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How Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris contract extensions impact Formula 1 driver market ahead of 2024 season

Charles Leclerc has signed to remain with Ferrari until at least the end of 2025, while Lando Norris extended his McLaren deal until at least 2027; the developments add to the mystery around who will drive alongside Max Verstappen at Red Bull in 2025

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Sky Sports News' Craig Slater sits down with Lando Norris to discuss his decision to commit his future to McLaren with a new multi-year deal

Despite Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris having agreed contract extensions, plenty of uncertainty remains in the driver market ahead of the 2024 Formula 1 season.

Norris commits future to McLaren

"That trajectory we've been on last year hopefully continues and that's going to help us achieve that goal of a world championship" - Lando Norris.

If anyone had remained in any doubt about Lando Norris' long-term commitment to McLaren, and the team's own steadfast faith in him, then the multi-year contract extension they announced last week should have absolutely crystallised the fact that this is a combination absolutely determined to get to the very top of F1 together.

If there was widespread surprise two years ago that Norris had committed to an extended four-year term at the team even before a wheel had been turned in F1's all-new generation of cars for 2022, there would have been fewer eyebrows raised this time given the momentum McLaren built up through the second half of last season when their car emerged as one which could at least place some semi-regular pressure on Max Verstappen and his runaway Red Bull.

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Following the news that McLaren have signed a multi-year contract extension with Lando Norris beyond 2025, take a look back at the 24-year-old's most memorable drives in his career so far

The crucial quest now for them is to continue that surge towards Red Bull and Norris' renewal certainly underlines his faith in them to do that. It comes at a time when the team's long-awaited new wind tunnel and simulation have come on stream too, facilities which they believe will further aid their progression.

Although this latest contract duration was not absolutely specified by McLaren this time in the announcement, a "multi-year" extension beyond the previous end-of-2025 term probably means Norris is staying at Woking until at least the end of 2027. That'll be the second year of the new era of engine regulations, at which point in time McLaren, who are continuing to be Mercedes-powered, will certainly be hoping they are winning races on a regular season-in-season-out basis again.

What do the renewals mean for Red Bull's 2025 choice?

One thing the contract renewal for Norris, a long-rumoured Red Bull target, in particular, has done is take the biggest obvious external candidate out of the running to be Max Verstappen's team-mate in 2025.

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Not that the development at McLaren relieves much pressure on Sergio Perez, the incumbent in the second Red Bull seat whose contract at the team expires at the end of this year. He was always going to have to first see off the challenge from Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda, the drivers at Red Bull's newly-rebranded sister team, this year to earn a contract renewal for at least one season irrespective of whether the world champions seriously wanted to look outside their existing stable or not.

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Speaking on the Sky Sports F1 podcast, Christian Horner reveals Red Bull will not replace their second seat with a junior driver due to their existing Alphatauri driver pathway

Without Norris, are there still external options? And from Red Bull's past too, perhaps?

Alex Albon's name is certainly in the ascendency again, the 27-year-old having so impressively revived his career at Williams over the past two years after a bruising time next to the relentless Verstappen before Perez replaced him. Could another strong year prompt Red Bull to look again at him? While Sainz, another ex-Red Bull junior and Verstappen team-mate (although at Toro Rosso, where there was thought to be off-track friction between the respective drivers' camps) who left the programme before ever getting a chance at the senior team, is another intriguing name to consider were the Spaniard not to get the Ferrari deal he wants.

Leclerc's new Ferrari deal leaves unanswered questions

News of Norris' extension was preceded by Ferrari announcing that Charles Leclerc had finally put pen to paper on a new deal. The Monegasque's previous contract had been set to expire at the end of 2024 and there were times, perhaps most notably when he was heavily linked to Mercedes during the early stages of last season, when his future with the Italian squad seemed uncertain.

Ultimately, contract extensions for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell announced in the summer appeared to make it something of a formality that Leclerc would eventually re-sign. While it's undoubtedly a huge positive for Ferrari to have tied down the rapid Leclerc, questions remain over just how committed the 26-year-old is on a long-term basis.

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Charles Leclerc says it is an honour to extend his contract at Ferrari and he hopes to share many more victories with the team

Reports in Italy surfaced in December claiming that Leclerc had agreed an extension until 2029, but Ferrari's announcement last week stated only that the five-time race winner would remain with the team "beyond the 2024 season".

While Leclerc said he was "very pleased to know that I will be wearing the Scuderia Ferrari race suit for several more seasons to come," there was no mention of a "multi-year" agreement, which it's fair to assume Ferrari would have shared publicly if they were in the position to do so.

While it's likely that a deal is in place for more than just one extra year (2025), it's possible that there is also a break clause to allow Leclerc to measure Ferrari's progress heading into F1's major regulation changes in 2026.

It's also worth noting that it is the end of 2025 when both the Mercedes deals signed by Hamilton and Russell come to an end. It will be fascinating to see what Leclerc and team principal Fred Vasseur have to say about the agreement when they resume media duties over the coming weeks.

Sainz contract saga rumbles on

With every passing day, Carlos Sainz's Ferrari future is becoming more tenuous.

It's not unusual for a driver to enter the final year of a contract without having agreed to an extension, this has in fact become a standard way of doing things for Lewis Hamilton. Sainz, however, made it very clear on multiple occasions last season that he finds the uncertainty caused by taking contract negotiations down to the wire highly unsettling, and wanted a new deal in place before the start of the 2024 season.

The noises coming from both driver and team last year suggested an extension was inevitable, but with pre-season testing little more than three weeks away, the lack of a deal is hugely notable, particularly in light of Leclerc's extension having been announced last week.

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While analysing his top 10 drivers this season, Karun Chandhok debates whether Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc are evenly matched in the Ferrari

While Leclerc has always been seen as the more likely of the duo to end a 16-year Ferrari drivers' title drought, Sainz has been very solid in his three seasons with the team and claimed their only race victory of 2023. Ferrari would be hard-pressed to find a better option, but with negotiations taking longer than most would have anticipated, it's reasonable to wonder whether Sainz is considering other options for 2025.

His name has been largely absent from speculation around the potential vacancy alongside Max Verstappen, which can perhaps be explained by an assumption that Sainz wouldn't be content slotting into a clear No. 2 role at this stage of his career.

The 29-year-old has been linked with a move to new 2026 F1 entrant Audi, which will remain as Sauber for this season and next. It was always thought that such a move for Sainz wouldn't happen until then, but with the team's current duo Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu out of contract at the end of 2024, it's not a total impossibility.

When is F1 pre-season testing?

Pre-season testing takes place from Wednesday February 21 to Friday February 23 at the Bahrain International Circuit with just three days for the teams to get prepared for the new season.

When is the first F1 race?

Just one week later, the opening race of the 2024 season will begin with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29 to March 2.

Due to the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, the Bahrain and, seven days later, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, will be held on a Saturday.

This means practice one and two will take place on Thursdays, with final practice and qualifying on Fridays.

24 races in 2024! Watch every round of next season live on Sky Sports F1, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29-March 2. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership

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