The Formula 1 silly season is yet to kick off in earnest, but with eight seats on the 2024 grid up for grabs, teams will soon start making the big decisions.
By this point in 2022, Fernando Alonso and Oscar Piastri had already set the F1 driver market alight with the former’s surprise switch to Aston Martin and the latter’s snub of Alpine.
But despite Nyck de Vries‘ sacking from AlphaTauri in place of Daniel Ricciardo, things haven’t heated up just yet – if anything Ricciardo‘s temporary removal from the carousel of names has dampened rumours of his 2024 seat, at least for now.
AlphaTauri remain the great wildcard in speculation with both seats unconfirmed for 2024, while Haas (soon to add Alfa Romeo to their title) are also open on both fronts.
And Sauber, Aston Martin, Mercedes and Williams all have one seat available with Zhou Guanyu, Lance Stroll, Lewis Hamilton and Logan Sargeant all yet to confirm their futures – although only the latter three are all likely to re-sign.
On paper this is the most straightforward swap. Now aged 24, Zhou Guanyu hasn’t been a disaster in two seasons at Alfa Romeo but he’s not shown the potential to star in F1 while Pourchaire has been the poster boy for the Sauber Academy since its inception in 2019.
So who is Theo Pourchaire? He’s a prodigious talent, who starred in karting and finished a fantastic third in his first season of French F4 aged just 15 and won ADAC F4 a year later.
He was fast-tracked to F3 and came second behind Oscar Piastri in 2020, before winning the Monaco F2 race in his debut season. But after his early success, he’s been unable to land another title, needing to add consistency to his undoubted speed.
Something’s always got in the way, but since the European leg of the 2023 F2 season he’s been the man to beat, landing seven podiums to fire himself into the lead of the championship.
Pourchaire‘s pair of second-places at Spa encapsulated what he can bring to F1, his strong lap-to-lap pace coupled with a willingness to overtake anywhere and devastating speed in the rain.
The 19-year-old should deserve a shot alongside Valtteri Bottas – who would be a good barometer as a first teammate, but Zhou is popular at the Swiss team who could prefer to stick for one more season.
The Kiwi could become just New Zealand’s second F1 driver of the 21st century, after possessing an FIA Super Licence for three years.
Lawson landed a string of podiums at the start of his junior formula career before catapulting himself into the limelight by winning the pre-season tune-up 2019 Toyota Racing Series against the then-highly-rated Marcus Armstrong.
Unfortunately for Lawson, he’s performed superbly everywhere except the F1 support bill – he was never able to put a proper title challenge together in F2 or F3.
But after Helmut Marko sent the Red Bull Junior to Super Formula for 2023 he’s once again been sublime, just one point off the lead of a championship that’s notoriously difficult for outsiders to win on debut.
He’s already ran in free practice for both AlphaTauri and Red Bull, and will surely be pushing for more opportunities this season. He seems to be in good favour with Marko and if there are open spots at the team in 2024 Lawson will surely be the first in line.
Probably behind Lawson in the Red Bull Juniors pecking order right now, but has the chance to leapfrog the Kiwi by capturing a prize that Lawson never could – an F2 championship.
Like his compatriot Yuki Tsunoda, Iwasa was fast-tracked up the feeder series ladder earning a promotion to F3 after just one full season of F4 before making his F2 debut just a year later.
So it’s been a rapid rise for the 21-year-old, who now sits third in the standings at 34 points behind Pourchaire.
If Iwasa can make up that ground on the Frenchman then he has every chance of making his F1 debut in 2024. And what will Tsunoda do? He’s earned a third year at the top level but could he look elsewhere after another uncompetitive AlphaTauri offering in 2023, so the team might even run with two rookies in 2024.
The long shots
Oliver Bearman has lived up to his sky-high potential in his debut season of F2, after previously doing an unprecedented double-F4 title win in 2021.
Bearman should be the next Brit in F1 and became the first-ever driver to win both the sprint and feature races on an F2 weekend at Baku, showing his trademark race and one-lap pace plus his fearlessness wheel-to-wheel. Could he be an option to Haas-Alfa Romeo after Kevin Magnussen‘s struggles in 2023?
But Bearman‘s still raw and at times he’s just lagged a tad behind the frontrunners, he could likely do with another season against F2 competition before making a deserved step up.
Felipe Drugovitch has already come oh-so-close to his F1 debut, he looked set to step in for Lance Stroll at the 2023 Bahrain GP after the Canadian’s cycling accident seemed to have ruled him out.
But Stroll made a miraculous recovery for possibly his best performance of the season and after completing pre-season testing on behalf of the Canadian, Drugovitch was forced to sit it out.
Drugovitch was the surprise winner of the 2022 F2 championship, completing a stellar rise from scoring just one point in his first season of F3, but received little interest from F1 teams before signing as a reserve at Aston Martin.
Stroll‘s still not signed a contract for 2024 and on paper Drugovitch probably deserves a shot in his place but unfortunately his father doesn’t own the team. So will there be a change in Lawrence Stroll‘s priorities? Or will his performances attract any other suitors?
Mercedes junior Frederik Vesti was leading the F2 championship until the Belgian round, in what’s been a renaissance season for the Dane.
He appeared for the Silver Arrows at the 2022-post-season Abu Dhabi test and will race in free practice for the 2023 Mexican GP too, so he’s certainly making inroads into the F1 operation.
But Vesti‘s not shown the star power across his junior career to demand an F1 seat and it would certainly be a surprise to see him on the grid in 2024. Could he follow De Vries‘ path to Formula E instead?
Jack Doohan couldn’t have signed off for the summer break in any finer fashion, winning the feature race of both the Hungarian and Belgian F2 rounds.
The Alpine junior previously finished second in the 2021 F3 championship and was sixth on his F2 debut before following that up with a strong second season.
Doohan is just four points behind Iwasa in 2023 and could well be champion if he can continue his fine form after the summer break, but even if that happens there’s not an obvious route onto the F1 grid.
Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly are locked in for 2024, could Doohan find room at Haas maybe? He’s certainly got the credit in the bank from his career so far if so, having also run twice in practice for Alpine in 2022.
And finally, Alex Palou has been linked with F1 since winning the IndyCar championship in 2021. Expected to step into a McLaren at some stage, he tested well with them in free practice for the 2022 United States GP but has now been linked with an AlphaTauri seat as he again leads the way in IndyCar.
Where is the next F1 2023 race?
F1 will return from its summer break with the 2023 Dutch Grand Prix from Zandvoort on August 25-27, where championship leader Max Verstappen will be racing on home soil.