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F1 driver market: Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, Kimi Antonelli futures to be decided as 'silly season' approaches

The contracts of more than half of the current F1 grid are expiring at the end of the season; Carlos Sainz's strong form have made the outgoing Ferrari driver the key player ahead of 'silly season'; watch the Chinese GP - 2024's first Sprint weekend - live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend

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On the Sky Sports F1 Podcast, Martin Brundle advises Carlos Sainz to keep his options open when deciding where to go after his Ferrari days near an end

Following Fernando Alonso's decision to extend his Aston Martin contract, the Formula 1 driver market is set to burst into action over the coming months.

The early February announcement of Lewis Hamilton's blockbuster 2025 switch from Mercedes to Ferrari ensured several other major moves would follow, but until last week it had been all talk and no action.

The first key domino finally fell when Aston Martin confirmed on Thursday that Alonso had signed a deal to remain with the team until the end of that 2026 season, by the end of which the Spaniard will be 45.

That ended speculation that Alonso could move to Mercedes or Red Bull, and provides further potential clues as to what those two teams are planning.

Even with Alonso's future having been sorted, over half of the current grid do not have a contract beyond the end of this season, leaving plenty to be decided.

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Everything you need to know about F1's new Sprint format ahead of its debut at this weekend's Chinese GP

Carlos Sainz, on his way out of Ferrari to make room for Hamilton, has made an impressive start to the season to raise his stock. while off-track issues at Red Bull have led to uncertainty of Max Verstappen's future.

Historically, most crucial discussions for the following season's driver market have taken place over the sport's summer break in August, but 'silly season' looks set to arrive early in 2024.

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As the paddock prepares to congregate once more for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, with the race live on Sky Sports at 8am on Sunday, here's a look at the state of play in the driver market.

F1 2025 field

Team Driver Driver
Red Bull Max Verstappen ???
Ferrari Lewis Hamilton Charles Leclerc
McLaren Lando Norris Oscar Piastri
Mercedes George Russell ???
Aston Martin Fernando Alonso Lance Stroll
RB ??? ???
Haas ??? ???
Williams Alex Albon ???
Sauber ??? ???
Alpine ??? ???

Will a Red Bull seat be available in 2025?

Verstappen has a contract with Red Bull until 2028 but his future has been questioned following off-track turbulence at Red Bull.

After the conclusion of an investigation into team principal Christian Horner, which resulted in allegations of inappropriate behaviour made against him by a female colleague being dismissed, a political row appeared to break out at Red Bull.

Amid speculation that Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko, another key figure at the top of the team, could be on the verge of leaving, Verstappen warned at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in March that he could follow if the Austrian exited.

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A look back at the events from the Saudi Arabian GP, surrounding the Red Bull team and whether there is a possibility Max Verstappen could leave the team

While the tensions at Red Bull, which also saw Verstappen's father Jos make highly critical statements against Horner, appear to have calmed since Jeddah, the previously unthinkable situation of Verstappen giving up a car that looks set to lead him to a fourth successive drivers' title has become a potential reality.

If Verstappen were to leave Red Bull, the most obvious landing spot would appear to be Mercedes, with team boss Toto Wolff making no secret of his desire to sign the Dutchman.

"Lately, Toto has been really nice, saying a lot of nice things about me," Verstappen noted in Japan after Wolff had described him as "spectacular".

F1 drivers with contract beyond 2024

  • Alex Albon, Williams - 2025
  • George Russell, Mercedes - 2025
  • Oscar Piastri, McLaren - 2026
  • Max Verstappen, Red Bull- 2028
  • Lance Stroll, Aston Martin - rolling
  • Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin - multi-year
  • Lando Norris, McLaren - multi-year
  • Charles Leclerc, Ferrari - multi-year
  • Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari - multi-year

The problem for Mercedes is that they are showing no signs of being able to compete with Red Bull under the current F1 design regulations, which run until the end of the 2025 season, and their form won't be filling anyone with confidence for their prospects in 2026 when radical rule changes will be implemented.

So for now, it seems unlikely Verstappen will be going anywhere else soon, but that doesn't mean there won't be a 2025 opening at Red Bull.

On the other side of the garage, Sergio Perez is in the final year of his contract, but is so far "doing what he needs to do" according to Horner, to keep his place alongside Verstappen, with three second places from the first four races of the season.

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Red Bull boss Christian Horner was full of praise for Sergio Perez after he finished second at Suzuka

However, Perez started 2023 very strongly before his performances dropped off to the point that his future with Red Bull appeared untenable, so the team's hierarchy will surely want to see more consistency from the Mexican before offering an extension.

Also factored into any decision on Perez will be who is available to replace him...

Sainz the standout free agent

Even before Alonso extended his Aston Martin deal, there was a growing feeling that F1's other Spaniard had emerged as the most attractive option for teams with 2025 seats to fill.

Sainz was the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race last season, and became the only one to do so this year when he led team-mate Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari one-two in Australia, just two weeks on from undergoing an appendectomy that ruled him out of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

With three podiums from the the three races he has featured in, Sainz has delivered the perfect response to being deemed to surplus to requirements by Ferrari, and left the likes of Horner and Wolff with little option but to take notice.

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Listen to the incredible commentary from Sky Italia as Carlos Sainz stormed to victory in Melbourne and Ferrari claimed a one-two at the Australian Grand Prix

A return to the Red Bull family, where Sainz began his F1 career with Toro Rosso alongside Verstappen in 2015, initially seemed unlikely, but Horner said in Australia that "based on a performance like that you couldn't rule any possibility out."

Wolff similarly admitted in Australia that Sainz was among drivers to have "arguments in favour of them", while there has been speculation that the timing of Alonso's decision to extend with Aston Martin could have been influenced by the team's growing interest in Sainz.

While Red Bull and Mercedes remain only potential options for Sainz, there has long been speculation that he is Audi's first choice for when the German manufacturer takes over the Sauber team in 2026.

Reports claim that Audi would like to have Sainz in place for 2025, but that would almost certainly result in the 29-year-old taking a major step backwards in terms of competitiveness, which conflicts with his stated desire to remain in a "winning" car.

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Sainz was thrilled after picking up yet another podium this season at the Japanese Grand Prix

"I have no clue where I will be next year. It's true we're talking to many teams," Sainz told Sky Sports F1 after his third place in Japan.

"I just need to keep focused on what I'm doing, prove to myself and everyone that when I'm given a fast car, I maximise what I'm given and I deliver."

If he can maintain his current level of performance, it appears the rest of the drivers might be waiting for Sainz to decide where he wants to drive before the other seats are left to be filled.

Alonso extension clears way for Antonelli at Mercedes?

The early-season narrative had been that Mercedes had a choice to make between the experience of Alonso or youth of highly rated Italian Kimi Antonelli.

Speaking in Japan before news of Alonso's extension had emerged, Wolff admitted that the fact Mercedes are in "a rebuild phase" would impact his decision.

"It could mean putting a young driver in there and giving him an opportunity with less pressure than fighting for victories immediately," he said. "Or putting a more experienced driver in the car that can help us dig ourselves out of the current performance picture."

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Toto Wolff responds to the rumours that Verstappen could potentially join Mercedes if he were to leave Red Bull

Ultimately Mercedes' dismal start to the season appeared to weaken Wolff's hand, with Alonso saying in Japan that the Silver Arrows being behind his Aston Martin on track meant a move didn't "feel that attractive".

Given the fact Wolff is one of the most well-connected individuals in the paddock, there is every chance that by the time he made the above comments in Japan, he would have known of Alonso's decision to remain with Aston Martin.

That could mean the "experienced driver" he was referring to was Sainz. While that can be debated, there is no doubt the "young driver" option is Mercedes junior driver Antonelli.

The 17-year-old will have his first F1 test on Tuesday in a 2021 Mercedes W12 and is schedule to drive the team's 2022 car later in the season.

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Toto Wolff says Kimi Antonelli will be successful in F1 but will wait to see if he will be Lewis Hamilton's replacement at Mercedes in 2025

Antonelli began his maiden Formula 2 season with huge expectations, but failed to score a podium or make a major impression during the opening thee rounds.

Some might have expected more, but a driver's performance in F2 isn't always a reliable indicator of how they would cope with F1 cars, while Antonelli still has plenty of time to make his mark on the series.

Whatever happens in F2, Mercedes appear convinced of the karting phenomenon's talent and having missed out to Red Bull on a teenage Verstappen, are wary of letting another gem slip away.

Pressure growing on Ricciardo at RB

Another team generating plenty of driver-market attention are Red Bull's junior squad RB. The battle between Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda was meant to give the duo a chance to prove which should be considered a candidate to potentially replace Perez in 2025.

Tsunoda has certainly done his chances no harm with successive point-scoring efforts, but Ricciardo is, metaphorically, looking in his rear mirrors rather than ahead at Perez.

Red Bull have been ruthless to their drivers across both teams over the last 15 years, most recently getting rid of Nyck de Vries just 10 races into last season, which cleared the path for Ricciardo's comeback.

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Home favourite Yuki Tsunoda joins Ted Kravitz for breakfast to discuss his younger karting days, his rivalry with team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and what the future looks like for him at RB

Having impressed when Ricciardo missed five races with a broken hand last year, New Zealander Liam Lawson is a looming presence and will undoubtedly be on standby should the team's patience run out.

While Tsunoda is driving impressively, his presence at the team has been tied to engine supplier Honda, who will switch to supplying Aston Martin from 2026.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Red Bull hierarchy have remained lukewarm at the prospect of promoting the 23-year-old, who Honda would surely love to take with them to Aston Martin.

Discussing his links to Red Bull and Honda in an interview with Sky Sports F1 ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix, Tsunoda said: "Without those two manufactures I wouldn't be here. I love Red Bull, I'm very proud and happy to be in the Red Bull family.

"And Honda, I have been with them since I was 17 years old. So it's more up to them. I just have to focus on my driving."

What about everyone else?

There is also likely to be plenty of movement further down the grid, with growing speculation that it could be all change at Sauber before Audi take over.

Both Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu are on expiring deals and along with teams' attempts to attract Sainz, they are also reportedly heavily interested in signing Nico Hulkenberg from Haas, which would provide Audi with a German driver.

In the event Sauber/Audi were to miss out on Sainz, another option for them could be tempting Sebastian Vettel out of retirement. The four-time world champion recently tested a hypercar for Porsche, who like Audi are a Volkswagen brand, and refused to rule out an F1 comeback.

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Sebastian Vettel shares how life has changed since his retirement from Formula 1 and discusses his thoughts on all the paddock news so far this season, including Lewis Hamilton's decision to sign for Ferrari in 2025

Elsewhere, Alpine drivers Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon are out of contract and will likely be looking for a way out given the performance of their car and instability off track after countless management changes.

After delivering a hugely impressive F1 debut when stepping in for Sainz in Jeddah, Oliver Bearman has been heavily linked with a seat at Haas next season.

The 18-year-old is scheduled to drive in six practice sessions for Haas and has every chance of taking either Hulkenberg or Kevin Magnussen's place next year.

Neither Williams driver has had a strong start to the season, with Alex Albon failing to press his claims for a move to either Red Bull or Mercedes, and Logan Sargeant continuing to make the sort of mistakes that almost saw him miss out on a second season in F1.

Sky Sports F1's live Chinese GP schedule

China schedule

Thursday April 18
5.30am: Drivers' press conference

Friday April 19
4am: Chinese GP Practice One (session starts at 4.30am)*
8am: Chinese GP Sprint Qualifying (session starts at 8.30am)*

Saturday April 20
3.30am: Chinese GP Sprint (race starts at 4am)*
7am: Chinese GP Qualifying build-up*
8am: Chinese GP Qualifying*
10am: Ted's Qualifying Notebook*

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We return to China 2017 as Lewis Hamilton dominates in the Mercedes ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen

Sunday April 21
7am: Grand Prix Sunday: Chinese GP build-up*
10am: Chequered Flag: Chinese GP reaction*
11am: Ted's Notebook*

*also live on Sky Sports Main Event

Next up is the return of the Chinese Grand Prix on April 19-21, which is also the first Sprint weekend of the season. You can watch every session live on Sky Sports F1 and steam every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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