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Will the 2025 F1 driver silly season see "chaos"?

Will the Formula 1 driver market see silly season "chaos" in the coming weeks, as teams battle with each other to secure the optimum line-up for 2025 and beyond?

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, the 2023 drivers line up on the grid

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

That’s certainly the view of Esteban Ocon after Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari for next season caught most of the paddock by surprise and left a prime seat open at Mercedes.

The question now is how soon things will start to move at other teams, and how quickly the remaining pieces fall into place thereafter.

So far, only seven of the 20 seats are filled beyond this season, with McLaren and Ferrari having secured two drivers not just for 2025 but also into the era of the new regulations that begins the following year.

The only other drivers officially signed up are Max Verstappen at Red Bull until 2028 and George Russell at Mercedes until 2025. However, for obvious reasons, Lance Stroll is set to stay with Aston Martin for the foreseeable future, even if his status has not been made public.

Top three qualifiers George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, pole man Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Lando Norris, McLaren

Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren have secured the services of Russell, Verstappen and Norris for the future

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

That still leaves 13 vacancies for 2025, and the potential for much to happen. But when will the merry-go-round spring into action?

There are two ways of looking at the market. One option is that things will start to move quickly and that teams and drivers will act fast in the coming weeks in order to secure the deals that they want, so they're not left hanging when the music stops. On the other hand, there are so many seats and so many top drivers still available that both sides might wait to see what happens.

The latter view is perhaps the more realistic one, especially given that the teams with the most desirable seats either can’t or are unlikely to move fast.

Will Mercedes promote a rookie?

While the vacant Mercedes drive will appeal to anyone currently without a contract for 2025, the team has an eye on its own protege, Andrea Kimi Antonelli. A stunning rookie F2 season would give the team the opportunity to make a bold choice and fast-track the Italian straight into an F1 race seat. However, it can’t make a call until well into the season.

Plan B would be to place the youngster at Williams, a strategy Mercedes followed with George Russell. However, the Grove team has its own agenda and a seat might not be available for him even if Toto Wolff is pushing for it, so that could force an earlier decision.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli, Prema Racing

Andrea Kimi Antonelli would be a bold pick for Mercedes

Photo by: Dutch Photo Agency

There is no shortage of candidates for the second Red Bull seat, with Alex Albon (in theory from 2026), Daniel Ricciardo and Liam Lawson just three of the obvious possible options.

However, the team has given incumbent Sergio Perez a chance to keep the drive, so is unlikely to make a quick move. In any case, Ricciardo and Lawson are both secure within the Red Bull family and will be available. The current uncertainty around Christian Horner’s role also means that the team has other priorities for the time being.

Aston Martin has made it clear that it wants to keep Fernando Alonso, and the Spaniard has indicated that should he decide to continue into 2025, the Silverstone team is his priority. Until that situation shakes out, his seat remains out of reach from anyone else.

A move away from Alpine for Ocon or Gasly?

With what are arguably the three most desirable drives in limbo for various reasons, it would appear that the other teams have their hands tied. Nevertheless, the list includes works seats at Alpine and (from 2026) Audi, both of which have obvious appeal.

Those teams potentially have the clout to make early moves, and doing so would be a statement of intent, much like that made by McLaren in securing both Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris for the long term.

Ocon and Pierre Gasly are both F1 race winners and have appeal outside their current home. Alpine has made it clear that talks are under way, and Ocon doesn’t rule out making an early commitment.

"The sooner is always the better," says the Frenchman. "Because this year, more than anything else, there are 15 drivers, so it's going to be chaos out there for sure. And it's a big silly season. So we'll see.

"I feel very good here. It's been many years consecutive that I'm racing here. I'm part of the family for a very long time. But F1 is F1, you don't know what can happen."

An extension at Alpine would be an obvious move for driver and team, but Ocon has another option that he must be tempted to wait for.

"It's clear that we have links with Mercedes," he says. "I'm managed by Mercedes for a long time now, since 2015. I'm a junior, even if I'm not that junior anymore. We'll see what the future holds. As I said, at the moment, I'm completely dedicated to Alpine, what I have to do with the team, the plan that we have ahead, as well.

"That's the whole focus that I need to have, because these things are very disruptive focus-wise. And that's why I have a very competitive management team that's able to take the right choices on where we have to be, so I'm not worried and my focus is on the track."

Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Alpine

Ocon and Gasly seem happy at Alpine, but won't refrain from looking elsewhere

Photo by: Alpine

Ocon’s team-mate Gasly admits that Hamilton’s move has made things more interesting.

"It was unexpected for most people, obviously it changes slightly the dynamics of the driver market and the whole silly season," he says. "Obviously, I've started with Alpine last year, I know the project I'm working on.

"I'm at the end of my contract at the end of the year, and obviously there are conversations ongoing, and that's it. Yeah, I think the situation is pretty clear, but at the moment, I just want to see what this car is capable of, and ultimately my goal is to fight at the front.

"I believe it's possible with Alpine. I'm 28, I’ve got good experience, I'm in my prime, and that's what I'm working for. I want to fight for wins, for podiums and be up there."

Asked if he expects the market to go a bit crazy, Gasly says: "I think maybe it did already!

"Obviously as a driver I've got my team to do this type of job. I'm focusing on what I've got to do as a driver, because ultimately, that's what I want to do, I want to perform, I want to give my absolute best, I want to do my absolute best for the team.

"We've got 1500 people working day and night to get that car as good as they can, and then my job is to bring [it] as far up the grid as I can. So it's what I focus on."

Sainz keen to bounce back

Another driver who has to be on the list of nearly every team with a potential vacancy is Sainz, whose stock is high despite being overlooked at Maranello in favour of Hamilton. Linked with Sauber/Audi even before he became a free agent, he is in no hurry to make a decision.

"I think as much as I said that I wanted to have my future sorted before the first race, I think now there's things in this scenario [that] have changed quite a bit, as you can imagine," he says.

Carlos Sainz, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

Sainz will need to impress in his final season alongside Leclerc at Ferrari

Photo by: Ferrari

"So I think it is going to be probably a longer process. We're going to have ahead of me probably my most important three or four years of my career, where I want to make sure that I am in the right place at the right time.

"I want to make sure I pick the right next destination for me. So I'm going to take my time to think about it, to listen to all the options, to have a look at all the options, so that I can just feel comfortable when I take the decision, [that] I've given myself enough time and with enough information.

"Having said that, I think it's completely possible to separate one thing and the other. I have a good management team that also will take care of that. So my full focus will be in Bahrain this year.

"I'm going to start the season as strong as I can, putting all my effort in being quick, straight from the go. And yeah, the other thing will sort itself out as time goes by."

Perez must fight to retain his seat

Perez is another driver who, despite his struggle to match Verstappen, will be of interest to other teams. However, his priority is to retain the seat he has.

"I'm sure that most of the drivers are going to be willing to get things done a lot earlier in the year," says the Mexican. "But it's just the approach you have. From my side, I'm just focusing on having a great year, the rest always takes care of itself.

"As long as you're performing on track, the rest always comes in play. So I'm not really bothered about it. It's my 14th season in F1. So, for me my main target is hitting it well on track.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Perez will be keen to silence critics this year

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

"When you've been for so long in this business, you know how it operates. I'm just a lot less bothered about it, I just want to make sure that I'm able to enjoy it, first of all, have a lot of fun and have the motivation, and the rest will take care of itself."

On Wednesday, testing kicks off in Bahrain and we will begin to have an understanding of how the teams stack up for 2024. However, even before the current cars are raced the media questioning of drivers and bosses alike will focus on the longer term.

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