The 2021 F1 season is all set as the driver lineup for each team is finally confirmed after Lewis Hamilton's recent renewal with the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team. Fans can't wait to hear the engines fire up once again when their favorite drivers return at the Bahrain GP in late March.
But with every new season approaching, the world of F1 is already thinking ahead and is usually abuzz with rumors of retirements, contract renewals and driver switches for next season. Fans are already stressing over whether their favorite driver will still be driving for their favorite next season, or leaving for greener pastures. While some others are constantly refreshing their social media feeds to check whether their favorite driver will be racing in F1 at all next season.
There is an interesting list of drivers whose contracts with their current teams are up at the end of the 2021 season. Some of the biggest names in F1 could be forced to impress their current team principals to get a renewal, or get the most out of the car they're in to attract offers from bigger teams.
Here are five such drivers who are out of contract at the end of 2021:
#1 Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
But Hamilton has only signed a contract for a single season, meaning his new deal expires at the end of 2021. Many have started speculating that the greatest driver in the history of the sport could be looking at a future away from Formula One sooner rather than later. Rumors of the sport's future without its greatest ever champion have set social media abuzz and many are excited to know what Hamilton's decision will finally be.
Lewis Hamilton is going for a record eighth F1 title this season. If the Brit does achieve the feat, no one could fault him for deciding to take off his helmet and walk away having achieved everything there is to achieve in the sport.
#2 Valtteri Bottas - Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
Lewis Hamilton is not the only Silver Arrows driver up for another contract renewal at the end of 2021. Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas was also given only a one-year extension last year, with Mercedes rumored to have been looking for a Hamilton understudy to replace Bottas before carrying on Lewis' legacy for the German team.
Since arriving at Mercedes in 2017 to replace the retiring Nico Rosberg, Bottas has finished runner-up to Hamilton in the championship two seasons out of four. However, the Finnish driver has frequently failed to provide any real competition to his teammate, finishing second by huge margins. Many F1 fans have been demanding Bottas be replaced by another driver who could pose a better challenge to the Brit on the front row of the grid.
With doubts also circling about Hamilton's future in F1, Mercedes might finally decide that time is up for Valtteri Bottas and look towards younger, better options. Rumors of a straight swap for George Russell with Bottas returning to his old team, Williams, keep surfacing and this season, they could be holding some truth to them.
#3 George Russell - Williams Racing
Young George Russell will race for Williams for a third successive season in 2021. The Brit has unable to score a single F1 point for his home team as a result of driving an inferior car compared to the rest of the grid.
The supremely talented 22-year-old is almost unanimously considered by fans and media to be too good to waste away his formative years in F1 at Williams, given their struggles in recent years.
It is almost taken for granted among fans that Russell is the chosen one to carry on Lewis Hamilton's legacy at Mercedes once his fellow-Brit moves on from Formula One. George Russell also auditioned for Mercedes last year at the Sakhir GP, when he filled in for Hamilton, who was sidelined with COVID-19.
Russell instantly impressed by leading the pack for most of the race before a pitstop error caused him to lose places. The young Brit, however, managed to salvage something out of the race as he scored his first-ever points in Formula One.
If the rumors of either Hamilton or Bottas moving away from Mercedes are true, Toto Wolff wouldn't want to waste a minute trying to get Russell driving for his team. With Williams' financial woes, it is hard to see them managing to retain one of the hottest properties in the sport for another season.
#4 Sergio Perez - Red Bull Racing
Sergio Perez was forced out of Racing Point at the end of 2020, after the ambitious franchise decided to sign four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in hopes of glory. The Mexican had the sympathy of almost every F1 fan after being ousted from a team he had been with for seven years, sticking with them through thick and thin.
However, Perez was quickly signed by Red Bull for the 2021 season to replace the underperforming Alex Albon. One of the most exciting bits of the upcoming season is watching how the star adapts to the role of the 'Number 2' driver in Red Bull, behind Max Verstappen.
Checo Perez may choose to not renew his contract and move on elsewhere if he feels he is too good to not be the team's main driver. But at the moment, there's no step-up from Red Bull in Formula One other than Mercedes and Ferrari. There's no news to suggest either of those two giants are interested in the 31-year-old.
But if both Hamilton and Bottas move on from Mercedes, there's no better driver to partner George Russell in the fastest car on the grid.
#5 Esteban Ocon - Renault F1 Team
Esteban Ocon's story is one that has moved every Formula One fan. The talented French driver was made to move out of Racing Point at the end of 2018 to accommodate the incoming Lance Stroll due to financial reasons.
Ocon was without a seat for the 2019 F1 season and had to be content with the reserve driver's seat at Mercedes. The 24-year-old will spend his second season with Renault, partnering the returning Fernando Alonso for 2021. Alonso's track record in teammate relationships hasn't exactly been great. It is pretty much certain that the two-time champion would want to be the French team's star driver and Ocon will once again be forced to play second fiddle.
There were rumors in 2019 that Ocon might be promoted at Mercedes for the 2020 season and take the second seat at the German team behind Lewis Hamilton, replacing Valtteri Bottas. However, Mercedes decided to stick with Bottas as Ocon signed with Renault.
If Ocon impresses with Renault in 2021 and Mercedes are forced to field an entirely new driver's lineup for 2022, a young pairing of George Russell and Esteban Ocon is certainly something fans of F1 will look forward to.