Analysis | One driver plays a crucial role in the race for the 2025 seats

Formula 1 teams are back from holidays and are now preparing for the Dutch Grand Prix. In addition, a number are already cautiously looking towards 2024 and beyond. Several drivers have contracts that expire after the ’24 season. The driver movement could start before the turn of the year. In this, one driver plays an extremely crucial role.

For months now, Sergio Perez has been the subject of much speculation: Red Bull Racing‘s Christian Horner reiterated at Spa that Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo are waiting in the wings to replace Perez from 2025. By the way, the Mexican has not been written off by his team boss either: if Max Verstappen‘s teammate performs satisfactorily, Horner definitely sees it as an option to extend Perez’s commitment, the reigning world champion’s team boss said at Spa.

So for 2025, options abound for Red Bull, who are expected to first look in-house for a second man alongside Verstappen. Lando Norris, whose name regularly crops up on the rumour circuit, is signed to McLaren until the end of 2025. If Red Bull wishes to make any attempt at all to release Norris from the British team, there will be a hefty ransom in return.

Mercedes keeps everything as it is

Little seems to change at Mercedes in 2025 either. If Lewis Hamilton (finally) reveals after the summer break that he has extended his expiring commitment with the Germans, he will almost certainly stay with the team until the end of 2025. Regarding teammate George Russell, it is not officially clear when his contract with Mercedes expires, but it is until at least the end of 2024. Russell is the intended leader of the Mercedes team after Hamilton – where, incidentally, he is like a fish out of water – and the German and the Brit will be keen to continue their partnership for many years to come.

Aston Martin has Lance Stroll under contract, and as long as his father/team owner Lawrence accepts his son driving the ambitious team’s car around the middle of the pack, his place is assured. No contract needs to be signed for that. Fernando Alonso is contracted until the end of 2024, but given his own form and the huge strides Aston Martin is making, it is easy to imagine the Spaniard wanting to stay beyond 2024.

After all, it would not be the first time Alonso leaves somewhere, and the following year the same team has a race-winning car. Yuki Tsunoda may also be an option for the green brigade because of his links with Honda – Aston Martin’s engine supplier from a year later – providing Red Bull Racing ignore the Japanese driver again.

Ferrari driver the centre of the transfer market

Most interesting is the situation at Ferrari. Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz‘s contracts expire after 2024. Leclerc is a true Ferrari driver; the Monegasque fits the Italian marque’s model. Moreover, Leclerc was trained by Ferrari themselves and is seen as a world champion-to-be. Leclerc has no place at Red Bull and Mercedes, so what would his alternative be? Leclerc already indicated he was in talks with Ferrari about a new commitment, but – despite rumours to the contrary – there is no white smoke yet.

Of Carlos Sainz, the future is a lot more unclear. He is the man who could just turn the driver market upside down for 2025. On several occasions, the Spaniard has indicated he would like clarity on his contract after 2024 before the end of the current season. Uncertainty about the future has negatively affected his performance in the past – Sainz said – and he, therefore, hopes to have clarity before the turn of the year.

Officially, Sainz is keen to extend his contract with Ferrari, but it is an open secret that he is sometimes annoyed by how things are going within the Italian team. Like the outside world, Sainz will also feel that Ferrari are focusing on Leclerc. In other words, things must get very strange if he is ever to become the team leader at Ferrari.

‘Audi likes Sainz’

He could reportedly fill such a role at Audi’s future factory team. Indeed, the German brand only steps into Formula 1 from 2026. Signing Sainz already for ’25 at Sauber, letting him get used to the team and emphatically involved in developing the first Audi F1 sounds extremely plausible. Sainz could undoubtedly sign a long-term commitment in southern Germany, meaning he would not have to worry about the future. A win-win situation for all parties, then.

Sainz leaving Ferrari – and it is realistic to imagine more clarity on this already during the current season – would be the first domino to fall in the transfer market. Because after that, the question is: who could replace Sainz at Ferrari? Looking at the current F1 field, few drivers have the qualities needed for Ferrari AND are free in 2025. Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly lack that little bit extra, while men like Bottas, Hulkenberg and Magnussen have their most successful time in F1 behind them. Only Alexander Albon seems to be a serious option up front. With Oliver Bearman (18 years old), Ferrari may have top talent in their academy, but the Italians are not the team to put young, inexperienced drivers in one of the red cars.

Bearman would be an excellent driver for Williams though, having matured for a second season in Formula 2. Theo Pourchaire is a serious candidate to drive at Sauber from 2025, but the Swiss will no doubt only get the Frenchman if Sainz is in. With the transformation to Audi, Sauber will surely not choose to put an average driver like Guanyu Zhou alongside an inexperienced Pourchaire or a Bottas, who seems to have completely lost speed these days. Even for Haas (with the Ferrari engines), Bearman – if Hulkenberg and Magnussen sway – would be a good option in 2024 if alongside a more experienced driver.

But this would mean a transfer on the fringes. First of all, we have to wait and see what Sainz does. Only then can all the puzzle pieces slide together.

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