F1 2023 predictions: The next move for the seven out-of-contract drivers

Lewis Hamilton before the Austrian GP sprint. Red Bull Ring July 2022. Credit: Alamy
Lewis Hamilton before the Austrian GP sprint. Red Bull Ring July 2022. Credit: Alamy

Seven Formula 1 drivers, including seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, are entering the final year of their contracts in 2023.

The futures of some drivers are easier to call than others and we’ve had a go at predicting whether the drivers – listed in the order in which their current teams finished in the 2022 Constructors’ Championship – will stay or go come the end of the year…

Lewis Hamilton: Stay

If Hamilton is to be believed, his signing of a new contract with Mercedes is an inevitability with the seven-time World Champion revealing in Mexico last October that he is planning to sign a new multi-year deal.

The likelihood is that the new arrangement – set to take Hamilton into his forties – will be signed, sealed and delivered before the new season begins.

Yet with Hamilton having so much credit in the bank at Mercedes that any contract he signs won’t be worth the paper on which it is written, his future is potentially more delicately poised than it first appears and is likely to be determined by his and the team’s performances on track.

If Mercedes can put the harsh lessons of last season into practice and instantly re-emerge as a title-winning force, 2022 will be rapidly recede into the memory as little more than a bad dream.

But what if last year becomes Lewis’s new normal? What if race wins are still annoyingly hard to come by?

What if the uncharacteristic mistakes that punctuated the second half of last season – turning into Fernando Alonso at Spa, crashing in Singapore – become a trend? What if George Russell, the only Mercedes driver to taste victory in 2022, begins to assert himself as the new team leader?

If any of those three scenarios come to pass might there come a point when Lewis decides, after all he’s achieved, that enough is enough?

Lest we forget that Hamilton’s former team-mate Nico Rosberg signed a new two-year contract with Mercedes a matter of months before he retired in 2016.

Hamilton, you suspect, has too much for respect for Mercedes – the people, the team, the brand – to leave them in the lurch and scrambling for a replacement as Rosberg did and if he does suddenly decide to retire he will surely communicate it in good time.

He will almost certainly sign a new contract with Mercedes; whether he sees it through to the end could be another matter entirely.

Zhou Guanyu: Go

For all the criticism that his signing by Alfa Romeo brought, Zhou Guanyu proved himself to be more than an average pay driver in 2022.

Shown the ways of the F1 world by Valtteri Bottas – a better team-mate a rookie driver could not wish to have – Zhou acquitted himself well during his debut season, the six points he scored crucial to the team’s P6 finish in the Constructors’ standings.

Having been selected as Audi’s strategic partner for their 2026 entry, however, Sauber’s F1 ambitions suddenly stretch far beyond hanging onto sixth place by their fingernails.

A repeat of 2022 would do his prospects no harm, but Zhou’s future is likely to depend on how soon and how deep Audi’s claws sink into Sauber and how much influence the team will exert as preparations for 2026 continue apace behind the scenes.

With talk persisting that Mick Schumacher is a candidate to race for Audi, it would make sense to bring Michael’s boy back into a race seat at the earliest opportunity for Bottas to do for Mick what he’s done for Zhou.

Certainly, the idea of Schumacher sitting on his hands as Mercedes’ reserve driver until Audi come along in 2026 is fanciful.

It would be harsh on Zhou, no doubt, but business is business. And the Schumacher name would undoubtedly be good for business.

Kevin Magnussen: Stay

If there is one thing Guenther Steiner does not like – apart from Mick Schumacher writing off a chassis or three – it is change.

In an ideal world, the Haas team principal would never have let Kevin Magnussen leave at the end of 2020 and he jumped at the chance to bring him back when the opportunity presented itself last year.

With Magnussen at the heart of everything good about Haas in 2022 – pole position in Brazil and P4 on the sprint grid at Imola, as well as a fine drive to fifth in his first race back in Bahrain – Steiner’s idolising of the Dane was justified.

Now 30, Magnussen has probably missed the chance to tempt a bigger team to take a chance on him and Steiner’s love affair will continue for as long as Kevin wants it to.

Nico Hulkenberg: Stay

If Steiner adores Magnussen, just wait until he finally gets to work with Nico Hulkenberg in 2023.

Having been linked with the German at various times over the years – as long ago as 2015, when the team were preparing for their first season in F1 – Haas have at last got their man.

After growing frustrated working with younger drivers, Steiner’s primary motive for pursuing Hulkenberg was experience and that plug-in-play quality best displayed during his Covid cameos in Racing Point and Aston Martin colours.

Those performances should alleviate any doubts over Hulkenberg’s comeback after three years away from a full-time seat and, like his team-mate, he is too old for another team to lure him away if his return proves successful.

Welcome to the start of another Steiner love story.

Yuki Tsunoda: Go

AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost has often said that drivers require three years to fully get to grips with life in F1.

For Yuki Tsunoda, this is year three. It’s now or never.

Having offered only brief flashes of potential across the previous two seasons, the prospect of Tsunoda suddenly setting the grid alight in 2023 seems remote with the elementary mistakes – driving directly into the wall at the pit exit in Canada, for instance – still coming.

And with suspicions that Red Bull Powertrains will go it alone in terms of producing an engine for 2026, will the same need to keep Honda sweet still exist?

Tsunoda’s inconsistency alongside a team leader of Pierre Gasly’s stature was forgivable, but the requirement to beat a team-mate entering his first full season in F1 will bring extra pressure.

The walls, it seems, are finally closing in on Tsunoda and only a hitherto unseen surge in performance is going to save him.

Nyck de Vries: Stay

The only lingering concern over Nyck de Vries’ cameo appearance at the Italian Grand Prix is that it came on the only weekend in 2022 that it was an advantage to drive a Williams.

With the FW44 perfectly suited to – almost to the point of being specifically designed for – the high-speed stretches of Monza, even a driver of average quality could not fail to look respectable – even if Nicholas Latifi, in the other car, tried his utmost.

Having been considered an outsider for a 2023 seat until that stage despite his title-winning credentials in Formula 2 and Formula E, that one weekend propelled De Vries into the very heart of the driver market.

He is likely to emerge as a reliable and consistent performer this year but unless war breaks out at the main team between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez – which would reflect poorly on both drivers and represent a failure of management – the chances of a Dutch superteam at Red Bull in 2024 will remain slim.

Another year at AlphaTauri to grow – and for Red Bull to gauge his ultimate potential – is surely the most likely outcome.

Logan Sargeant: Go

It’s not so much the signing of Logan Sargeant that leaves a strange taste as what it tells us about the state of play at Williams at this point in their history.

Having been linked to De Vries and Oscar Piastri in the early months of last season, can Williams truly say they signed the best driver available to them for 2023?

Or, having rushed to sign the first American driver of the Liberty age – announcing Sargeant as a 2023 race driver in Austin before he even had the required number of superlicence points – is this a signing to entice the sponsors and even tempt a potential bidder?

If it is the latter, this is not a decision made with the best interests of the driver and his long-term prospects at heart and that rarely ends well.

Alongside Alex Albon – his confidence now restored after his own bruising experience at Red Bull – in what is likely to be another tricky car in a team still without a team principal and technical director, the challenge facing Sargeant ahead of his debut season could not be more difficult.

We hope to be proven wrong but fear this could be yet another driver just passing through.

Read more: Pierre Gasly makes AlphaTauri prediction now that he has left for Alpine

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