With Pierre Gasly's surprise move to Alpine confirmed and Nyck de Vries announced as his replacement at AlphaTauri, there are only two seats remaining on the grid for the 2023 season.
Oscar Piastri and de Vries enter motorsports’ elite club at the expense of Daniel Ricciardo and the retiring Sebastian Vettel, with Nicholas Latifi also being ousted from Williams and Mick Schumacher yet to renew his Haas contract.
Only Ricciardo and Schumacher from the above group are hoping to regain a seat next season, which you’d think leaves them in pole position given there are only two vacant spots remaining.
However, a host of other drivers, ranging from testing drivers to those in other classifications and motorsports, are also hoping to get their shot at the top of the ladder.
Haas appear to be a team who are impatient to wait for results and, after losing Nikita Mazepin, they opted for the vastly more experienced Kevin Magnussen in his place.
They showed some early season pace with many thinking they could upset the hierarchy in the Constructors’ Championship when the Dane finished 5th and 9th in his first two races, although they have since dropped off and struggled to make up ground.
Now their other inexperienced driver, Schumacher, could well be facing the boot come the end of his contract in the close season too.
The American-based team have called a press conference ahead of their home race in the United States this weekend, in what could be a move towards announcing a new driver.
Ahead of the announcement we’ve assessed the potential candidates for that seat.
Firstly, it’s not a definite outcome that Schumacher loses his seat.
Gunther Steiner has very recently said there is a 50/50 chance he remains with the team while Gene Haas has stated that his place on the grid remains in his hands, stating the driver would immediately be confirmed for next season should he win a race this season.
As the chances of him winning a race are practically zero, you wonder what the criteria for a contract renewal may be. A starting point would be to outscore his teammate Magnussen, who has won Haas two-thirds of their current points, in the remaining four races.
He will also need to avoid any collisions or accidents, in an attempt to prove Haas’ assessment wrong, in that he is costing the team too much money by crashing and not scoring.
A driver who is no stranger to the F1 grid, Hulkenberg lost his seat at Renault in 2019 after nine seasons of competing in the sport, and has only been used since as a reserve driver for Racing Point and Aston Martin.
The German never really lived up to the promise he showed in the lower classifications, having held the record for the most career points without a race win, as well as the most F1 career starts without a podium finish.
So what makes him an attractive prospect for a team desperate for some quick success?
Hulkenberg has, despite the negative records, been a steady but unspectacular driver in Formula 1, often helping teams to Constructors’ finishes they wouldn’t normally be aspiring for. Take Force India’s consecutive fifth and fourth place finishes in 2015 and 2016 for example.
Often racing in underperforming cars, Hulkenberg was more often than not a regular points scorer, something that can’t be said for Schumacher. He was also rarely involved in collisions or crashes, something that will attract Haas to him as back markers who cannot afford to rebuild cars week in, week out.
The former Force India driver is currently in pole position for the seat according speculation from various F1 sources, although noises coming from Haas suggest that it certainly isn’t a done deal.
Giovinazzi is currently Scuderia Ferrari’s reserve driver and due to Haas’ close relationship with the Italian racing giants, he is well known by the American team’s personnel.
He has experience on the grid due to three years driving for Alfa Romeo, and is used for various practice and testing sessions for Haas, including running during FP1 this weekend at the United States Grand Prix.
The issue with Giovinazzi is that he has never performed in Formula one - his highest finish in the drivers’ championship is 17th and he was a rare points scorer for Alfa Romeo.
However, he was very consistent in finishing races, rarely needing to have his car rebuilt, and he showed plenty of promise finishing second to Gasly in his maiden season in GP2 (now Formula 2).
Add to this his runner up finish in Formula 3, in a field containing Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Alex Albon and Lance Stroll, and his racing pedigree is clear for all to see.
It may well come down to a straight shootout this weekend between Giovinazzi and Schumacher for the seat depending on who is the quicker driver in their respective roles, and what better place for it to be than in Haas’ home country.
A bit of an outsider for the seat, there have been plenty of mixed messages surrounding Ricciardo’s F1 future over the past couple of race weeks, with the man himself seemingly confirming he will be taking a break from the sport instead of racing at the back of the grid.
However, Haas have thrown him a lifeline, with Gunther Steiner very openly declaring his admiration and revealing he would happily take a call from the Australian once he has decided upon his career path.
The former Red Bull driver began his career on the grid with HRT in 2011 and has been racing in motorsports’ elite ever since. An experienced head, he is also one of the biggest personalities in the pit lane, known for his happy go lucky persona.
He is considered an elite driver, having finished 3rd in the Drivers’ Championship on two occasions with Red Bull, behind two of F1’s most iconic and decorated drivers in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
The Aussie also managed to finish 5th in the 2020 Championship with Renault; proof that he could still perform in a weaker car, and it may be that season that makes Ricciardo stand out from his other contenders for the seat.
Haas are hoping to run a car next season with the pace that their current one showed at the beginning of the season, something to rival teams such as Alpine and McLaren rather than languishing towards the bottom as they currently are with Williams and Alphatauri.
Ricciardo, having over performed at Renault with a mid-table car, may be the best man to partner Magnussen for a charge up the Constructors’.
An unknown quantity to most fans, Schwartzman seems unlikely to be racing in Formula 1 next year.
The Israeli is a test driver for Ferrari and, like Giovinazzi, will be appearing in practice sessions in Texas this weekend.
He does have a proven track record of succeeding in the lower classifications of racing, lifting the Formula 3 Championship in his maiden season, ahead of current AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda.
Following his graduation to Formula 2, Schwartzman recorded respectable finishes of 4th and 2nd in the Driver’s Championship before stepping away. Missing out on both occasions to drivers currently on the grid for Formula 1’s 2022 or 2023 season in Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher and Oscar Piastri.
Schwartzman doesn’t appear to have too much of a chance of obtaining a place in the Haas car for 2023. However, Haas and Gunther Steiner have not officially ruled him out of contention when asked.
If they reconsider their options and decide to pair youth with the experienced Magnussen, he may get his opportunity at the pinnacle of motorsports.
The Haas seat looks like it will be the next to be filled ahead of next season, leaving Williams as the sole team without a completed line-up as the 2023 grid edges towards completion. Although that looks increasingly likely to stay empty until after the season climax.
One of the above will be secured in their position very soon, possibly on Thursday following the Haas press conference, while the rest will be nervously waiting for a phone call from Jost Capito in regards to becoming Alex Albon’s team mate for next year.Safer Gambling Week (17-23 October) – Let’s talk about safer gambling. Click here for more information on independent resources. Gamble Responsibly.