Lewis Hamilton has turned the driver market upside down with his transfer to Ferrari in 2025. Both Mercedes and Red Bull Racing now have a vacancy for 2025, with more than enough people interested in both spots. Former Formula 1 driver Michael Bleekemolen spoke to F1Maximaal about the contenders and looked ahead to the 2024 season.
Although there are still many drivers without a contract for 2025, most of the top seats seemed to have been taken. Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and Lando Norris all had long-term contracts, and Mercedes communicated at the end of 2023 that both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were committed until 2025. In reality, there appeared to be options in the 39-year-old’s contract which were not lifted by the British.
Norris and Sainz still as contenders for Red Bull?
Hamilton opted to switch to Ferrari, which now has both seats filled for 2025, as does McLaren. But appearances can be deceiving, as Bleekemolen says when asked about the favorite for Sergio Pérez’s seat for next year. ‘Maybe they are trying to steal a driver from McLaren. There are of course many long contracts, but contracts are there to be terminated,” said the Amsterdammer. Although Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri have both already received contract extensions with the British team, clauses are often included in the contracts, as became clear with Hamilton’s transfer.
Bleekemolen knows one thing for sure about Red Bull’s driver choice: ‘They will not take a new driver. I don’t see a young talent happening. You always prefer to be on the safe side.’ When you talk about experienced men who are available, Carlos Sainz’s name quickly comes up. The Spaniard made his debut at Toro Rosso, and therefore comes from Red Bull’s training. ‘They have also seen some mistakes about that, but it could be, because he is suddenly without a contract. Sainz will end up somewhere good,” Bleekemolen thinks. ‘Racing teams are also about money. They also want to see prize money, because there is such a huge amount of dollars going around.’
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In addition to Carlos Sainz, Alexander Albon is also a contender, as are both drivers of Visa Cash App RB. Yet Pérez still has his future in his own hands, and as a current Red Bull driver he has an advantage with the team. “It looks like they want to keep Pérez, but I think it’s better to take Sainz. Then you are not eighth, but then you are third,” Bleekemolen refers to the weak period that Pérez went through in the middle of 2023, especially in the qualifications.
Could Verstappen move himself?
Max Verstappen himself signed a new contract with Red Bull Racing until 2028, but competitor Mercedes now also has a spot available, and if Toto Wolff has the choice, there is a good chance that he would prefer to put the Dutchman in his car. Yet Bleekemolen does not expect the Austrian to call the Verstappens. ‘That seems like a difficult matter to me. He also knows that it is almost impossible to interfere, but things can get crazy. However, I don’t see it just happening.’
Verstappen will be the target again in 2024
Although silly season for 2025 is currently a much-discussed topic, Bleekemolen also discussed the chances in 2024, with Verstappen chasing his fourth title in a row. ‘I think Max is in the glory days of his career, so he will continue to hold on to that little bit that he is better than the rest. I think he will win a lot again, but will he remain so dominant?’ Bleekemolen wonders. ‘All teams are looking for improvements, and then the rest can come closer.’
The 74-year-old racing enthusiast is certainly looking forward to the start of the season. ‘I’m looking forward to the entire competition, and the first race will have me on the edge of my seat again. In that first qualifying, if everything goes normally, we will get another benchmark of what will happen this year,” says Bleekemolen about Friday, March 1, the day of qualifying in Bahrain. The Dutchman also predicted who will be Verstappen’s biggest competitor. ‘Then we have to look at McLaren, I think with both drivers. I see Mercedes as the third team, and Ferrari as the fourth.’