F1 driver market latest: Race for final 2021 seats hotting up

Crash.net rounds up the latest developments in the F1 driver market in Belgium with the race for the final spots on the 2021 grid hotting up...
F1 driver market latest: Race for final 2021 seats hotting up

The race for the remaining seats on the 2021 Formula 1 grid is ramping up, with further developments emerging at the Belgian Grand Prix. 

We round up the latest news from the Belgium paddock at the seventh round of the 2020 season at Spa-Francorchamps…

Who will drive for Aston Martin? 

Besides Lewis Hamilton’s expected renewal at Mercedes, the biggest talking point has been the long-running saga of who will drive for Racing Point in 2021. 

Speculation linking Sebastian Vettel to a switch to the team when it rebrands as Aston Martin for next year following his Ferrari departure has been rife ever since he confirmed he had held talks with the Silverstone squad, which already has Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll under contract for next season. 

Despite suggestions Vettel could replace him at the team, Perez has continued to insist that he is not going anywhere, believing his seat for 2021 is secure. 

Such is the Mexican’s confidence that he will be an Aston Martin driver next year, he has not held talks with any other teams on the F1 grid. 

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Asked ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix if he had spoken to anyone else about a potential drive for 2021, Perez replied: “No. The feedback that I get from the team is that we all want to continue.

“As I have said before, it’s a matter of time. I said in Spain that I felt really happy in the team, I really believe in the project, I’ve been here for a while, and I’ve seen how the team is going onboard.

“We’re all feeling that everything is working well, so we don’t see the reason why we should change anything... I think we are enjoying a great season on track and things are working really well in the team, so I don’t expect any change.” 

Stroll’s seat at the team owned by his billionaire father Lawrence is considered to be safe thanks to his genealogical advantage, although it is not definitive. 

Japan’s next F1 hopeful catching Red Bull's eye 

Japan has not had a full-time F1 driver since Kamui Kobayashi raced for Caterham in 2014, but that could change next year if Honda protege Yuki Tsunoda continues to impress. 

AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost praised the Formula 2 frontrunner in Belgium on Friday as he confirmed Tsunoda will drive for his side in the end-of-season young driver test in Abu Dhabi. 

Tsunoda has been one of the standout stars of the 2020 F2 season and currently occupies fourth place in the championship standings in what has so far been a strong rookie campaign that has featured a maiden victory in the series at Silverstone. 

The 20-year-old had already caught the eye in Formula 3 with a ninth-place finish in the 2019 standings, having claimed the Formula 4 title in his native Japan the year before. Tost believes Tsunoda has “all the ingredients” required to be a successful F1 driver. 

F1 driver market latest: Race for final 2021 seats hotting up

“I am not only impressed with his driving in Formula 2, I was impressed last year in Formula 3 as well and the years before,” said Tost.

“He is a really high skilled driver and I think he has all the ingredients together to become a successful Formula 1 driver. He for sure will test for us in Abu Dhabi at the Young Drivers’ Test.”

Red Bull is keeping a close eye on his progress and could consider promoting him to F1 as early as next year, providing he can secure the necessary points required to qualify for a superlicence. 

“Whether he will drive for us next year or not, this is being decided by Red Bull,” Tost explained. “It depends also whether he gets the super licence.

“If he continues like now and he will be within the first three or four drivers in the Formula 2 championship then it shouldn’t be a problem to receive the super licence and the rest then we will see.”

For Tsunoda to step up to an AlphaTauri seat next season one of the team’s current drivers, Pierre Gasly, or Daniil Kvyat, would have to make way. 

Gasly’s brilliant start to the season, coupled with a difficult patch for Alex Albon at Red Bull, has seen his name linked with a possible return to the senior team, but the Frenchman insists he is not considering the prospect and is fully focusing on his own performances. 

“I’m not really thinking about it,” The Frenchman told Crash.net. “That’s what I want, I want to be in the fastest car but it’s not going to change anything whether I think about it or not. 

“I just need to be fast and we will see what they [Red Bull] decide.” 

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner and Helmut Marko have both thrown their support behind Albon, but any decision over the Anglo-Thai’s future will have direct knock-on effects to who drives for AlphaTauri. 

F1 driver market latest: Race for final 2021 seats hotting up

Could it be all change at Haas?

One of the most interesting developments is the one brewing at Haas. 

Now that the American outfit has committed to F1 by signing the new Concorde Agreement following much speculation over its future in the sport, team owner Gene Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner are set to switch their attention to deciding upon its driver line-up for 2021. 

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Steiner said that all options are on the table for his team’s driver plans for 2021, including the prospect of replacing both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, and even fielding an all-rookie line-up. 

"We are looking at everything," Steiner admitted ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix.

"We are looking at all the drivers, and we haven't made the decision. I'm not trying to be evasive. We just got the Concorde [Agreement] done and I did not speak with Gene [Haas, team owner] about drivers yet.

"I want his input on the drivers, so that will come soon. As soon as he can make it to a race we will sit down and discuss it.

"But at the moment, everything is on the table from keeping the drivers we have got, to getting two rookies. So if you want the seat you can apply for it! Everything is possible in the moment.”

F1 driver market latest: Race for final 2021 seats hotting up

Both drivers stressed they are keen to stay at Haas for 2021 and beyond, but neither have opened talks with the team as yet. 

Nico Hulkenberg, who made a brief return to the F1 grid with Racing Point for the two Silverstone rounds as stand-in for Perez, has been linked with Haas. 

One would imagine Haas will be keeping tabs on the Racing Point situation just in case Perez suddenly became available, while it also has Formula 2 ace Louis Deletraz and Brazil’s Pietro Fittipaldi within its roster, both of whom the team rates highly. 

Raikkonen key to Alfa Romeo developments 

Kimi Raikkonen appears to hold the key to what will happen at Alfa Romeo, with the 40-year-old F1 veteran coming to the end of his initial two-year deal with the Swiss squad following his Ferrari exit. 

Amid suggestions he may well call time on his established career that has included a world championship triumph in 2007, Raikkonen insisted he is yet to make a decision about whether he wants to continue in the sport or not. 

“I don’t know,” he explained. “First of all I need to decide what I will do. Right now, that’s the first thing to decide. 

“I don’t see it would change anything – if I race with them or I don’t race. Until I decide what I do, those things are not really in my list.

"My decision is based on what I feel is right for me.”

Alfa Romeo has endured a difficult start to the 2020 campaign and Raikkonen has found himself unable to challenge for points during the opening six rounds of the season. 

Might that, coupled with a delay to the major technical regulation overhaul until 2022, ultimately sway Raikkonen into making this year his swansong in F1?

F1 driver market latest: Race for final 2021 seats hotting up

“[If I have a good car or not] makes a difference [to my decision],” he said. “I’d much rather race in good positions and fight for points, but it’s never guaranteed, wherever you go, if it’s going to be good or bad.

“Bigger picture is much more important for me [regarding his decision]. Family comes first. The kids are getting bigger. This year I have been able to be home more, so it’s great.

“There will be a point when I want to be home and do other things, but I don’t know yet.”

Should Raikkonen decide to leave, Hulkenberg - who revealed he has been holding talks with a number of teams about a full-time comeback for 2021 since the start of the year - would be a great coup for the team to lead its charge. 

But if Raikkonen opts to stick it out at Alfa Romeo for at least another year, the focus will instead turn to his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, whose own future is not yet confirmed. 

Speaking about his position within the team the Italian, who scored Alfa Romeo’s only points of the season so far in Austria, said: “It’s still a bit too early, just six races. 

“I just know I need to continue like I’m doing, be consistent, be competitive, and then we’ll see.”

Ferrari’s sway over one of the two seats at the Hinwil-based squad will also be factor, with its plethora of rising stars in F2 - including championship leader Callum Ilott, second-placed man Robert Swartzman, and Mick Schumacher - lining up to pounce on a promotion to F1 should a space open up…

F1 driver market latest: Race for final 2021 seats hotting up

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