago that I will try to take a decision before the end of the year. I have to admit that the last part of the season was a big chaos for everybody, it was very demanding and we had meetings and we started the discussions but we are late compared to the initial plan.

"But it's not an issue at all, we are much in advance compared to Mercedes and we are easy on this that we will take a decision soon."

Beyond that calmness, Vasseur's avuncular characteristics, so categorised by Edd Straw, were in plain view as the questioning moved on to more specific timelines for having both Leclerc and Sainz signed to new deals.

In a jovial exchange involving Spanish journalists, Vasseur first responded "it could be the target" when asked if he expected Leclerc and Sainz to have signed before the start of the 2024 season, before predicting with a chuckle that the next question would also be about contract negotiations.

Asked, sure enough, whether there would be "something new" - on Sainz's contract - before January, Vasseur replied: "Before race one, yes", and he responded to a follow-up about the timeline (specifically Thursday February 13, Ferrari's 2024 launch date, being an unlucky day in Spain) with shorter shrift by saying: "I don’t care about this. It’s a matter of 'don’t force'. It’s not a matter of date of the launch."


The first year of Vasseur's reign as team principal does appear to have calmed a situation that was fraught with uncertainty after Mattia Binotto carried the can for Ferrari limping out of the 2022 F1 title race, but this has altered the dynamic for the drivers too.

Leclerc lacked the ultimate faith in Binotto that he clearly feels with Vasseur. Leclerc's relationship with Binotto looked irreparable towards the end of 2022 and that would likely have damaged Ferrari’s prospects of keeping Leclerc longer-term.

But Vasseur set out his stall early in indicating the team wanted to make Leclerc the focal point of this Ferrari project - a focal point he suggested is necessary for any team in a period of sustained dominance.

Ferrari needs Leclerc more than he needs it and the reported terms of his new deal, which if seen through to completion would mean an 11-year spell at the team, are reflective of that.

But if they are reflective also of the growing impression Ferrari is moulding itself around Leclerc, so in turn it becomes clearer why part of Sainz's future needs resolving.

Sainz - who was only six points behind Leclerc in the drivers' championship in 2023, and took the only non-Red Bull win of the season - wants a more lucrative and longer-term deal beyond his current contract, but Ferrari is reportedly reluctant to offer him more than a one-year deal with an option for 2026.

In a best-case scenario, that's three years shorter than what's being offered to Leclerc.

And so back to Vasseur, who skirted around the questions of whether Leclerc and Sainz were both long-term assets and would be offered the same length of contract by stressing neither driver had a designated role.

"We showed this season we have more than equal treatment between the drivers," Vasseur said.

"I remember perfectly one year ago in the same room that I had tons of questions about Charles number one and Carlos number two and 'blah blah' and 'blah blah'.

"Singapore [where Sainz won] was the best example when Charles agreed to start with soft [tyres] to jump [George] Russell and block Russell and when we asked Charles to slow down Russell he did it. But it meant they did a very good job together.

"It’s not that we had a number one, a bigger asset, or not - but two drivers that are doing a good job.

"Carlos was more than strong when he came back after the summer break, he had a very good sequence with Monza, Singapore and so on and it's probably also part of the good results of Charles at the end of the season to have this kind of positive emulation.

"I will continue in this direction, but I don’t want to have one good asset and another one not a good asset.

"We have two cars, two drivers, and one of the good points of the season is that they scored almost the same number of points.

"I will consider this last year in the same way, to give them exactly the same level of prestation [opportunity] and the same freedom or the same approach in the strategy of the race."

There is a degree of tranquility around Ferrari at the moment and its well-balanced driver line-up is surely playing a part in that.

It has what is on paper F1's most complementary driver pairing right now and Vasseur's comments reflect the fact Ferrari values this.

It has no reason to change that - nor does it seem to show any interest in doing so.

But ensuring its other "equal" asset feels valued appropriately will be crucial in satisfactorily concluding a period of contract negotiations that are now dragging on, when they looked initially like being relatively simple to resolve.

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