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Formula 1

What’s going on with F1’s unfilled 2021 seats

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
6 min read

Even though the final grand prix of the 2020 Formula 1 season is over, there are still officially three spots open on the 2021 grid, including one in the championship-winning car.

Two are foregone conclusions, the other is still a battle. And it’s not just significant drivers’ contracts that aren’t settled.

Here’s how things stand in those yet-to-be-done deals, with the latest from the protagonists and our expectation of when everything will be sealed.


Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Abu Dhabi F1When will it be done?

Hamilton and Mercedes have indicated it is a formality for a long time but now there are just a couple of weeks left before Hamilton becomes a ‘free agent’ – “does something like a free agent exist in F1?” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff joked.

The process of ensuring it does not will start this week and hopefully be done before Christmas, says the seven-time world champion.

Why’s it not happened yet?

Hamilton and Wolff said it was not a priority during the coronavirus-hit season, especially while the drivers’ and constructors’ titles were not yet settled.

It was then shunted to ‘after the season’ by the time the championships had been sealed.

Lewis Hamilton

And Hamilton contracting COVID-19 meant a further disruption that Wolff said put contract negotiations completely out of sight and mind.

So here we are, with 18 days left of 2020, and Hamilton’s still not got a deal done.

Nov 23 : Criticisms of Lewis Hamilton – fair or false?

What have they said?

Hamilton was asked when the process of hammering out his new deal will be completed, and said: “Hopefully over the next couple of weeks. We would love to get it done before Christmas, I think.

“I plan to be here next year; I want to be here next year. I think us, as a team, have more to do together and more to achieve in the sport but even more outside the sport I think.

“So yeah, I hope we can begin this week, discussions, and hopefully get it tied up before Christmas.”

Wolff added: “There’s no reason that shouldn’t happen. We’ve just got to sit down, maybe virtually, maybe live.”


Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, F1When will it be done?

Imminently. The Red Bull/Honda protege has been nailed on for this seat since the Formula 2 season ended and his superlicence was secured.

But if you ask Kvyat, the answer’s probably “too late”. Because while it’s been indicated to him AlphaTauri wants Tsunoda he has suggested he’s still not been formally informed of the team’s plans – which is probably a little disrespectful, even if we all know he’s getting the boot.

Why’s it not happened yet?

Initially because there was no guarantee Tsunoda would be eligible to race in F1 next year.

The 2018 Japanese Formula 4 champion made the step to international racing last year and had an impressive but largely understated Formula 3 season with the unfancied Jenzer team.

That meant a lowly ninth place in the championship standings, dovetailed with a solid but unspectacular season racing ‘real’ (read: traditional) F3 cars in Euroformula Open.

What that meant was Tsunoda getting a superlicence this year was not a formality. He needed to finish in the top five in the FIA F3 championship.

In the meantime he made his F1 test debut at Imola in a 2018 car, ostensibly to get him the mileage needed to qualify for a Friday free practice superlicence should AlphaTauri want to run him in FP1.Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri F1

It was also a good taster for his appearance in the upcoming post-season test in Abu Dhabi, after which Tsunoda – who one week ago secured third in the F2 standings and by extension earned his superlicence – will surely be confirmed for 2021.

What have they said?

One week ago in Bahrain, Tsunoda didn’t even seem completely on top of his F2 and superlicence permutations, let alone sure what to say about his future.

He said he was unaware his victory in the final feature race of the F2 season had clinched him a top-five championship finish with one race remaining, and was not sure if he still had a title shot either.

Tsunoda was also coy over his F1 prospects, but we all know (and he knows) it’s coming.

As for Kvyat, he’s cut a frustrated figure.

“I don’t know,” he said about his options beyond 2020 after finishing 11th in Abu Dhabi.

“I don’t really care right now, I’m just thinking about this race. It was quite frustrating. It’s a shame because I wanted to finish on a high.”


Alex Albon, Red Bull, Abu Dhabi F1When will it be done?

According to Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, in the coming days. A resolution on Albon’s future was shifted to the end of the season so Red Bull could assess him against Sergio Perez, who is out-of-contract.

And Horner says that decision will not take long to reach, indicating Albon will get his wish of knowing his fate before Christmas.

Dec 13 : Abu Dhabi Grand Prix review

Why’s it not happened yet?

Because Albon’s not done as Red Bull asked and justified his place. Which has frustrated Red Bull because it has been quite keen to confirm him (and it would be an easy move politically given the Thai part of Red Bull’s ownership) and not exactly set the bar high.

Sergio Perez Alex Albon Racing Point Red Bull F1 2020 Sakhir GP

A particularly bad run of performances and results for Albon only amplified Red Bull’s doubts, particularly with Perez out of a drive and having no alternative deals to sign. The same went for another out-of-contract option, Nico Hulkenberg.

With no rush to make a decision and options either way, Red Bull’s just let this one drag out.

What have they said?

“Going into this weekend the focus was to do the best job I can and leave it into the hands of the others,” said Albon. “On my side, I’m happy with how I’ve delivered under the circumstances, all the talk.

“It was quite a weird feeling going into the weekend, but to have a good result I’m relatively proud.”

Horner said Albon’s fifth place in qualifying, at a closer-than-ever deficit to Verstappen, and run to fourth in the race just behind the two Mercedes combined for Albon’s most complete weekend of the year.

But he stopped short of indicating it had given his hopes of being retained a major boost, simply stating it was the performance the team expected.

Expected 2021 F1 driver line-up

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas
Red Bull-Honda: Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez/Alex Albon
McLaren-Mercedes: Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris
Aston Martin-Mercedes: Lance Stroll, Sebastian Vettel
Alpine: Esteban Ocon, Fernando Alonso
Ferrari: Carlos Sainz Jr, Charles Leclerc
AlphaTauri-Honda: Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda
Alfa Romeo-Ferrari: Kimi Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi
Haas-Ferrari: Mick Schumacher, Nikita Mazepin
Williams-Mercedes: George Russell, Nicholas Latifi

Drivers in italics yet to be decided/announced


Toto Wolff, Mercedes F1When will it be done?

Here’s the non-driver missing piece: the long-running saga over Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.

Like Hamilton he has a Mercedes contract and like Hamilton it expires this year. Which means not very long to negotiate a new one to ensure Mercedes retains the services of its leader.

Why’s it not happened yet?

Similarly to Hamilton, because there’s been no rush to. Wolff has indicated a desire to stay at Mercedes despite constant speculation linking him to an exit. But there have been bigger priorities.

One of the delays was said to be over whether Wolff remains team principal or moves to a higher, over-arching position. It seems the need for a replacement, and whether the ideal replacement would be ready to quickly slot in, complicated that because Wolff has subsequently suggested he will be leading the team again next year.

Essentially, Wolff needs to actually sit down with his superiors and thrash out exactly what his job will be and for how much longer.

What have they said?

“Watch this space,” is all Wolff would comment.

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