2023 F1 Silly Season Is Underway!
Now that Formula 1 has entered its summer break, where the teams are mandated to fully shut down for a well-earned break, all eyes turn to 2023 and who may be driving for which team. This is colloquially known as the 2023 Formula 1 or F1 “silly season” because it often enters the realm of wild speculation and utter silliness with wild rumors and teams, drivers, and managers throwing each other head fakes to uncover the all-elusive Formula 1 race seat for next season. Some years it starts earlier than others; however, this year, it’s right on time for the summer break. As usual, a single driver’s announcement has kicked the whole thing off, but let’s start with teams with solid lineups for the 2023 F1 silly season:
Reigning Driver’s World Champion Max Verstappen is on contract through 2028. You read that right: he’s got 6 years on his contract when 2022 is over. There’s no way Red Bull would cut that during the 2023 F1 silly season, as they’ve put all of their efforts behind the Dutchman. Max will be joined by Sergio Perez, who signed a 2-year deal when he moved to Red Bull after finding himself without a seat at Aston Martin. Frankly, Red Bull should extend that contract with Perez during the current Formula 1 silly season, as he’s the #2 driver they’ve been missing since Mark Webber hung up his helmet.
Lewis Hamilton is on contract through the end of 2023, and George Russell is on a multi-year contract that just started this year. I suspect it’s a 2-year deal. Given their form, Mercedes won’t be upsetting this apple cart in the 2023 F1 silly season.
Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are on contract through the end of 2024. Ferrari has had woes this season; however, they are of their own making. (If anyone at Maranello is looking for an F1 strategist during the 2023 F1 silly season — which you should be — I’m available.) Their drivers are the most solid part of the team, and apparently, the best strategist that Ferrari has is Carlos Sainz, who orchestrated his own race win.
Lando Norris got a long-term deal and is contracted with McLaren through 2025. Daniel Ricciardo is on contract through 2023. While there was a lot of speculation around whether Daniel would have the race seat next season (contracts are bought out or broken all of the time in Formula 1), the team and driver have made it clear that he’s coming back to the team at Woking. During the 2023 F1 silly season, I suspect, however, that if he does not find the form we know he’s capable of, he will not get a contract extension beyond 2023.
We’re dipping a toe into the murky end of the grid with questionable lineups this 2023 F1 silly season, but I think AlphaTauri will retain both Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda. The question is really around Tsunoda, as Gasly was confirmed for 2023. Although Tsunoda is a bit of a hot head in the cockpit, his form has improved greatly over the season. I expect AlphaTauri to exercise an option and retain him for next season.
Having their hand forced by Vladimir Putin and removing Nikita Mazepin with sponsorship from Uralkali (don’t go invading sovereign nations, folks) has appeared to be quite the treat for the American team during the 2023 F1 silly season. Fan-favorite Danish driver Kevin Magnussen returned on a multi-year contract, and Mick Schumacher has finally found his form. The car has been upgraded only once through the season, but they’ve scored a good haul of points while managing to lead…. <checks notes> AlphaTauri in the standings?! Quite the turnaround indeed, although it hasn’t been inexpensive.
Mick’s monetarily massive mishaps have caused the team to rebuild his car a number of times at great expense. But like they say, to make a small fortune in Formula 1, you start with a large fortune. For those who’ve followed Mick, however, this will not come as a surprise. Somewhere along the mid-point of his second season in the series, he comes alive, and his journey into F1 seems to be following that trajectory. I expect that this turn of form will cause him to retain his seat for 2023, although there’s been no announcement just yet during the Formula 1 silly season. Historically, Haas has kept driver announcements to the very end of the season.
We know for certain during the 2023 F1 silly season that Valtteri Bottas will return next season, as he was signed to a multi-year deal. What we don’t know for certain is whether Zhou Guanyu will return. I suspect that Alfa will bring the Chinese driver back, as he has had a fantastic rookie year. His race craft is good, he’s level headed in the cockpit (Yuki, take notes), and aside from his massive crash at the British Grand Prix, he hasn’t cost the team much cash in the way of replacement parts.
Alexander Albon has been confirmed for next season, but we do not know what will happen with Nicholas Latifi during the current Formula 1 silly season. Williams has options they can exercise, and I think they will. Everyone likes Nicholas as a person, but he’s just not done enough in the cockpit to retain his seat, particularly when Williams has Logan Sargeant down in F2, or the option of having Mercedes reserve driver Nick de Vries sit in, which will likely get them some cash from Mercedes (or an engine discount) as a result. Given Williams’s cash situation, if I were Jost Capito, I’d opt for de Vries. Anyone know the last time we had two Dutchmen in Formula 1?
Now that we’ve gotten the solid and high-confidence predictions out of the way for the 2023 F1 silly season, let’s turn to the Formula 1 silly season bombshells:
Not entirely unexpected, Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement at the end of the year. He made it very clear that he wanted to focus his effort and time on his family and other causes that he cares deeply about. I’ll be quite sad to see him go, as he’s one of my favorites on the grid. I respected his dominance at Red Bull, I came to like him when he was at Ferrari, and he’s grown into the grid’s elder statesman while at Aston Martin. He will surely be missed. It was Sebastian’s retirement announcement that kicked off the 2023 F1 silly season given that there is hot talent (Oscar Piastri) waiting in the wings. It all seemed that Vettel leaving was the cork in the bottle for Piastri to get a race seat.
Who is Oscar Piastri? A phenomenal talent, that’s who. He won Formula Renault Eurocup in 2019 (his second season in the series), Formula 3 in 2020 (his rookie season), and Formula 2 in 2021 (his rookie season). You generally don’t waltz into a high-level single-seater series and just go and win it. The kid’s got it. Although he’s Alpine’s reserve driver during the 2023 F1 silly season, they’d be happy to get him F1 experience by lending him out to Aston Martin.
On the other side of the garage during the current Formula 1 silly season, Lance Stroll’s dad owns the team. You think he’s losing his seat? That’s a bit flippant, but Lance is actually a decently good driver who I think is being let down by the car. He’s not finishing far behind his 4-time world champion teammate, so clearly, he’s doing something right. Granted, Lawrence Stroll is now under greater pressure during the 2023 F1 silly season because he and the consortium of owners are now responsible not just for the Formula 1 team but for all of Aston Martin, but I think it’s clear that Lance is sticking around.
Esteban Ocon is contracted through 2024, so we know he’s not going anywhere for the moment. This morning, however, Fernando Alonso dropped a bombshell for the 2023 F1 silly season and announced he’s moving over to Aston Martin for next season. What?! We knew that Alonso and Alpine were still in contract discussions, but we didn’t think he’d up stakes and pitch his tent elsewhere, either.I’ll say this: Alonso has awful timing with his team moves. Typically, when he leaves the team, he’s left ends up doing really well. Who knows, we may see Alpine win a race next year. Who will be behind the wheel? Oscar Piastri. Although it’s a bit of a bombshell, Alonso sliding over to Aston Martin neatly solves their question of what to do with Piastri. It was the classic, “3 drivers but only 2 seats” conundrum. I expect to see Piastri announced as Ocon’s partner during the current Formula 1 silly season once Alonso’s move has all of the I’s dotted and T’s crossed.