Four Formula 1 teams have vacancies for 2023 despite a ridiculous and frantic season drawing to a close, with the futures of many drivers set to be decided.
While Alfa Romeo technically has a spare seat, The Race understands that Zhou Guanyu is set to be officially confirmed as a Valtteri Bottas teammate once again.
That leaves Albin, Alpha Toure, Haas and Williams as teams with vacancies, a roster of drivers in play including race winners Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo, potentially Haas refugee Mick Schumacher, Antonio Giovinazzi and Nico Hulkenberg on the sidelines, and rookies like Nick de Vries, Jack Dohan and Logan Sargent.
The larger team in the mix is arguably the most important because choosing Alpine has spillover effects for others, although AlphaTauri has a major role to play there as well.
After losing Fernando Alonso to Aston Martin in 2023 and Oscar Piastre to McLaren, Albine is looking for a third driver at best to race Esteban Ocon next year, and Pierre Gasly remains the clear frontrunner.
He is under contract with Red Bull and AlphaTauri, although he believes the terms of his release have been agreed on the condition that his current employer secures a suitable alternative.
As far as the Alps are concerned, Gasly cannot be treated as an absolute nailer of choice – a wise approach to a team that has already been stared twice this ridiculous season! — which prompted a three-day test this week with the 2021 Formula 1 car at Hungaroring.
Three drivers participated and, as previously noted, it wasn’t just a ‘shooting’ as Gasly wasn’t driving, but it allowed Albin to assess Ferrari reserve and former Alfa Romeo racer Giovinazzi, Williams reserve sensation De Vries and prospect of Alpine Academy and F2 race winner Doohan.
Those drivers weren’t the only drivers on Alpine’s long list, with Nico Hulkenberg also staying under consideration even though he wasn’t driving during testing.
But the test is likely not necessary. In fact, the changing conditions meant that by the time the track went into operation in Hungary, Alpine already had reason to be very confident that it would have the Gasly after all.
When Red Bull abandoned its bid to sign IndyCar driver Colton Herta because he was arguably ineligible for F1 supremacy and the FIA wouldn’t budge on it, it initially seemed like bad news for Albin. Without a replacement for Gasly, Red Bull will not release him.
Alpine was so eager to push this along the way, that it was going to include Herta in the Hungary test at Red Bull’s behest to try and aid his bid for an edge, but that plan was eventually dropped.
Alpine’s plan to test other candidates briefly seemed like it might be necessary. But it looks like Gasly will still be released by Red Bull anyway.
It soon emerged that Red Bull had selected an alternative option outside its driver pool, though – which has been confirmed as De Vries.
The Dutchman admitted he met Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko in Austria in the week after the Italian Grand Prix and all indications are now that Red Bull has pounced on Williams and signed de Vries for AlphaTauri.
Although the actual deal may still need to be finalized, it looks increasingly likely, which means Gasly should be free to take command of the Alps.
The only thing that remains unclear at the moment is why this deal is so desirable for Red Bull.
With Herta there was a clear external motive. Having an American driver in Formula 1 as the championship profile grows in the United States, and Red Bull Racing has a huge American sponsor at Oracle, has had clear benefits off the track.
But Marko is likely convinced of how well De Vries handled his throw at the deep end at Monza, as he has been known to make early decisions like this in the past.
And if Gasly is headed to the exit door after 2023 anyway, Red Bull could see this as a great deal of work since Alpine will also pay compensation as Gasly is under contract.
But if De Vries joins AlphaTauri, along with newly confirmed 2023 driver Yuki Tsunoda, Williams will need to consider Plan C (De Vries was her Plan B after Piastri’s move to McLaren spoiled Williams’ intended two-year loan period).
There appears to be a good chance that Williams will turn into a complete rookie for partner Alex Albon in 2023, with Nicholas Latifi’s expected exit officially confirmed on Friday.
Williams has his own F2 driver in Sargeant, who is the rookie season race winner and has impressed the F1 team.
He still needs to qualify for Formula One supremacy, although that is not guaranteed. He needs to finish in the top six in the tournament and is currently third with 12 points to seventh.
There is only one event left in F2, so this is clearly under Sargeant’s control, but the finish won’t be until Abu Dhabi in late November, so Williams will have to wait a while to know for sure.
If Sargent fails in his quest for supremacy, Doohan may emerge as the first candidate for the vacancy. Williams was linked with getting Doohan on loan from Alpine in the same way he had hoped to take Piastri.
Oddly enough, these F2 rookies have been associated more prominently with Williams than experienced options like Ricciardo and Schumacher out of the decade.
That’s not to say these two drivers are completely out of consideration, but if they’re on Williams’ radar, team boss Just Capito does a great job of keeping calm.
Schumacher’s F1 prospects look slim. Realistically, it was little more than an outside shot of Alpine, and it seems Haas decided not to keep him for a third season.
But given he’s F1 experience and an active racing driver, you’d think he’d be of interest to Williams.
Schumacher is set to ditch Ferrari, having officially been ‘young’ in F1 for the past two years, and become a free agent, so he must reserve an outside chance to get Williams’ lead. But it seems improbable and may hinge on Sargent not qualifying for supremacy and that Doohan’s interim move is not attractive.
To replace Schumacher, Haas is believed to be seriously considering Hulkenberg and has not been ruled out by Ricciardo.
Hulkenberg is under contract with Aston Martin. Although he hasn’t raced full-time in Formula 1 since 2019, and is now 35, he is seen as a viable option in the short term and he will be a good, professional driver who can count on bank points when the car is about to finish. The mission – which Haas feels Schumacher has missed.
As for Ricciardo, he appears to be heading for a year on the sidelines. It’s probably outside of Haas and Williams’ price range, if he was ever interested in driving for them in the first place, and a potential Alpine reunion wasn’t made.
He also seems to have made his peace with the role of backup driver or simply a full vacation.
So here’s the fun/dangerous part. To guess now, the final seats would go as follows: Pierre Gasly to Alpine, Nick de Vries to AlphaTauri, Nico Hulkenberg to Haas, and Logan Sargent to Williams if he gets the lead.
But this silly, fickle season is making even the most emphatic choices seem like a coin toss.
Predict 2023 F1 driver lineup
Red Bull: Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez
Ferrari: Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton, George Russell
Alps: Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly
McLaren: Lando Norris, Oscar Biastery
Alfa Romeo: Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu
Haas: Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg
Alpha Tory: Yuki Tsunoda, Nick de Vries
Aston Martin: Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll
Williams: Alex Albon, Logan Sargent