By: Ashley McCubbin
If race fans were hoping for answers over the past couple weeks, they did get some announcements as a couple teams confirmed their driver line-ups for the 2021 campaign. Though on the flip side, there are a lot of questions – some new – following other comments and reveals.
Despite only scoring four points this year with a best finish of ninth, Kimi Raikkonen will return to Alfa Romeo alongside Antonio Giovanazzi. The decisions allows him to stay with the team he made his Formula 1 debut with in 2001, in what he calls a family atmosphere.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe in the team’s project and in what we feel we can achieve together,” he added. “This is a team that values hard work over words and this fits well with my style: I am looking forward to next year and hopefully making some steps forward towards the front of the midfield with the team.”
As expected in the previous installment of Silly Season Synopsis, Pierre Gasly will return to Alpha Tauri, rather than being promoted back up to Red Bull despite a win earlier this season. This puts a heightened interest on Alexander Albon, and the fact the team has said numerous times already the focus is retaining him on the squad alongside Max Verstappen. However, that doesn’t mean the door is entirely closed with the likes of veteran Sergio Perez, current Alpha Tauri driver Danill Kvyat, and Yuki Tsunoda in play for both teams.
For the record, Christian Horner repeated his intentions in regards to Albon this past weekend, once again.
“It’s Alex’s seat,” he said. “He’s got his bum in the car and everyone wants to see him retain that seat. I think he has to block out the outside noise, get his head down, just have a good weekend. “It’s great to be back at Imola, it’s an old school circuit, it’s a different type of race weekend as well with a condensed running. But just get stuck into the weekend and get as much as we can out of the car.”
He was also asked about Plan B, to which he turned down immediately in saying the focus was on Plan A. So in reality, it could just be a matter of time before Albon is officially confirmed.
The latest announcements have the grid set as the follows….
- Mercedes – Valterri Bottas, TBD
- Ferrari – Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz
- Red Bull – Max Verstappen, TBD
- McLaren – Daniel Riccardo, Lando Norris
- Alpine (formally Renault) – Esteban Ocon, Fernando Alonso
- Aston Martin (formally Racing Point) – Sebastian Vettel
- Williams – George Russell, Nikolas Latifi
- Alpha Tauri – Pierre Gasly, TBD
- Alfa Romeo – Kimi Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi
- Haas F1 Team – TBD
The big news, though, was seeing Haas F1 Team confirm that neither Romain Grosjean or Kevin Magnussen will return for the 2021 campaign, citing “financial reasons,” instead ready to shake-up their driver line-up.
“We wanted some change going forward,” Haas boss Guenther Steiner said. “We just need to see how we go forward with the budget cap, where we invest best our money and what we do. So that was the reason, we want to make a change to what we are doing and we need to get prepared for the new regulations in 2022 when it is a new world for everybody.”
To be honest, it could be a good idea for them to do so.
Neither driver has performed well this year, currently ranked 18th and 19th on the grid with three points between them. It comes after a season that saw them fail to meet the expectations laid down by Steiner.
There’s also an opportunity for them to improve their team, as evident by Sergio Perez surprisingly being let go by Aston Martin. Recall Steiner mentioned him being on their radar already, though having not confirmed him as they want to make sure they’re doing the right thing for the mid to long-term.
You also have Nico Hulkenberg as an option, who showed promise when filling in at Racing Point F1 this year for Perez. There’s also a lot of possible young budding talent on the table, including Nikita Mazepin, Callum Ilott, Robert Shwartzman and Mick Schumacher all being mentioned within the paddock.
Steiner did not wave any of these possibilities off, actually saying anything was on the table for 2021. He also knows the current regulalations, with the cars not changing until 2022 and stuck with what they have, could allow for them to offer a place for rookies to learn their craft before getting into improved, (possible) race-winning capable equipment.
“Next year we have nothing to lose we just have something to gain, because we cannot lose a lot from where we are now,” he said. “What we want to do is have the same drivers in ’22 when the new regulations come out because there is a new car. Next year is also an opportunity. Next year looks as if it will not be wonderful but that is the challenge and opportunity to build up the rest of what we have got for ’22 when we hopefully are better again or back to where we want to be.”
Meanwhile, for Grosjean and Magnussen, they both admitted missing the feeling of winning and am keeping that in mind as they look towards options for their careers. Magnussen has expressed interest in staying with Formula 1 though unsure whether that’s viable, while Grosjean has already spoken about possibilities within Formula E or the NTT IndyCar Series.
The other big question that came up was Lewis Hamilton, who had pretty much been a lock for Mercedes to this point. However, he opened pandora’s box in wondering whether he will even return to the series next year after breaking Michael Schumacher’s win mark.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be here next year, so it’s not really a concern for me at the moment,” Hamilton responded when questioned about Toto Wolff’s future with the team. “We are in November and it’s crazy that Christmas is not that far away. Naturally, I feel great and feel very strong. I feel like I could keep going for plenty of months. I would like to be here next year but there’s no guarantee of that for sure. There’s a lot that excites me of the afterlife, so time will tell.”
Wolff was questioned about the comments, saying he hopes that Hamilton chooses to stay in Formula 1 but if not, “I think we are going to have a pretty frantic driver market out there.”
“But I think it’s the moment and the emotions, we are all happy but very tired also,” he added. “It’s the same for me. I completely relate with his feeling, that you question yourself and you think about all the other things that matter when you switch on the new in the morning and you switch it off in the evening it is all about the struggles that we all face.”
It is worth noting that previously Wolff confirmed that discussions were put on-hold until the championships – both driver and manufacture – were secured. Combined with the fact that Hamilton wants an eighth title, you can probably bet we are having this conversation for no reason at all. But it’s 2020 and stranger things have happened…..
Speaking of veterans, Perez is still hopeful as he awaits to see what Red Bull decides (as previously discussed) and whether that is an opportunity. Though outside of that, the only other viable option seems to be Haas F1 Team depending the direction they go.
“I don’t rule them out,” he said. “I think at the moment until they’re confirmed, they’re an option, you know? Same as every team that hasn’t confirmed. I think time is running out; there [are] very, very few opportunities to remain on the grid for next year. “Yeah I think there is a very thin line in there, you know. It’s a time you take the risk, wait, and see what happens but I think the season is coming to an end, so I think it’s important for teams to know what’s going on, what’s happening going forwards, and for drivers too.”