Sainz to Ferrari, Ricciardo to McLaren, Alonso to Renault?
Carlos Sainz will replace Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari for 2021, with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo replacing the former at McLaren.
Both Sainz and Ricciardo were among the top contenders for Vettel’s seat at Ferrari, following the shock revelation that the four-time World Champion would leave Maranello at the end of the 2020 season. Sainz, an established Grand Prix star with 102 races already under his belt with Toro Rosso, Renault and McLaren, claimed his first podium in Formula 1 at last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix en-route to finishing an impressive 6th in the standings, behind only the leading Mercedes and Ferraris, and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.
Daniel Ricciardo meanwhile, a winner of seven Grand Prix during his time with Red Bull Racing, enters into the final year of a two-season deal with Renault in 2020, and is all-too familiar with pressure required to race in a top team. The 30-year old Australian was also known to be weighing his options after a difficult maiden campaign at Enstone that yielded a best finish of 4th at Monza.
Just 48 hours after Vettel’s announcement though, it has now been confirmed that Sainz will join Ferrari alongside expected team number one Charles Leclerc from 2021 onwards. On his new signing, team principal Mattia Binotto explained:
“I’m pleased to announce that Carlos will join Scuderia Ferrari as from [sic] the 2021 championship. With five seasons already behind him, Carlos has proved to be very talented and has shown that he has the technical ability and the right attributes to make him an ideal fit with our family.
“We’ve embarked on a new cycle with the aim of getting back to the top in Formula 1. It will be a long journey, not without its difficulties, especially given the current financial and regulatory situation, which is undergoing a sudden change and will require this challenge to be tackled in a different way to the recent past.
“We believe that a driver pairing with the talent and personality of Charles and Carlos, the youngest in the past fifty years of the Scuderia, will be the best possible combination to help us reach the goals we have set ourselves.”
With Sainz departing Woking at the end of the year, McLaren has now confirmed that Ricciardo will take up the Spaniard’s seat in 2021 alongside Lando Norris, emphasising the Aussie’s “experience, commitment and energy” as chief factors behind the team’s decision.
“Signing Daniel is another step forward in our long-term plan and will bring an exciting new dimension to the team, alongside Lando,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown explained in an official statement. “This is good news for our team, partners and of course our fans.
“I also want to pay tribute to Carlos for the excellent job he has been doing for McLaren in helping our performance recovery plan. He is a real team player and we wish him well for his future beyond McLaren.”
With driver line-ups at Maranello and Woking confirmed for the near future, speculation now turns to whom will partner Esteban Ocon at Renault in 2021, in the wake of Ricciardo’s departure. The recently ousted Nico Hulkenberg, whom Ocon replaced at Enstone for 2020, is high on most people’s lists, given his three-year stint with the team from 2017 to 2019. That a return to F1 would also give the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans winner one last shot at claiming his first podium in the top flight after 177 Grand Prix starts would be a banner story for F1 too.
Guanyu Zhou, a member of the Renault Sport Academy, has also been speculated as a possible teammate for Ocon, having taken five podiums with Virtuosi Racing in his maiden Formula 2 campaign in 2019. Similarly, Jack Aitkin, despite leaving the Academy at the beginning of the year to sign as Williams’ test driver for 2020, is another name being touted, the 24-year-old Brit having established himself as a Formula 2 frontrunner in both 2018 and 2019, collecting four series wins and five further podiums in the process.
That Sebastian Vettel will team up once again with the engine manufacturer that powered him to his four World Championships with Red Bull from 2010 to 2013 is also being speculated, though the F1’s rumour mill suggests a possible move to Aston Martin Racing for 2021 seems more likely.
Probably the most controversial name doing the rounds though is Fernando Alonso. The reigning World Endurance Champion secured both of his Formula 1 drivers’ titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006, and claimed 17 of his 32 Grand Prix wins during his 2003-2006 and 2008-2009 stints with the team. The Spanish favourite has also claimed to have “unfinished business in F1” and is no stranger when it comes to stirring the pot on social media: a recent tweet of Fernando Alonso iPhone wallpapers from Renault F1 did not go unnoticed, nor did the Spaniard’s cheeky response. That the two-time champion left both Ferrari and McLaren in acrimonious terms before leaving F1 altogether in 2018, plus his desires to return to a front-running team as opposed to a struggling Renault, could well see Alonso continue his quest for motorsport’s ‘Triple Crown’ in the near future.
*Images courtesy of Ferrari, McLaren, Formula1.com and Red Bull Content Pool