George Russell’s much-awaited Mercedes move has been confirmed, while Valtteri Bottas is set to move to Alfa Romeo to replace former World Champion and compatriot, Kimi Räikkönen, who is leaving the sport after 21 illustrious years.
The grid for the 2022 Formula One season is all but confirmed, with question marks hanging over the availability of just one seat as Antonio Giovinazzi‘s future still hangs in the balance as we enter the last leg of the 2021 F1 World Championship.
George Russell’s much-awaited Mercedes move has been confirmed, while Valtteri Bottas is set to move to Alfa Romeo to replace former World Champion and compatriot, Kimi Räikkönen, who is leaving the sport after 21 illustrious years. Although links with the current junior Alpine and F2 driver, Guanyu Zhou, emerged, recent rumours of an Andretti-backed takeover of the Sauber team have created further chaos over that second Alfa Romeo seat.
The highly talented Alex Albon will make his F1 comeback with Williams alongside Nicholas Latifi, while teams like AlphaTauri, Aston Martin, Alpine, Ferrari, Red Bull and Haas Racing have all retained their current driver line-up with most teams opting with what they know ahead of the crucial 2022 season.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the driver line-up for the 2022 Formula One season.
Although the seven-time World Champion left it pretty late to sign his one-year contract with Mercedes for the 2021 season, he did commit his foreseeable long-term future with the team before the August summer break. The Brit has signed a two-year deal that will see him with the German outfit till 2023.
Moreover, it’ll be interesting to see how the dynamics play out within the Mercedes garage. The question remains whether the pair of Lewis and George Russell can operate in relative harmony as has been the case with Valtteri Bottas, or whether Russell proves as stern a challenge as Fernando Alonso or Nico Rosberg were to Lewis as teammates.
#63 George Russell
The possibility of Russell’s return to Mercedes was always on the cards ever since he drove for them as a stand-in driver for the COVID-afflicted Lewis Hamilton in last year’s Sakhir GP. He was unfortunate not to have won that race, but his performances for Williams this season have been no less impressive.
For a Williams team that have not scored points for more than two years and have sat dead last, George Russell has extracted every ounce of performance from their car. His two points finishes, coupled with a remarkable podium at the race-soaked — and eventually abandoned — Belgian Grand Prix, have been the highlight of the season so far. However, at least for me, his racecraft needs to be more polished for him to challenge Lewis Hamilton next season.
Red Bull Racing
Engine: Red Bull (Honda)
#33 Max Verstappen
Before the start of the 2021 season, the F1 community was going berserk with rumours of a performance clause in Max Verstappen’s Red Bull contract that would allow him to leave the team if they failed to produce a car that could fight for a top-three finish in the Constructors’ Championship. However, such talks seem to be a distant memory now, as the 2021 RBR16B looks to be the class of the field.
With his first world title just five races away, Max Verstappen will be foolish to jump ships ahead of the crucial 2022 season. The Dutchman is contracted with Red Bull Racing until the end of the 2023 season, and something “Vettel-esque” will need to happen for us to see Verstappen driving for any other Formula One team anytime soon.
#11 Sergio Pérez
Christian Horner and Helmut Marko have learnt from their past mistakes, it would seem. In the past three years, the second Red Bull driver would not be guaranteed a future seat for the season after, leaving both the team and the driver scrambling for alternatives and being constantly under pressure.
With the team fighting for both championships this year and, based on past performances in the V6 hybrid era, Red Bull have always had the strongest car during the last leg of the season, with most tracks suiting their car balance.
Therefore, with his second career race victory in Baku and three podium finishes so far, Sergio Pérez’s solid — if unspectacular — first season with Red Bull Racing has been rewarded with a one-year contract extension, covering the 2022 season. This gives Checo the assurance he needs, and Red Bull get a confident and relaxed driver.
Zak Brown and McLaren had high hopes for their latest recruit Daniel Ricciardo, but the Honey Badger endured a horrendous start to his McLaren career, with the lowest point being him getting lapped by teammate Lando Norris in Monaco earlier in the season. The Aussie said he had to “swallow up his pride” until he could get on top of his car and get in tune with it.
Since the summer break, Ricciardo has somewhat turned things around, with seven consecutive Q3 appearances and an eighth career victory in Monza with Lando Norris capping off a great 1-2 for the Woking-based outfit. Slowly but surely, Daniel Ricciardo is getting back to his best.
#4 Lando Norris
When Daniel Ricciardo joined McLaren, it was clear that he was joining the team as the designated #1. But Lando Norris has staked his claim with four podium finishes, including the Italian GP where Lando was slightly quicker than Daniel, but the team ordered the drivers to remain in position. Moreover, Norris has been one of the most improved drivers this season and it’s no coincidence that the young Brit sits just one point behind fourth-placed Sergio Pérez in the Driver’s standings.
The 21-year-old is on a multi-year contract that’ll keep him with the Woking-based team until 2023. He is certainly one for the future and McLaren will do everything in their power to keep him as long as they can.
It is really frightening to see how quickly Charles Leclerc has improved in almost every facet of his racing. The young Monégasque was unfortunate not to start his home GP after binning his Ferrari into the wall; even though he secured pole position that weekend, he couldn’t start the race due to undiscovered damage to a driveshaft.
Leclerc has been one of the most consistent drivers this season and all of his DNFs or lowly finishes have been down to just sheer bad luck.
Moreover, Ferrari have always placed their full faith in Leclerc to guide the team into the future, which is evident by the length of the contract he was given at the end of 2019. Leclerc’s long-term contract should keep him with the Scuderia Ferrari until the end of 2024.
Carlos Sainz Jr. has been the most impressive of all drivers who changed teams last season. The Spaniard has been an equal to Charles Leclerc in his very first season and has got the better of him more often than not, which in itself is quite remarkable. Looking at all the driver line-ups from a long-term perspective, Ferrari certainly have the strongest one.
Although the young Spaniard hasn’t had one single clean weekend where he didn’t spin or face any technical problems, he has still managed to eke out three podiums this season compared to Leclerc’s one, while sitting just 5.5 points behind his teammate.
With Sainz’s current contract running until the end of 2023, it gives time to both the team and the driver to realise each other’s potential before negotiations begin over a new contract.
The 40-year-old two-time World Champion returned to Formula One as if he never left. Although he might have lost a tenth or two, Alonso’s race awareness and racecraft are still among the very best. I still believe, given the same car even today, Fernando Alonso could still give Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen a run for their money.
Alonso’s comeback was meant to coincide with the introduction of F1’s new generation of cars, but with the changes kicking in from 2022, the Spaniard has managed to get himself a much-needed season under his belt for the regulation changes coming next season. If Alpine can produce even the third or fourth best car on the grid, one can expect Fernando Alonso to be pushing that car for race wins.
#31 Esteban Ocon
A decent start to his 2021 campaign, which saw him outperforming his teammate, Fernando Alonso, during the early races, resulted in Alpine handing Esteban Ocon a multi-year deal to keep him until the end of the 2023 season.
However, it now seems like the new contract has jinxed him, as the Frenchman recently went on a four-race pointless barren run before a chaotic Hungaroring Grand Prix saw him emerge victorious, and not to forget Fernando Alonso’s contribution, who held off a charging Lewis Hamilton for ten laps.
Since then, Ocon has been a regular among points, barring the last two race weekends, but heading into 2022, Alpine certainly have a pair of two solid drivers who push one another and complement each other positively.
Engine: Red Bull (Honda)
#10 Pierre Gasly
Esteban Ocon signing a multi-year deal with Alpine was a dagger to the heart of Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman was pretty vocal about trying to find a better drive for next season and Ocon, who has a long-standing relationship with Mercedes and is managed by Toto Wolff, was said to be in the reckoning for Valtteri Bottas’ seat next season. But with Red Bull sticking with Sergio Pérez for another year, Mercedes backing George Russell, and Ocon staying put at Alpine, Gasly has to make do with AlphaTauri for at least one more season.
Gasly, though, has certainly impressed at AlphaTauri, securing Q3 appearances on a regular basis while also managing to secure a podium finish at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Moreover, the Frenchman has been key to AlphaTauri’s push for yet another Top 5 Constructors’ finish, with him scoring more than 75 percent of the points for the Italian outfit.
#8 Yuki Tsunoda
There is no shortage of drivers from the Red Bull Junior line-up: Liam Lawson, Jehan Daruvala and Juri Vips. But AlphaTauri have decided to stick with their current driver line-up, giving a contract extension to Yuki Tsunoda for the 2022 F1 season. The Japanese youngster has struggled to get grips with driving a Formula One car but has shown flashes of brilliance in his 17-race-long career so far.
“We have seen that the positive relationship between the two, made of a competitiveness on-track and a friendship off-track, has proven effective for the team,” said AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost.
“As a rookie, Yuki is only at the beginning of this journey, so it’s good that he can continue what we’ve started together.”
#5 Sebastian Vettel
Despite recent uncertainty over his future, four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel has agreed to continue with Aston Martin beyond the 2021 season, with both parties agreeing to continue the multi-year deal they agreed upon last season.
Moreover, despite driving a much inferior Aston Martin car compared to last season’s Racing Point, Sebastian Vettel has looked much closer to his 2017-2018 title-challenging form, extracting maximum performance out of his Aston Martin car more often than not.
#18 Lance Stroll
The likelihood of Lance Stroll leaving the team while his father Lawrence Stroll has ownership was always extremely low, and the Canadian will once again partner Sebastian Vettel for Aston Martin. Although, while Vettel has extracted maximum performance from that Aston Martin car, the same cannot be said about Lance.
Moreover, the Canadian has been with the team since Lawrence Stroll’s investment, so any changes always looked unlikely.
Kimi Räikkönen will be retiring at the end of the 2021 season, so the Alfa Romeo-branded Sauber outfit have roped in his Finnish compatriot, Valtteri Bottas. More importantly, Bottas will be racing as the #1 driver for Alfa Romeo after spending five seasons driving for Mercedes as the #2 to Lewis Hamilton.
Since his contract announcement, Valtteri Bottas has improved his performances as well, much of which could be down to him securing a future seat and having that calmness within himself. Thus, if Alfa Romeo can significantly improve their package, Bottas will give them every chance of scoring decent points throughout the 2022 campaign.
#99 Antonio Giovinazzi (TBA)
Antonio Giovinazzi’s days with Alfa Romeo look numbered. There were rumours surrounding a move for Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou, before further rumours emerged about the Michael Andretti-backed takeover talks, which could result in an American driver taking the vacant Alfa Romeo seat.
Despite out-performing teammate Kimi Räikkönen for most of the qualifying sessions, the Italian hasn’t been able to translate that form into raceday successes, with Kimi out-scoring him 6-1 points.
Until Andretti’s talks of a takeover surfaced, Guanyu Zhou was in the running for a move to Alfa Romeo, with significant financial backing set to follow him. However, if Andretti does acquire the ownership, young American talent Colton Herta could become an option.
Herta is extremely fast for a 22-year-old, having won thrice during the 2021 IndyCar series to finish fifth in the Drivers’ standings. But the American lacks the necessary points to be slotted in at Alfa, being eight short of the required 40-point mark.
Thus, it could swing the seat back into Zhou’s favour, with Alfa Romeo team boss Fred Vasseur seemingly ruling out the possibility of moving in for either Oscar Piastri or Théo Pourchaire.
The Canadian has retained his seat for the 2022 Formula One season alongside Alex Albon after a series of strong performances as well as the added bonus of his father’s investment in the team.
Just like George Russell, Latifi too scored points for Williams in consecutive races as he finished a career-high seventh at the Hungaroring Grand Prix. However, Williams’ announcement ends the hopes of their junior drivers for another year; F2 driver Roy Nissany and W Series champion Jamie Chadwick are part of the Williams young driver set-up.
#23 Alex Albon
With George Russell confirmed to be joining Mercedes for the 2022 season, he is set to be replaced by Alex Albon, who will be rejoining the grid after a year out following his drive for Red Bull Racing during the 2020 season.
Jost Capito, Williams Racing’s CEO, has described Albon as “one of the most exciting young talents in motorsport” and has stated that the next year’s line-up will blend youth and experience that will aid the team’s further progression up the grid.
Such an announcement does give a grim reading to drivers such as Nick de Vries, who won the 2019 F2 title before joining Formula E and winning the title there the following year, as the Albon-Williams association looks likely to be more than just a one-year stepping-stone thing.
Driving the 2021 Haas car must be one of the worst experiences as a Formula One driver. Nevertheless, son of a seven-time World Champion, Mick has slowly but surely gotten better throughout the season.
Mick was always known throughout his teenage days as someone who would struggle in his first season with his car but would manage to get on top of the machinery by the time the second season ended. If that’s the case, we have a lot to look forward to 2022.
Moreover, despite the acrimonious partnership flaring up in recent rounds, the team have continued to play down Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin’s growing rivalry on track, as they are committed to both drivers, having named an unchanged driver line-up for 2022. However, with Haas having committed their full attention to the 2022 package since the start of the 2021 campaign, a jump into the midfield scrap will do a world of good to both Mick and Haas Racing.
#9 Nikita Mazepin
With the amount of investment his father has put into Haas Racing, it was always extremely unlikely that the team would drop Nikita Mazepin after just one full season. Although the Russian has struggled to find his feet, the same can also be said about Yuki Tsunoda, who has looked more out of sorts than in tune with his AlphaTauri. Thus, the perfect opportunity to judge him will be next season like his teammate, Mick.
“2021 has afforded both drivers the opportunity to learn Formula 1 – and as rookies – they’ve done a lot of that this year,” said Haas Team Principal, Gunther Steiner.
“It’s been a tough season for sure with the package we’ve had, but at the same time, they’ve both embraced the challenge and worked closely with the team to learn our processes and adapt to the rigors of a Formula 1 campaign and all that brings – both internally and externally.
“Now as we look ahead to the 2022 season, we’re confident we can move forward as a team and give Mick and Nikita a competitive race package to make the next step in their Formula 1 careers.”
This content was originally published here.