Five factors that will decide wild 2025 F1 driver market

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After the stagnation of Formula 1 going into 2024 with a totally unchanged driver line-up from the end of the 2023 season, Lewis Hamilton’s blockbuster move to Ferrari for 2025 has blown the doors wide open in the driver market – and the surprises keep coming.

The prospect of a surprise change at Red Bull is growing, Mercedes’ hunt for a replacement for Hamilton is taking some twists, and Fernando Alonso is a typically mischievous presence in the centre of it all.

Here’s our breakdown of the main jigsaw pieces that have to fall into place, and Ben Anderson and Scott Mitchell-Malm’s views on what might happen, taken from a video debate on our YouTube channel.

Widened race for second Red Bull seat

What began the year as a straight question of whether Sergio Perez could do enough to justify Red Bull’s continued faith or Daniel Ricciardo would prove at RB that he’d be the better bet as Max Verstappen’s partner has become more complicated.

Ricciardo’s season has begun badly and, after solid runner-up finishes to Verstappen in the first two rounds, Perez’s poor Australian Grand Prix was a reminder of why there’s even a question mark over his seat.

With no sign that beating Ricciardo at RB is doing anything to change the Red Bull hierarchy’s view of Yuki Tsunoda, it looks like F1’s dominant team will fish outside its in-house pool if it wants to make a change.

And someone once part of that pool is in the frame – with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner going out of his way to flag up Carlos Sainz as a 2025 contender after Sainz’s brilliant Melbourne win for Ferrari. Could Sainz finally end up at the team that chose Verstappen over him in 2016 and chose Pierre Gasly over him in 2019?

Scott Mitchell-Malm: It is fascinating now it’s not just incumbent Perez vs quite convenient plug-in replacement Ricciardo or leftfield Tsunoda – who doesn’t seem to be taken seriously by the Red Bull hierarchy no matter what he does.

It brings the likes of Alonso, Sainz and maybe even an Alex Albon into the mix, though Albon would need to get out of the Williams contract that he has for 2025.

We know Red Bull has a wide range of options and is willing to consider drivers outside its pool. That means pretty much every other team has to wait for the dominoes to start falling. It all hinges on what Red Bull does. And then what happens to the drivers who don’t get in at Red Bull?

Ben Anderson: Sainz is now the logical option for that seat – if Red Bull is going with its head, he’s the best driver from a top team available.

I know there’s this whole argument about tension between Verstappen and Sainz going back to when they were rookies at Toro Rosso, but they’re different guys now and that was more to do with their fathers’ big personalities and desire to avoid their sons’ careers being harmed when they were in formative stages.

I think a Sainz/Verstappen combination would be really attractive for Red Bull and Sainz should be its number one priority if it’s going outside its pool.

DOES MERCEDES REALLY THINK IT CAN SNATCH VERSTAPPEN?

Given the tumult around Red Bull through the opening weeks of the season, it’s not even certain that Verstappen will still be there in 2025.

And in a scenario that carries an even weightier backstory than the prospect of Sainz rejoining the Red Bull fold, Mercedes is trying hard to position itself as the obvious Red Bull alternative for Verstappen – the driver it nearly had for itself in 2014 before Red Bull swooped in with an immediate Toro Rosso F1 race seat, and who it then fought with so bitterly in 2021. Who would have imagined then that Mercedes would be trying to entice Verstappen to replace Hamilton?

Team boss Toto Wolff’s comments about Verstappen have gone far beyond non-committal platitudes. But what is it actually trying to achieve?

Ben Anderson: Toto’s got a bit of a fixation on Max. I think it still hurts him that he missed out on signing Verstappen way back in 2014 when Red Bull took him from under Mercedes’ nose – which is how Wolff would see it.

It also helps in that it’s a bit of a distraction from repeated questions about the wider issues Mercedes has got with its car and correlation.

Talking about another team’s driver gets you in the news for a different reason and it doesn’t hurt as a way of trying to destabilise that team either, as it’s an old rival.

But to be fair to Toto, he’s said consistently that as much as he’d love to have Max, he’s not going to get him unless Mercedes can sort its car out. That’s the first problem. If Mercedes can do that, then it looks like a more attractive option for Verstappen if he wants to leave Red Bull – or for Alonso.

Scott Mitchell-Malm: There’s a fine line between intent and desperation and I think Wolff is flirting with it a little bit.

It’s all very well saying that Verstappen would be a target for any team with a vacancy. But when you go to the lengths of saying flat-out that he’s the number one choice if he becomes available, it feels like Toto’s over-egging things a little bit.

I don’t know if it’s a mix of sincere interest in Max and trying to stick the knife into Red Bull while it’s dealing with other problems.

But he needs to be careful, I think, because if Max comes out at any point and says ‘this is stupid, I’m never going there’, Mercedes is going to look silly.

WHAT’S ALONSO’S GAMEPLAN?

Fernando Alonso’s dream start to Aston Martin life 12 months ago gave the impression this would be his final F1 team. But a combination of Aston Martin’s momentum loss and the sudden opening of doors at more competitive teams seems to have led to Alonso’s very clear highlighting of his free agent status.

Before Mercedes started publicly trying to woo Verstappen, its plan was understood to be to promote its teenage protege Andrea Kimi Antonelli straight into Hamilton’s old seat for 2025 unless Antonelli’s Formula 2 rookie season suggested he needed more time – in which case it would reach out to Alonso.

But subsequent developments at Red Bull are also believed to have piqued Alonso’s interest.

And if it is Mercedes that makes him an offer, would that really be a guaranteed step up over the Aston Martin team that it currently trails in the championship? He certainly looks unlikely to re-commit to Aston Martin before he absolutely has to.

Ben Anderson: It looked like Mercedes was his best alternative to Aston Martin and that he was Mercedes’ plan B as Hamilton’s replacement. But recently it’s seemed that Alonso is pushing more and more for a Red Bull seat.

There’s a chance for somebody to go in there alongside Verstappen – or maybe instead of Verstappen. It makes sense for Alonso because he’s short of time if he wants to add that third world title.

But him alongside Verstappen? I think it would be great but it’s probably not the best move from Red Bull’s point of view.

WHERE AUDI FITS IN

A team that’s not even technically on the grid yet stands poised to benefit from anyone being squeezed out in the game of musical chairs at the top.

While the Sauber squad that will turn into Audi is having a miserable season of race-wrecking pitstop problems so far and is firmly in the lower midfield battle, and won’t even become Audi until 2026, the long-term promise of this project is catching the eyes of drivers willing to play a longer game.

There’s a chance to get in early, build Audi around yourself as the transition from Sauber proceeds, and probably earn an ample salary along the way.

That not only makes it a team worth considering for any current top-team driver at risk of missing out on a seat at that end of the grid, but also a prime upwardly-mobile destination for ambitious drivers currently stuck in midfield cars.

Scott Mitchell-Malm: Audi is in a weird limbo between the really good short-term options – which is how you’d describe Red Bull but also Mercedes and Aston Martin – and teams that are less attractive like Williams.

It’s still a long-term project but it shouldn’t be dragged out over as long as five or six years because money is being pumped in and it’s Audi. When Audi commits to something, it does commit properly – as Carlos Sainz Sr knows from winning the Dakar Rally with it.

So you have a bit more faith in Audi and that makes it an interesting middle ground option for a Sainz if he needs one but especially the likes of Albon or Esteban Ocon. Audi is much less of a backwards move for an Alpine driver – it’s sideways at worst but with more obvious potential.

But let’s say Alonso stays at Aston Martin and there’s only one change at Red Bull. You could have Sainz, Albon, Ocon and Pierre Gasly all fighting over one or two vacancies at Audi and someone’s going to miss out.

Ben Anderson: Audi’s a risk if you’re a driver in the Alonso/Sainz bracket. Unless Sainz just wants to cash out, I think he’ll have better options. A team like Aston Martin will be further ahead.

But for drivers mired in the lower midfield, like Albon – for all the good management at Williams now, it’s going to take it an age to get into a competitive position from a structure and facilities point of view – a sideways move to an Audi team where that investment could take effect quicker could make sense.

Or if you’re at Alpine – a works team but an absolute basket case at the moment – and want out of there, then switching to a different manufacturer team like Audi makes sense.

But for drivers in the current top five teams, it’s too much of a risk.

PRESSURE FROM BELOW

There’s such excitement over some of the talents in Formula 2 this season that 2025 F1 graduations already feel inevitable. But bizarrely the drivers surrounded by that expectation are only ninth and 19th in the F2 standings right now after odd starts to the season.

Ollie Bearman’s impeccable F1 debut performance as Sainz’s Ferrari substitute in Saudi Arabia justified the hype that’s grown around him since he first came into car racing.

And Mercedes’ willingness to even consider putting Antonelli straight in as Hamilton’s replacement is all you need to know about how it rates him.

Both are certain future full-time F1 drivers and will surely get that chance sooner rather than later, whatever happens in F2 this season. Will they be on the 2025 F1 grid? And if so, at whose expense?

Ben Anderson: Bearman is almost certain to be on the F1 grid in 2025, probably in place of one of the Haas drivers.

And maybe Mercedes is too much, too soon for Antonelli next year but if so he’s very likely to be on the grid somewhere else. Maybe at Mercedes customer Williams.

So there are at least two seats likely to go to drivers coming into F1 from F2, which puts even more pressure on those drivers in the middle of the grid to find a home for next season.

You can watch the full debate below:

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