The 2020 season could feature the most open driver market in recent Formula One history, with many of the grid’s big names out of contract at the end of the season.
Here’s a run-down of the drivers who will be looking for a new deal — with their current team, or a new one — for 2021 and beyond.
The big names
Next year’s driver market is likely to focus around four major names.
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes): The six-time world champion’s future became a focal point during the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as speculation of a move to Ferrari intensified. The rumours were based on meetings with Ferrari chairman John Elkann. While the Hamilton-Ferrari link is not a new one, it was the first time the British driver had openly talked about the prospect and he did not deny it as a possibility.
Hamilton has always been relaxed about the state of his negotiations with Mercedes, which have always been based on frank and open discussions. The future of team boss Toto Wolff might be a key factor in whether Hamilton wants to stick with the Silver Arrows beyond 2020.
Max Verstappen (Red Bull): Verstappen’s future is going to be a fascinating talking point in 2020. The Dutchman has been with the Red Bull programme since just before his quick elevation to F1 in 2015 with Toro Rosso, but he was very nearly picked up by Mercedes. The Dutchman and his father, Jos, have a good relationship with Mercedes boss Wolff.
Verstappen is clearly ready to win a world championship and his management team knows it. While there is a huge rule change slated for 2021, the competitiveness of Red Bull’s Honda package in 2020 could make or break his patience with the team and his belief in its ability to return to the front of the grid. If Mercedes cannot keep Hamilton, its likely the world champions would want to tie Verstappen down for a significant chunk of the 2020s.
Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari): With Charles Leclerc signing a Ferrari contract extension, scrutiny around Vettel’s future will only intensify in the lead up to next season. Over the past two seasons the German driver has failed to live up to the lofty expectations which come with being a four-time world champion. His situation at the team was complicated by Leclerc’s exemplary first season in red, which has seemingly changed the dynamic at the team going forward — Vettel is no longer viewed as Ferrari’s No.1 driver, like he was in the early months of 2019.
Complicating things for Vettel is that Ferrari has other options and Elkann’s meetings with Hamilton will have served as a warning shot that the team is ready to move on from him if necessary. Some foresee a return to Red Bull for Vettel if Verstappen should leave, while others have suggested the end of Vettel’s Ferrari tenure would prompt him to walk away from F1.
Daniel Ricciardo (Renault): The Australian driver’s move from Red Bull to Renault turned him from a regular race winner to a midfield frontrunner, but Ricciardo signed a lucrative two-year deal knowing there would be a host of top drives available for 2021.
Those close to Ricciardo insist Mercedes showed significant interest in signing him for 2019 and they remain confident the world champions would be interested in his services in the future. If Ricciardo, who can speak fluent Italian, has lost faith in Renault’s flailing F1 project, he could be a popular option for Ferrari. He also had a McLaren offer on the table before he chose Renault and he could be enticed by the British team’s imminent partnership with Mercedes, set to begin in 2021.
Others to keep an eye on
Williams driver George Russell has one more year with the team, but remains a part of the Mercedes driver programme. Given the uncertainty around Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2020, Russell is likely to be a prominent character in driver market speculation. Bottas has consistently done enough to roll his Mercedes contract over for another season since joining in 2017 and most view 2020 as his last chance to prove he is capable of winning a world championship.
Alexander Albon will have his first full season at Red Bull in 2020. The Thai driver was promoted from Toro Rosso mid-way through last season and has already stated his ambition is to cut the gap to Verstappen. Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat both have another year at Toro Rosso and will hope they can do enough to force a move back to the top team.
McLaren pair Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris were extended into 2020 and were two of the standout performers of the most recent season. Sainz’s stock has risen greatly after his breakthrough campaign in 2019, which included a maiden podium at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Haas has retained duo Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean for the fourth straight season. Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi did enough to earn another year with the Swiss team after an up-and-down rookie season, while 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen is entering the second and final year of the deal he signed with the team ahead of this past season.
Who has a contract beyond 2020?
Only a handful of drivers have a contract deal beyond next season. Charles Leclerc’s standout debut season at Ferrari was rewarded with an extension to the 2024 season. That is longer than the deal Racing Point gave Sergio Perez during the season, tying the Mexican driver down until the 2022 season. While the details of Lance Stroll’s contract are not known publicly, the general belief in the paddock is the Canadian driver has a seat at Racing Point for as long as father Lawrence owns the team.
New Renault signing Esteban Ocon signed a two-year deal with the French manufacturer, after Mercedes released him from its driver programme. It takes Ocon out of transfer discussions next year.