How Verstappen holds F1 driver market “hostage”

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More than half of the vacancies on the 2025 grid Formula 1 are still open, but a pilot continues to hold the silly season as a “hostage”. Power struggles within the Red Bull can open the door to a shocking exit from Max Verstappensomething that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago.

It goes without saying, but just the possibility of Verstappen triggering an exit clause in his contract before 2028 puts the entire grid on alert. Toto Wolfffrom the Mercedesalready openly says that he would be his first candidate to replace Lewis Hamilton.

Aston Martin is also interested and, according to the Motorsport.com Italyshe made an offer to Adrian Newey for him to work on the 2026 Honda engines as a way of attracting the Dutchman.

Since the announcement of Hamilton’s departure, several drivers have contacted Wolff about the open seat, but until Verstappen defines his future, Mercedes will be in no rush to put the hammer down.

“As much as we were shocked by Lewis’ quick decision, I now want to take my time,” Wolff told Fox Sports Australia. “We have a vacancy, the only one in the top teams. There are few options that really interest us, from super talented youngsters to others, more experienced.”

“That’s not going to happen in the next few weeks or months. I want to continue monitoring the market. It depends on what Max does.”

While we still have to see whether Andrea Kimi Antonelli, the “super talented young man” mentioned by Wolff, will be ready for a promotion after just one year in F2, Verstappen’s impasse has a ripple effect across the entire driver market.

Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz, Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon have all been mentioned as possible replacements. The Spaniard’s case is the most urgent since, unlike his colleagues, he does not have the luxury of staying where he is. He is a side effect of Ferrari’s bold move to have Hamilton and, therefore, he is looking for a new vacancy.

Carlos Sainz, Scuderia Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

The Spaniard’s pass has grown recently thanks to his good performance alongside Charles Leclerc, being emphasized after the victories in Singapore last year and in Melbourne in the last stage, being the only non-Red Bull driver to win a GP in the last 500 days . Initially, Verstappen seems to dictate which place in the top team would be open for Sainz.

However, if Verstappen stays at Red Bull and Mercedes follows a different path, Sainz will be in trouble. Sauber/Audi’s interest would be their best option, but it would also be a short-term downgrade.

But Sainz also appears as an option for Sergio Pérez’s place at Red Bull. Intriguingly, it was Christian Horner who brought his name to Melbourne: “Look, Yuki is a very fast driver, we know that. But I think we want to have the best possible pairing at Red Bull. And sometimes you have to look outside also”.

“You have a very fast, unemployed driver who won today’s race, so the market is reasonably fluid for drivers. Based on a performance like that [de Sainz]we can’t rule out anything.”

Regardless of whether he has one or two spots to fill for 2025, Pérez is doing what he needs to do to strengthen his case. Put that together with a lack of positive momentum from Tsunoda and Ricciardo, his chances appear to have increased.

“Obviously, Checo was committed [no GP da Austrália]” said Horner. “He’s had a great start to the season too, so we’re in no rush.”

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, is interviewed after Qualifying

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Alonso also seems affected by Verstappen’s fate, with the options of staying at Aston, targeting Mercedes or Red Bull and even retiring. But he doesn’t see the situation the same way, saying he “won’t let others dictate his destiny.”

Verstappen, Sainz and Alonso’s pieces are just the first in a long line of dominoes, with several other drivers behind them and teams analyzing their possibilities, in a list that includes Valtteri Botas, Ocon and Pierre Gasly and new talents such as Liam Lawson and Oliver Bearman.

It will be fascinating to see which of the multiple scenarios ends up coming to fruition in the coming weeks and months. Who will finish this game in the best places and who will lose out? Watch scenes from the next chapters.

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