What does Haas’ announcement mean for the driver market?
With Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen both told to leave Haas F1 Team at the end of the year, the American-owned Formula 1 outfit is clearly heading in a different direction. But what does this mean for the Formula 1 driver market, the future of the team, and where Grosjean and Magnussen go next?
While most of the big names are secure for the 2021 season with double world champion Fernando Alonso returning at Renault and Sebastian Vettel moving to Aston Martin, the news at Haas has had a profound shift in the driver market.
It appears that as a result of the pandemic and with an eye to the new regulations in 2022, Haas will be going for youth and sponsorship over experience. Therefore, despite the fact that both current Racing Point driver Sergio Perez and this year’s Racing Point super-sub Nico Hulkenberg are on the market, neither of them will end up driving for the American team.
If the rumours are to believed, then current Formula 2 championship leader and son of seven-times F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, Mick will join the American team. Mick is part of the Ferrari young drivers’ academy and will bring significant sponsorship as well as being a driver that has huge potential in the coming seasons.
Alongside Mick Schumacher will be the son of another wealthy father in the shape of Nikita Mazepin. Mazepin is in his second season with Hitech GP and is sixth in the standings and only needs to finish in the top seven to secure the necessary Super Licence points to race in F1 next year.
His father Dmitry Mazepin is the core shareholder and chairman of Uralchem Integrated Chemicals Company. Uralchem Group is a Russian manufacturer of chemical products. According to the company, they are the largest producer of ammonium nitrate as well as the second largest producer of ammonia and nitrogen fertilizers in Russia. The success of Mazepin Sr’s business will no doubt contribute to his son’s racing endeavors.
With the pandemic having an ever-lasting economic impact on a team like Haas, it is only natural that they search for the best way to stay competitive in F1. While drivers paying for their seats is controversial, it always has been and always be a part of F1 and this would make perfect sense for Haas as they seek to take advantage of the new technical and sporting regulations from 2022.
But it could go further as rumours have already been circulating that Mazepin could buy Haas F1 Team outright, rumours that Gunther Steiner, team principal of Haas has fervently denied.
While this could be an option for Haas and for the Mazepins’, it is no mean feat owning an F1 Team. So if he was to remain the sole owner of his chemicals company at the same time would be almost an impossible act to balance. But that prospect is certainly at least four or five years down the road if it is to happen.
The knock-on effect of this move is that the options for Sergio Perez are quickly vanishing. With Haas out of the window, Alfa Romeo would be his only other option. But the Swiss outfit look set to retain Kimi Raikkonen with the other seat designated to a Ferrari young driver, whether that is Antonio Giovinazzi or Callum Ilott remains to be seen.
If we assume that soon to be seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton remains at Mercedes, on paper that seems to be the end of the road for Perez.
But not so. First of all, Alex Albon is under threat at Red Bull Racing as the Thai-British driver needs to perform in order to not only retain his seat at Red Bull but in F1 full stop. He has been thrashed by his Dutch team-mate Max Verstappen and finds himself in the midst of a midfield scrap just to finish fourth in the championship.
After the Eifel GP, Red Bull Motorsport Adviser Helmut Marko said that they were looking at drivers outside the academy, with Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez connected with the seat. For the German, this seems to be his only option and a long shot at that. But if Albon fails to deliver to Red Bull’s standard, then a more dependable alternative will be sought.
The other rumour doing the rounds is that Perez will join Williams in place of Mercedes junior George Russell. The Brit has been with the team for almost two years now and had signed a contract with them for 2021. However, the outfit was bought by Dorilton Capital in August and it appears that they are evaluating other driver options for next season.
When asked about the talk, Perez remained coy. But he did suggest that he wanted a long-term project which would suggest that a seat alongside Nicholas Latifi at Williams is a likely outcome for the Mexican.
So where does all this leave Grosjean and Magnussen? Out of F1 for 2021 for sure, and for the Frenchman, he is unlikely to return. Grosjean is apparently speaking to Mahindra Racing Formula E Team for a seat in their lineup for the 2020–1 season. The future on Magnussen is anyone’s guess, but he will probably stay connected with an F1 team with the intention of making a return for 2022.
As always, F1 creates some of the craziest headlines as the pieces of the driver market fall into place. But as teams lower down the field deal with the economic cost of the virus, and try to plan their medium-term future with the introduction of the cost cap for next year, it will be fascinating to see where everyone ends up when the music finally stops…