Should F1 adopt a football-style transfer window for drivers? Max Verstappen is the proof we need

Lewis Hamilton and Pierre Gasly have discussed the idea of an F1 driver transfer window. But would it work as well as it does in football?

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Formula 1 is unlike any other sport, and that’s fine – the F1 purists thrive on its unique qualities. It means that no matter how often Stefano Domenicali attempts to modify F1 for the growing American audience, fans can still enjoy the unrestricted and unpredictable chaos that is associated with the fluid driver market.

Fortunately, there’s no danger of that changing anytime soon. During the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix weekend, the drivers were asked an interesting question about whether F1 should follow football by introducing a transfer market.

Both Lewis Hamilton and Pierre Gasly said they were happy with how things are, although the latter did make a worrying mention to NFL’s Draft system – seemingly influenced from his association with the Denver Broncos.

It is certainly a topic worth discussing but only for a short while. Because when F1 is compared to football, that’s where the conversation must end.

Ferrari 2025 line-up Leclerc and Hamilton | X.com @F1
Lewis Hamilton is joining Ferrari in one of the biggest F1 driver moves in recent histor. | X.com @F1

In truth, I’m not convinced it would make much of a difference. As a seasoned sports journalist who has covered the year-round football transfer rumour mill for the best part of a decade, I can say with confidence that the transfer window is almost redundant.

In reality, deals are negotiated in secret all throughout the year, just like in F1, and the ‘window’ itself is merely used to register new signings. Yawn.

What’s more, F1 teams are restricted to hiring two drivers and a reserve, so the maximum amount of transfer action you’re going to see in one window is three at best. This just isn’t comparable to how Chelsea FC oversaw 28 different transfers in and out during the 2023 summer transfer window.

Why Verstappen’s future would look different

If F1 decided to copy the January transfer window, where football clubs tend to wait until the very last moment to do their business in the hope of getting their top target for a bargain fee, it wouldn’t make much sense for a driver like Verstappen to wait 30 days to decide his F1 future. No. Agents and managers are intelligent people who would try every trick in the book to get the best deal for their client – and Verstappen is no exception.

Even if there was an F1 deadline day, what we’re left with is an almighty scramble to fill seats, teams making knee-jerk decisions and drivers’ futures in F1 being decided by paperwork. Actually, come to think of it, the chaos might be quite fun after all.

On the other side of the coin, it be mind-numbingly boring for F1 fans if he simply announced on January 1 that he is staying with Red Bull. Unlike the drawn-out saga involving Kylian Mbappe and Real Madrid, it was genuinely quite entertaining to imagine Verstappen jumping ship from Red Bull to join Mercedes and watch the story develop over the course of the entire season.

But let’s look at it this way: if F1 did have a transfer window in the summer break, meaning drivers could only switch teams at that time in the season, we would have never got the chance to see that incredible Verstappen debut victory for Red Bull at the 2016 Spanish GP. Some 58 more victories later and it’s still one of the most inspired driver changes of all time.

We also never would’ve witnessed Nyck de Vries being brutally sacked after just 10 races by AlphaTauri, facilitating Daniel Ricciardo’s blissful return to the grid. Would Daniil Kvyat still be under the guise of Helmut Marko? F1 just wouldn’t be the same.

Copying NFL could work

But perhaps Hamilton is onto something with the idea of copying NFL for an ‘F1 Draft’. The number of young drivers in motorsport has increased tenfold since I started watching F1, with over half of the grid now under the age of 26, and securing the best starlets coming through the feeder categories has never been more important.

In the 2024 NFL Draft, Caleb Williams was a deserving No.1 overall pick and he was to essentially make his choice from the best teams in the league. That’s how it should be in F1 – drivers who earned their rightful place in F1 shouldn’t have their pathway blocked.

If you win the Formula 2 championship, why shouldn’t you get an automatic seat in one of the three bottom teams? Could it really be worse than ‘pay drivers’ – not naming any names – buying their way onto the grid?

Oscar Piastri had to wait two years for his F1 chance. | McLaren F1 Team

Oscar Piastri had to wait two years to get on the grid after winning the F2 title, which is wrong considering how supremely talented he is. Felipe Drugovich is going nowhere as a reserve at Aston Martin and is yet to make his debut, while Theo Pourchaire was forced into IndyCar despite winning the F2 crown because Alfa Romeo hired Zhou instead.

F1 needs to think about its future and keeping things interesting for the fans, but focus on the regulations. What Hamilton bombshell’s exit and Sainz’s unknown future shows is that we don’t need to mess with ‘Silly Season’; it’s already a fascinating concept and entertaining enough.

So please, Mr Domenicali, leave it alone.

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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