With just 20 seats and ten teams, F1 seats are scarce. However, there is a wealth of talent available to teams; both within junior series’ and more experienced drivers who have found themselves seatless. That then presents the issue, with too many drivers and not enough seats who do teams sign to carry their teams into the 2022 regulations? Let’s break down the rumours and drivers deserving of a 2022 drive.
The most speculated driver line-up for 2022. With seven-time-world champion Lewis Hamilton recently signing a two-year contract extension which carries him well into the next era of F1, the question became, who will partner him? Valtteri Bottas or George Russell?
With Bottas having a less than impressive 5th season at the silver arrows, falling behind McLaren driver Lando Norris in the championship, George Russell signing to Mercedes has become the most obvious option.
Russell boasts one of the most impressive junior careers in recent history, winning both GP3 and Formula 2 back-to-back, F2 in his rookie season. He then impressed at the Sakhir Grand Prix which he almost certainly would have won if not for a pit stop error and a late puncture; despite less-than-ideal circumstances that included having to wear shoes two sizes too small in order to fit into Hamilton’s car.
With his recent points grab in Hungary and impressive qualifying performances which have left him dubbed ‘Mr Saturday’, Russell’s talent has been noted across the grid. If Mercedes do not sign him soon, other teams will undoubtedly try to. A new era of regulations would also be the perfect time for Mercedes to commit to the future of the team, which Russell undoubtedly is a part of.
Under these circumstances, Bottas would now find himself seatless and with most teams signed for 2022 the options are perhaps not what you would expect and have left Williams and Alfa Romeo plunged into the spotlight of silly season. Williams would be the most obvious choice for Bottas, the team where he began his career and who are Mercedes powered. However, as the team has struggled in recent years, perhaps not the most compelling option for a driver at the front.
This leads us to Alfa Romeo, whose current line up consists of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi. With Raikkonen’s retirement heavily rumoured as he reaches his 19th season in F1 Alfa Romeo are rumoured to be looking for an experienced driver to replace him, the names of Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg particularly swirling in rumour mill, and with the team faster than Williams, it could be an attractive option for the Finn.
As for the second seat, several drivers are also in contention. Particularly Alfa Romeo reserve driver Callum Ilott, who came second in F2 last season to Haas driver Mick Schumacher, ahead of current F1 drivers Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin. Ilott is more than deserving of the Alfa Romeo seat and boasts an established relationship with the team which has seen him make FP1 appearances. He has the skill and knowledge that would make his integration natural.
Other rumoured drivers include Schumacher who like Ilott is backed by the Ferrari academy and, has suffered a stagnant season at Haas; the car so vastly behind the rest of the grid that he is often left fighting solely with his teammate. However, as Schumacher reportedly signed a multi-year deal, this looks unlikely.
Further options for Alfa Romeo include retaining Giovinazzi or recruiting another driver from the Ferrari academy, namely Robert Shwartzman. Shwartzman currently sits third in the F2 championship behind the ever-impressive Alpine academy drivers Guanyu Zhao and Oscar Piastri. If Schwartzman was to win F2, this would command the attention of Alfa Romeo. However, with Ilott already working with the team, he would perhaps be second choice.
With other teams signed beyond 2022 and movement unlikely at Red Bull or Alpha Tauri, Williams would have several options if Russell were promoted; especially as Nicholas Latifi looks likely to keep his seat, having settled in well, providing decent results and financial support.
William’s first option would be their reserve driver Jack Aitken. Although perhaps unlikely given slightly disappointing F2 results last season and a recent injury at Spa during a GT3 race. Nevertheless, as Aitken made his F1 debut replacing Russell at the Shakir GP and has an established relationship with the team, he could be a natural fit.
Nyck de Vries who recently became the first Dutch World Champion after winning the 2021 Formula E season, is also rumoured to be in contention for the seat. de Vries currently drives for Mercedes-EQ Formula E team and acts as a reserve and test driver for Mercedes in F1, leaving links to Williams obvious. However, would swapping driving at the front of the grid in one series to the back in another be appealing to de Vries?
More experienced drivers such as, Hulkenberg and Daniil Kvyat, are also rumoured to be in contention as well as former Red Bull driver Alex Albon. However, the two most exciting but, most unlikely options lie with Alpine junior drivers, Zhao and Piastri. With no seats available at Alpine, and a wealth of talent in their academy, should Alpine be looking for a team to place their junior’s, Williams could be an ideal fit.
Piastri perhaps the most natural option to replace Russell, the Australian’s junior career just as impressive; winning Formula Renault Eurocup and Formula 3 back-to-back. F3 in his rookie season and now leads the F2 season also as a rookie, with four rounds to go. Which will certainly command the attention of F1 teams.
Nevertheless, Zhao is also an attractive option despite having spent longer in F2 than Piastri with lesser results. Zhao is a talented driver who boasts more experience at Alpine, having made an FP1 appearance this season. He also comes with an impressive amount of financial backing from the Chinese market and would bring broadcasting opportunities as the first Chinese F1 driver.
Only time will tell who will fill the remaining F1 2022 seats, however, one thing is certain, it will be an exciting silly season.