F1’s volatile market is putting a lot of drivers in a weird position

The unprecedented stability on the Formula 1 grid is giving way to an increasingly volatile driver market as this season progresses.

This means that 2025 will end with a completely different grid, putting many drivers in a strange position until then.

Already in May, we learn that at least four of the current 20 drivers are spending their final years with their teams before they seek pastures new or are replaced by successors who have already been lined up.

Lewis Hamilton's impending move to Ferrari puts him and Carlos Sainz (the driver he will replace) in this boat, as does Nico Hulkenberg who has usurped one of Valtteri Bottas or Zhou Guanyu with an early Sauber/Audi contract in his pocket for 2025.

The unrest may go further, as many other drivers are becoming increasingly aware that change is likely coming – but they don't know in what form.

Sainz needs to find a seat somewhere, All four Red Bull drivers have some sort of question mark, the current Sauber drivers could be replaced, and Hulkenberg's exit does not guarantee that Kevin Magnussen will remain at Haas.

Sauber's Audi makeover is a nice variant because the current seat is unattractive maybe Really good idea in a couple of years. Haas looked like a terrible move six months ago, and no one wanted to go there – but now he's a really interesting midfield option again.

Then there is a works team with potential vacancies (Alpine) which inevitably attracts people despite poor performances, which is partly true of Williams as well under James Fowles and Malik Dorilton – a combination of serious potential that makes it more attractive than the results suggest.

That's a lot of balls to get in the air. Some of them may land in the same place, but it is not difficult to imagine a large number of drivers moving. Six or seven changes seem very likely when you take into account potential rookies Liam Lawson, Olly Biermann and Kimi Antonelli.

Even something as extreme as half the network looking different is reasonable – it only needs one or two more switches with significant spillover effects.

Designated movers

This is fairly clear. Hamilton will go to Ferrari, which displaces Sainz. He could go to Mercedes in a straight swap, but he will still stick with Red Bull – he is heavily favored by Audi to be part of this project.

But where he goes is less important than knowing that he will go for sure. Similar logic can be applied to current Sauber drivers. We know that Hulkenberg will move from Haas to Sauber/Audi – which means at least one of Valtteri Bottas and Zhu Guanyu will need to find a new seat.

This ensures four changes, an unusually large proportion of a starting grid that spends more than three-quarters of the season driving for a team they will be leaving in a few months.

Will this awkward situation cause some friction? It's definitely worth monitoring for possible consequences. Sooner or later, these drivers will be frozen out of simulation/development work, they may find themselves out of favor against a teammate who will still be there in a year's time, there may be fireworks racing against said teammate, or perhaps just lose a touch of motivation or focus .

There is no guarantee that will happen. Look at how well Hamilton and Hülkenberg drove in the last race in Miami – and they didn't look like drivers about to call the phone.

But go back to one event, where Sainz and Leclerc had an unnecessarily tense battle, and you can see the kind of scenario in which one driver on his way out could easily cross the line.

In limbo

There is an interesting group of drivers in limbo at the moment.

They can keep their seats, but they are not confirmed – either they do not feel particularly wanted, or they themselves want to stay, or perhaps both.

For this category of drivers, you have at least one of the Alpine duo – certainly Esteban Ocon – plus Bottas and Kevin Magnussen.

But there are also Red Bull drivers to take into consideration. You might think that Sergio Perez is completely safe at his current level. If not, he will seek refuge. The same applies to Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda, and the latter's management is believed to have held discussions with several teams recently.

Not all drivers in this group are in identical positions. For example, Ocon is performing very well but has been at Alpine for five seasons. This will be a good time for both driver and team to make a fresh start, given the Renault works team's failure to live up to expectations.

Tsunoda is performing very well at RB, but with key fullback Honda parting ways with Red Bull at the end of 2025, there is a clock on his future there. Especially since Red Bull seems to have no intention of taking him seriously at Red Bull Racing.

Bottas and Magnussen are in different positions and perhaps looking for any outlet in the storm.

Neither of them appears to be the first choice to be retained by their current employers. In Miami, Bottas looked like a driver who had grown tired of Sauber as well. Looking for another move seems attractive to him as does signing Sainz to Sauber/Audi.

Magnussen is in his second stint at Haas (and his third chance in Formula 1 overall) so if he crashes there it would likely be curtains for the Dane.

Another driver to consider is Alex Albon. While he is under contract with Williams for another year if his ultimate intention is to leave for 2026 anyway, Williams may decide to let him go early – with Albon an interesting prospect, to some extent, almost everywhere else.

Most at risk

It would be a bit difficult to describe this group as “as good a band as they've been” – but that's what it feels like. It's not about losing their seats, it's about threatening to leave F1 altogether.

With Biermann and Antonelli potentially joining the grid at the same time, it would mean taking two extra seats when the music stops for the current drivers still in the game – perhaps three if Red Bull follows through on Helmut Marko's repeated hints that Lawson will get a seat one way or another in 2025.

So, it is almost certain that among the many changes there will be one or two departures – and there are two clear contenders for that.

No one has much confidence in Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu staying at Williams and Sauber respectively beyond this season. Sargent has even been the subject of much speculation that he could be replaced before the year is out.

As mentioned earlier, we know for sure that either Cho or Bottas will leave Sauber. For Zhou, who has been solid at best during his two-and-a-half years in Formula One, the case for someone else choosing him is weaker than that of his teammate.

Formula 1 is a ruthless, high-performance company, so it always starts from the bottom. No one will be surprised if two of the weakest drivers of the past two seasons disappear.

But with the amount of disruption on the cards, there could easily be one or two more headed through the exit door as well.


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