February 6, 2024
WRITTEN BY:
Richard Foegele

All is Not Quiet in F1

Boom!

The 2023/24 Formula 1 off-season looked to be the calmest in years. No new driver contracts, team personnel movement was at a minimum and a new American team (perhaps) was on the horizon. What could go wrong?

The FIA was first to get the ball rolling in December, by opening a probe against F1 Academy Managing Director, Susie Wolff, for allegedly sharing F1 secrets with her husband, Mercedes F1 Boss, Toto. Unfortunately, the source was a tabloid article and, not for the first time, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem ended up with egg on his face.

Emirati Mohammed Ben Sulayem is a former rally driver and President of the FIA, the governing body of many auto racing activities, including Formula One

Early January saw the surprise firing of Netflix star and Haas Team Principal, Guenther Steiner. Despite the F1 cost cap designed to level the playing field, Haas has been struggling. Finishing last in the 2023 Constructors’ Championship may have been the final straw for Steiner.

Machine tool gazillionaire, Gene Haas, has had enough. Having spent 16 months in jail for tax evasion, he is undoubtedly a tough cookie. Steiner’s colorful personality and on-camera antics will be missed

January also gave us news that Andretti Autosport’s bid to join the F1 grid in 2025 was rejected. Although the application has been accepted by the FIA (F1’s governing body), it was the Formula One rights holder, US-based Liberty Media, that made the decision not to accept the application for the American Team. Some have speculated that the current 10 F1 teams did not want to dilute their F1 prize fund by adding an 11th team to the pot.

American Greg Maffei is the head of Liberty Media, which owns the commercial rights to Formula One. The decision to accept or reject Andretti Autosport was, ultimately, his

Completely overshadowing the Andretti F1 issue was the rumor that Lewis Hamilton was in talks with Ferrari. Within 24 hours it was confirmed that Hamilton would be in Red from 2025 onwards. So, you might ask: why? Money. He would be the highest paid driver in F1, rivaling Max Verstappen. Oh, and by the way, Ferrari’s share price skyrocketed more than 10% to a market cap of just under $7 billion with this surprising news. Within that context, paying Hamilton a rumored $40 million-ish barely amounts to chump change.

Ferrari reported its quarterly earnings along with the bombshell news about Hamilton, causing share values to surge. Benedetto Vigna runs the show at Ferrari. Have you seen the new Ferrari movie yet?

But money may not be the sole motivation. Rejoining forces with Frenchman Frédéric Vasseur (Ferrari Team Principal) who orchestrated Hamilton’s junior career championships (F3 and GP2) and has been charged with returning Ferrari to the top of the grid, is also likely a part of the mix.

Aeronautics and engineering professional, Frédéric Vasseur is the Team Principal/GM of Scuderia Ferrari. His past includes tenure at Renault F1, Sauber and Alfa Romeo. Hamilton won Formula Three and GP2 (now Formula Two) championships with Vasseur’s ART team in 2005 and 2006 before making his F1 debut with McLaren in 2007

So, is the move a gamble that Hamilton will be able to raise the Scuderia to its former Schumacheresque glory? It is certainly a risk. And what of Ferrari’s current team drivers, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr.? With a fresh contract extension (reportedly until 2029), Leclerc will be Hamilton’s teammate, but he will not be interested in taking on a number two role (remember the fireworks between Leclerc and Vettel?). For Carlos Sainz Jr., a good fit would be to jump into Hamilton’s vacated seat at Mercedes. Other options could be replacing Sergio Perez at Red Bull, or depending on what fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso does, moving into an Aston Martin seat. Another option is switching to StakeF1 (formerly Sauber, which will be rebranded as Audi F1 in two years) and hoping that the Germans get it right with new F1 regulations coming in 2026.

Carlos Sainz Jr. has been bumped by Lewis Hamilton. Unfortunately, looks aren’t everything. F1 is a battlefield and it can be downright ugly

What’s the best solution for Team Mercedes? Carlos Sainz Jr. could be an easy fit and his performances at Ferrari (he took the Team’s only win last season) have been good, despite the car’s shortcomings. Alex Albon is another strong potential Mercedes choice, as he delivered points finishes mixed with some Q3 performances, where the true Big Boys play. The mix of Albon and Russell would be a little less fiery than having “spicy” Sainz on board. With his contract expiring at the end of 2024, Fernando Alonso might be a short-term fit, leaving eventual room for a Mercedes Junior to slot into the team in 2026/27. Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Junior Andrea Kimi Antonelli from Castiglione del Lago, Italy, could also fill the vacant Mercedes seat. Although just heading into his first Formula 2 Championship this season, Antonelli’s previous Junior Series’ performances have been nothing short of spectacular. For Mercedes, it would be a risk to put Antonelli straight into a Top Line seat, as F1 is a very different animal to any other type of Formula, and he would be better suited to completing a season or two at, say, Williams (sort of an equivalent to the early Max Verstappen timeline at Toro Rosso).

It’s probably too early for Italy’s Andrea Kimi Antonelli to take up the void left by Hamilton; however, keep your eyes on this 17 year old. He will be on the F1 grid soon enough

So much for a quiet off-season. I am sure the editors at Netflix’s upcoming “Formula 1: Drive to Survive - Season 6” are super busy re-editing content, as the release date coincides with the first day of 2024 F1 testing in Bahrain in a couple of weeks.

While you’re waiting for the action, why not spend a bit of pre-season time with F1 Master Fernando Alonso? He’s pumped!

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About the Author

Richard is a life-long motor-racer with experience in photography, filmmaking and engineering. His friends sometimes affectionately call him "Foegepedia" for his knowledge of the sport.

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