Formula 1 Correspondent
10:23 AM 23rd October 2020
The F1 Driver Market As Haas Drops Both Drivers
Mick Schumacher looks increasingly likely to drive for Haas next season
There was a flurry of activity in the Formula 1 driver market earlier this year, triggered by Ferrari deciding to not renew Sebastian Vettel’s contract beyond the end of 2020, and this same market has now sprung into life again with the Haas team announcing that it will be dropping existing drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen at the end of this season. Why, you might well ask. Well, the reason is very much financial rather than related to driving ability.
Alfa Romeo may well be retaining Kimi Räikkönen for another year
The severe impact of the pandemic on Formula 1 has meant that the revenue the teams will receive next year in relation to how they performed this season will be very much reduced and perhaps be as low as half of what they received this year. A harsh fact which everyone is very much aware of. As such, the focus for 2021 will be a matter of survival for many rather than seeking to maximise their on-track performance and so a driver who is good enough to qualify for a Super Licence and brings a large amount of sponsorship money with him may well be more attractive than a faster driver without much sponsorship. Fortunately being good enough to qualify for a Super Licence requires real ability, but it does mean that there is a risk that some truly exceptional drivers may lose out for purely financial reasons.
Sergio Perez could be bound for Williams in 2021
Haas has openly admitted to its drivers and the world at large that it is releasing both of its current drivers for financial reasons and not because of a perceived lack of ability as both are reasonable performers if hardly champion material. A shame for Grosjean and Magnussen, but they seem to have taken the news philosophically and were no doubt expecting one of them to go, if perhaps not both.
So who will be arriving through the Haas revolving door? Well, it is almost certain that current Russian Formula 2 driver, Nikita Mazepin, will be stepping up to F1 next year with the American team, helped by as much as $10m of financial support provided by his billionaire father. As for the other seat, current Formula 2 championship leader and Ferrari Academy driver Mick Schumacher (the son of F1 legend Michael) seems to be the hot favourite. Ferrari provides power units to Haas at a cost of over $10m a year and may offer a significant discount on this figure if Schumacher joins the team. The German driver would also bring some sponsorship of his own and his famous surname could help raise other funds too for Haas.
Alfa Romeo has a solid, if uninspirational current driver pairing in the vastly experienced Finn Kimi Räikkönen and the younger Italian Antonio Giovinazzi and it seems increasingly likely that both may be retained for another year, although Schumacher could yet feature here too after being due to drive for the team in opening practice session in Germany a fortnight ago before the weather intervened.
We must now turn to Williams as, although its current drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi were confirmed for 2021 by the Grove based team back in July, its new American owners Dorilton Capital are trying to balance the books for next year and can readily see the attraction of Sergio Perez, who is now available after Racing Point released him to make way for the incoming Vettel next year. The Mexican is both experienced and still very competitive, whilst also able to bring a vast amount of sponsorship with him. So, if Williams sign Perez which seems highly likely, who of the current incumbents might be forced to make way?
Will the highly talented and likeable George Russell end up without a seat when the music stops?
In terms of pure driving ability Russell is an exceptional talent whilst Latifi is merely a solid performer. However, the Canadian Latifi’s father provides significant financial support whereas Russell is there more on his pure ability as a Mercedes junior driver, who in 2022 might conceivably step up to join the main works team. Could Mercedes provide additional financial support to Williams, either directly or via its power unit bill, to keep Russell in a seat there for next season? Possibly, although the overall Mercedes car company boss has set challenging cost cutting targets for its Formula 1 activities over the next three years. If not, poor Russell may be forced to sit out the 2021 season, with Latifi and his sponsorship retained to help keep Williams afloat. Responding to the situation yesterday whilst in Portugal before this weekend’s Grand Prix, Russell (who happens to be one of the nicest F1 drivers I have ever met) defended his position, saying “I have a contract for next year”. The new Williams owners will be in attendance at Portimão this weekend and that piece of paper may or may not be enough to keep Russell racing in F1 next year.
Lastly, it is highly unusual that Lewis Hamilton is yet to commit to drive for Mercedes next year, but it would just seem to be a matter of time before the British multiple champion and the team finalise the details of his new contract, including the level of his vast salary, and he puts pen to paper.
One thing which seems certain is that all should be clarified shortly and possibly as soon as by the end of this month.