Musical Chairs ‘Silly Season’ expected ahead of F1’s 2026 Regulation Change
After a fairly tame winter break by F1 standards (with certainly no press releases put out without agreements) that sees the same grid line-up that finished the 2023 Season in Abu Dhabi, are things lining up for a chaotic shake up in 2024? Here is a rundown of all 14 drivers who are out of contract at the end of the upcoming season:
Will Charles Leclerc leave Ferrari?
Lauded as ‘il Predestinato’ by Tifosi, Charles Leclerc has come to embody Ferrari in its current form. Despite a tough start to the season spent grappling with a car that seemed to simply lack race pace over the Red Bull, Leclerc still managed to collect a number of impressive performances in 2023, winning five pole positions in qualifying. His race in Las Vegas with a last lap overtake on Sergio Perez also comes to mind, suggesting that with the right machinery Leclerc might just be able to challenge Verstappen.
One feels that it is Ferrari who have work to do in proving to Leclerc that they are capable of becoming a title-winning constructor once again. Given 16 years have elapsed since Kimi Raikkonen claimed a Drivers’ Championship with the Prancing Horse, of how much credibility are Ferrari and their fans capable when claiming ‘this is going to be our year’? Time will only tell if a car able to challenge Red Bull’s dominance is in the works down in Maranello, but by the looks of things, Charles Leclerc continues to harbour (however blind) faith in the project. He is quoted in September 2023, as confirming his desire to continue racing in red “I have always loved Ferrari and I would love to stay.”
[Note] Since writing this article, Charles Leclerc has extended his contract with Ferrari ‘beyond 2024’. Perhaps it will be (somehow) the Ryanair twitter account that gets the last laugh here though, simply responding ‘only thing he’ll win is longest contract’. Time will tell…
Where does that leave Sainz?
Carlos Sainz, the other Ferrari driver, also has a contract expiring in 2024. He is the only Ferrari driver to finish on the top step of the podium in 2023, in Singapore, following a tactical performance that most Ferrari fans would agree would make him positively overqualified for a strategist position at his own team. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that the (however unfair) expectation remains that it is his Monegasque teammate who is destined to inherit any success coming Ferrari’s way.
Having said that, Sainz has denied any rumours of a pre-agreement with the Audi team joining the grid in 2026, confirming his dedication to Ferrari. It is likely that Ferrari will seek a contract extension with the Spaniard, in the wake of a solid 2023 season in which he finished 7th in the Drivers’ Championship, just 6 points behind his teammate.
Two very different stories at Williams
After an undeniably shaky rookie F1 season, many were surprised to see Logan Sargeant given another year in his Williams seat. However, Team Principal James Vowles has consistently affirmed his faith in the American 23 year-old, saying “there was optionality, there was other choices. But we’ve invested in him because I believe in him. He is fiercely fast when he gets it right and all together.” We didn’t see much of this pace last season, with the American having been outqualified by his teammate, Alex Albon, at every single race weekend. He did, however, manage to clinch a point at his home Grand Prix in Austin in October, making him the first American points-scorer this century. As we enter Logan’s sophomore season in F1, it remains true that some stronger performances are needed to confirm his position beyond 2024. Mick Schumacher moves into the World Endurance Championship this season with Alpine, but retains his position as Mercedes reserve driver – might he be poised for an F1 return if Sargeant can’t make things work?
The other Williams seat, however, looks much more secure for Alex Albon, who managed to score 27 points in 2023, (almost) singlehandedly securing a seventh place finish for Williams in the Constructors’ Championship. The challenge, it seems, will be for Williams, in keeping Albon in the fold. At the tail-end of last season, Albon described himself as being ‘open’ to offers from rivals once his contract expires, acknowledging both his contentment at Williams as well as his desire to “fight for wins and fight for podiums”.
TikTok public figure of the year Fernando Alonso … just kidding: 2-time world champion Fernando Alonso, also has a contract that expires at the end of the upcoming season. Somewhat renowned for his unexpected and often retrospectively unlucky career moves, is there another twist in El Plan that we don’t know about?
His time at Lawrence Stroll’s Aston Martin got off to an undoubtably flying start, that saw the 42 year-old Spaniard finish on the podium 6 times in the first 8 races. However, given that this was only followed by 2 further podiums in the rest of the season, it is safe to say that Aston fell somewhat behind in the development race against the likes of McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari, thus confirming their eventual position of 5th in the Constructors’ Championship. Although rumours continue to swirl about a move back to a top team for Alonso, he vehemently denied them at the São Paulo Grand Prix in November, even going as far as to add “I will make sure there are consequences” for those propagating these rumours. Maybe best not to speculate here then.
Max Verstappen’s Teammate
Ah, the 2nd Red Bull seat – that age old conundrum. Although Sergio Perez has had a decidedly better innings than his predecessors, having lasted 3 seasons versus Alex Albon’s 1 and a half, and Pierre Gasly’s meagre 2019 half-season, it is also true that he has not had an easy go of it lately. In qualifying in particular, the disparity between him and his (admittedly very fast) teammate Max Verstappen, became glaringly obvious, with Perez only qualifying in the podium positions 5 times last season, in a car that can only be described as a rocket ship.
Following this apparent downturn in form, rumours began circling of a replacement in the form of a certain much-loved Australian (much to the delight of the DTS crew I’m sure). Unfortunately, regardless of the veracity of these rumours, the broken hand sustained by Daniel Ricciardo in a Free Practice session of the Dutch Grand Prix ensured those reports let up. Having said that, given Liam Lawson’s impressive performance deputising for the Aussie (somehow managing to outscore Logan Sargeant’s season total in just 5 races), is the Red Bull camp due a shake-up?
Alphatauri (Visa Cash App RB??)
Speaking of the Honey Badger, Daniel Ricciardo also faces an expiring contract at the end of the upcoming season. Having been brought back to replace a struggling Nyck de Vries, but ultimately not given much of a shot due to his aforementioned hand injury, it is unclear what the future holds for the former Red Bull man. It is true that he suffered a clear decline in form during his stint at McLaren, but if he could regain some of the flair that saw him dubbed ‘The Last of the Late Brakers’ earlier in his career, might Christian Horner want to bring him back into the fold? Or conversely, if his struggles return, could this be ‘goodbye mate’ once and for all? (Australians please forgive me).
Yuki Tsunoda’s future is somewhat unpredictable. He appears to have harnessed his potential in the last few seasons, let down by a decidedly slow AlphaTauri. Nyck de Vries announced his intention to bring “maturity” into the team, but ended up being shown up by the Japanese driver who seems to have reined in the outbursts that characterised his earlier career. As the 23 year-old enters his fourth season in F1, might Red Bull decide he is finally ready for the step up?
Stake ? Alfa Romeo ? Kick ? Sauber?
Besides the name, there remains another unknown at the team whose driver line-up currently consists of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, and who snuck above Haas to finish 9th in the 2023 Constructors’ Standings. After some Finnish heroics in 2022, highlights of which include finishing 7 times in the top 10 in the first 9 races, it is safe to say that it has been a disappointing year for the former Mercedes driver. Zhou Guanyu, in the other Alfa Romeo, recorded just 3 points finishes last season. It is difficult to ascertain, with a car as slow as last year’s Alfa, whether or not it is the driver at fault for a truly underwhelming season. Given the undoubtable success achieved by former F2 champion Oscar Piastri with McLaren this season, might Sauber want to utilise the talent they possess in the form of their reserve driver Théo Pourchaire, the 2023 Formula 2 World Champion?
Lacking that ‘Je ne sais quoi‘
Alpine’s current all-French driver line-up was heralded as a recipe for disaster, given the somewhat fiery history between Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon. However, with the exception of an Australian Grand Prix that saw both cars collide on the restart with just 2 laps to go, the season seemed to lack any real drama for the pair.
This lack of fireworks, however, was also apparent in race results; Esteban Ocon’s podium finish in Monaco proving the exception rather than the rule, during a lacklustre season that left Alpine floundering in the midfield without any real competitor. There seemed little to separate the two drivers though, Gasly inching above Ocon in the Drivers’ standings in which they finished 11th and 12th respectively. It is very likely that Alpine will seek to extend the contracts of one if not both of their drivers, both of whom are out of contract as it stands at the end of the season, but is there another Frenchman, in the form of Alpine academy driver and 2022 Formula 3 Champion Victor Martins, who might offer some competition?
Rockstars or Clowns?
Another team who will be hoping to improve their results in 2024 is Haas. Though they did manage to rack up 12 points last season, the American team finished once again at the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship. In terms of drivers however, the combination of veteran drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen seemed to be a veritable improvement from Mick Schumacher’s somewhat shaky few seasons with the team, and a definite upgrade from a certain Russian driver with a knack for amateur meteorology.
In an interview with this publication at the end of last year, Guenther Steiner revealed the logic behind Haas’ more experienced line-up, admitting that lack of experience played a role in their “very tough year in 2021”, that saw them finishing pointless. However, he also admitted that Haas needed to try and bring in some young talent in the upcoming years, citing Pourchaire, the 18 year-old Brit Ollie Bearman currently racing within the Ferrari driver academy, and Lawson, as possible options. To the shock of the motorsport community, Steiner was replaced earlier this month by engineer Ayao Komatsu, but with both Haas drivers out of contract at the end of this season, it feels unlikely that the team will enter 2025 with the same line-up. In the interest of avoiding a 2021-esque season, it is reasonable to imagine that one of them will be keeping their seat, thus giving the sense that the two will be driving to survive (forgive the pun, it’s in Steiner’s honour) in 2024.