On Friday two more Formula One drivers confirmed they will be staying with their teams for the 2022 season. In the Alpine garage, the team from Enstone re-signed 40-year-old Fernando Alonso to partner with Grand Prix winner Esteban Ocon. Over at Red Bull one of the big question marks has been answered, as Sergio Perez (another 2021 GP victor) has had his one-year contract extended another year into 2022.
There are still some TBAs on the grid for 2022, but the only one that really matters right now is the one attached to the second seat at Mercedes. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Merc will either choose to stick with Valtteri Bottas for another season, or kick him out to allow young phenom and fan favorite George Russell a slot in the top team on the grid. Once that is decided, the rest of the grid will fall into place like dominoes.
Williams, Alpha Tauri, and Alfa Romeo have not announced any of its drivers yet, as I’m sure all three are hoping to pick up the scraps in the fallout of that high-profile Mercedes decision. Sure, there is still an open spot at the Aston Martin team, but that’s Lance Stroll’s spot, and his daddy funds the team, so that’s pretty much a done deal, right?
Fernando Alonso has done some of the best driving of his career this season, so it’s hardly surprising that the team wants to keep him around in blue overalls for the 2022 season. He’s always been highly regarded as a good development driver, which will be even more important next year when the new regulations come into play. Ocon has proven he can hold his own, but a young driver like him can’t be expected to develop a new chassis all on his own with a new teammate.
It seems likely that Sergio Perez has secured his Red Bull spot by being a good team player for Max Verstappen. Not only did the Mexican manage to tick off another Grand Prix win in Azerbaijan earlier this season, but he has managed to keep Red Bull in the points when Verstappen has faltered, he has played a good blocker and pits picker for the team when necessary, and even scuppered his own race at the British Grand Prix to pit for fresh tires and steal the fastest lap point away from Lewis Hamilton. Yeah, he’s a good guy to keep around for 2022, I think.
It seems likely that Mercedes will draw its choice out for several weeks, maybe even months, to keep everyone on their toes. But once that piece of the puzzle is figured out, the rest of the grid will probably fall in line within a week of that announcement. This is a game of musical chairs, and Mercedes is keeping the music playing. Personally, I’d love to see them do something totally left-field and sign Pierre Gasly to partner with Hamilton next season. That kid deserves better than what Franz Tost and Helmut Marko are giving him.
The silly season isn’t over yet, but it’s getting a whole lot closer. Which is good.