In the wake of Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen inking bumper extensions to their respective contracts over recent weeks, it is clear the two knights are firmly focused on hunting down Lewis Hamilton’s world title.
The decision for Ferrari and Red Bull to lock down both drivers until 2024 and 2023 respectively warns off any potential suitors, while also showing their belief in achieving championship glory.
It is the ultimate show of faith by both teams, especially with the new regulations on the way in 2021, and a driver market that is set to be one of the most volatile at the end of the year, given the majority of the grid are entering the final year of their contracts.
Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo are among the key names that will be up for contract renewals after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix later this year.
But with Verstappen and Leclerc committing their futures, it means less chance of any significant changes among the top teams.
With the Dutchman off the table for Mercedes, the Silver Arrow are bound to want to secure Hamilton for another three season, especially with him being on course to beat Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles. His current salary is believed to be €50 million per annum.
Valtteri Bottas – who earns a reported €7.5 million per season – has been a proven number two and has forged a solid relationship with the Briton.
If Mercedes opt against extending the Finn’s deal after this season, then George Russell or Esteban Ocon are ideal candidates for the second seat. Their low cost could offset the increase Hamilton may demand to remain at the side while injecting some fresh youth into the team.
At Ferrari, Leclerc’s long-term position means Vettel’s place is weakened even more. The German needs to up his game after a disappointing 2019 season, especially with Antonio Giovinazzi, Giuliano Alesi, Mick Schumacher and many more rising stars vying for his seat.
While Kimi Raikkonen essentially accepted an unofficial number two role to stay at the Prancing Horse, Vettel is the type of character that would be unwilling to do that.
A four-time world champion, who put the fight up to Hamilton for large spells of 2017 and 2018, his form wilted last season, and he finished fifth in the drivers’ standings, 24 points behind Leclerc.
If Vettel’s €40 million salary is not renewed, then there is more chance of him retiring satisfied with his multiple world titles and 53 race wins, rather than dropping down to Alfa Romeo to replace a 40-year-old Raikkonen.
Why go from a team that can compete for race victories to just being content to pull in a wage and barely challenge for top-10 finishes at Alfa Romeo?
Ferrari Academy Driver’s like Giovinazzi, Alesi or Schumacher deserve a mention if the Scuderia seat is vacant, but don’t forget Daniel Ricciardo’s contract runs out at Renault at the end of the year too.
The Australian, who turns 31 in July, may be less likely to play a supporting role to Leclerc but a chance to join Ferrari would be too difficult to turn down.
It would mean being back in a quick and beautifully balanced car that can challenge for podiums and race wins, and forge one of the strongest line-ups on the grid with Leclerc.
For now, it is uncertain what will happen at the end of 2020, but one thing for sure is that fresh contracts signed in recent weeks means less chance of any upsets at the top teams.
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