The changed clause which created a bidding war for the final 2022 F1 seats

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Kimi Raikkonen’s retirement announcement set in motion an extraordinary chain of events that will see his compatriot Valtteri Bottas transfer to Alfa Romeo as his replacement, in turn making space for Mercedes to promote George Russell from Williams – with his place taken by returnee Alexander Albon, temporarily released by Red Bull to take up the gig with the Mercedes-powered team. Announcements to this effect are expected soon.

But the tussle for the second seats at Williams and Sauber is currently concentrating the minds of most team bosses. A bidding war is underway, with top payers likely to get the nod, and two independent teams for once scoring at the expense of the majors, who have an over-supply of promising development drivers and nowhere to accommodate them.

Mercedes has Nyck de Vries under contract, Renault has three drivers bubbling under – Guanyu Zhou, Oscar Piastri and Christian Lundgaard – while Red Bull has a whole raft of promising youngsters, not least Albon, Dennis Hauger, Jüri Vips and Liam Lawson. Ferrari has Callum Illot on its books, plus Antonio Giovinazzi and Mick Schumacher already placed with F1 teams.

Analysis: Alpine have “too many” F1 juniors, but do they have a 2022 solution?
Cases could be made that any of these deserves a seat in F1, to varying degrees. But 11 drivers into two seats is a mathematical impossibility. Compounding the issue is that Mercedes no longer enjoys the cosy relationship it enjoyed with the Williams family after the team was sold to hardnosed investor group Dorilton, while Renault has no allies in F1. True, Red Bull has four seats across two teams, but has seven drivers competing across F2 and F3.

Ferrari traditionally held options over a seat at Sauber, which runs Alfa Romeo, hence Giovinazzi’s placement via the latter. But the relationship between the two Italian car makers is more distant now Ferrari is a listed entity and Alfa Romeo part of the Stellantis stable, having only chairman John Elkann in common. Plus, Sauber’s billionaire owners are on a recovery drive, having ploughed tens of millions into upgrading the team.

Hence team bosses, who spent small fortunes on growing these talents face two choices: farm them out to independents teams on retention options or dump them at the most promising stages of their careers.

However, said bosses have only themselves to blame after collectively shutting out any incoming teams by insisting on a $200m anti-dilution payment upon entry, to be shared amongst the existing 10 teams. In the process they closed the door to at least two, likely four seats, and development drivers are paying the price.

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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff defended the entry restriction on Friday in Zandvoort when asked for his position on the matter by RaceFans but conceded that the system needs to change.

F1 needs more teams, says Horner
“I think that Formula 1 being a closed club, like the American franchises, is what makes it the Champions League of motor racing,” he said.

“But I agree, we need to ensure that talented young drivers have the possibility to come up. What I was always in favour of was not only making mandatory [first practice] sessions [for young drivers] but adding a race or two where those young drivers need to race and actually be part of, for example, the constructors’ championship,” he said, adding that third cars entered solely for rookies should be considered.

However, Wolff’s opposite number at Red Bull Christian Horner believes that F1 is “probably missing a team or two.”

“There is a plethora of young guys in Formula 2 that deserve an opportunity and there are just not the seats to go round at the moment,” he elaborated, “so you are waiting for a Kimi to retire to open up a seat for a youngster somewhere down the chain to come in.

“You have got that age-old problem that as soon as you start dividing up the pie among more members it gets diluted and so there is going to be reticence to do that, hence the topic of the third car.”

Why, though, restrict the ‘franchise’ to the existing 10 teams, not 12? As for FP1 and third cars, these concepts were considered and rejected almost a decade ago. With at least two newcomers willing to enter F1 provided the $200m fee is scrapped, the solution seems obvious. Plus it could potentially save major teams a fortune in ‘pay driver’ fees to rivals.

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The matter is further complicated by F1’s desire for a wider spread of nationalities. Thus a driver like Zhou is more sought after by the commercial rights holder than say, de Vries or Leclerc, simply as their flags are already represented in F1, whereas no Chinese driver has yet started a grand prix despite the country being prime territory for the sport and the race promoter paying one of its highest hosting fees. Thus, Zhou enjoys tacit support from F1.

Analysis: No new teams before 2026? The likely cost of F1’s $200m “anti-dilution fund”
The bottom line is that second seats are now a sought-after commodity, with both Alfa Romeo and Williams able to ‘auction’ a drive. However it is not a matter of the highest bidder wins, but one of doing the sums: Expected sponsor income a driver can generate via their profile plus whatever their benefactor provides in cash and/or in kind, plus expected prize money the driver could deliver via results equals the drive. A complex calculation…

Thus it may take a while before the final remaining seats are filled, for the independent squads are smart enough to hold out for more, while the major teams are facing contract renewal time. All this means that pay drivers such as Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin, whose families underwrite their drivers via their companies, are not guaranteed a berth for next year unless they enter into an inevitable bidding war.

The smart money is on Zhou and de Vries finding seats for reasons as outlined, while the rest await some or other senior driver retirement or hope that the grid expands in the very near future. In the meantime F1 faces the danger of missing out on an incoming crop of talented drivers primarily due to the myopic ‘anti-dilution’ fee.

View the current list of 2022 F1 drivers and teams

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73 comments on “The changed clause which created a bidding war for the final 2022 F1 seats”

  1. I’m not in favor of the growing calendar and number of races but Wolff has an interesting point to keep the races attractive if each team have to run a young driver (less than 5 F1 starts for instance) at 2 rounds of their choosing (in each of their 2 cars).

    Might be a proper test for young talents, keep interest along the year as each race will have its own particularities, play a strategic role in which race the team pick (commercial or tactical).
    This makes sense and might provide some missing experience and metrics to get new drivers in, even if I’m not in favor of the growing calendar and split over above measure.

    1. Make the sprint races a rookie-only event for constructors’ points. Kills two birds with one stone.

      1. That’s not at all a bad idea, honestly. Rookie sprint races, they count to constructor’s points but they do not set the grid for Sunday’s main event, instead they are promoted as something like “F1 Future Stars” or something like that.

        1. Okay @red-andy and @chrischrill yeah I like that idea. I don’t know whether the FOM powers think that rookies will garner enough attention to make the sprints a good crowd draw, but I do think it could be great (maybe as a ‘won F2, but no seat available in F1, so here to prove their worth’ so it is clear what the difference between that and the F2 sprint races is).

          1. Maybe if we combine it with some more back of the grid drivers being able to step into the “bit teams” up font – like having say Russel in a Mercedes, Schumacher in a Ferrari, Tsunoda in a Red Bull as well @bodyber, @chrischrill, @red-andy?

            I like the idea too.

      2. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
        7th September 2021, 11:10

        This is a great compromise

      3. I like that idea. I don’t like the existing ‘sprint qualifying’ format, but yes if they took out the grid setting aspect of them and used them as a way for new drivers to race in F1, I think that would be a good way for them to get experience, but would also be interesting to watch as a spectator.

        1. This.

          I’d watch that

      4. @red-andy very nice idea! Maybe with their own third cars, or by having the sprint race after the main race ? Otherwise rookie crashes could play a bit much if F1 drivers can’t race.

      5. @red-andy Yeah good idea

    2. Great idea until they bin a heap of cars and we start having issues fielding the normal races.

  2. “I think that Formula 1 being a closed club, like the American franchises, is what makes it the Champions League of motor racing,”

    Ironic that the Champions League is NOT a closed shop – it’s based on meritocracy – the best teams get there regardless of size or history.

    It’s not practical in motorsport really but I’d love something similar for F1 with the last team relegated and top team in F2 promoted. Would certainly give more attention to those battling at the back of the grid.

    1. it’s not. but 2 more teams would be nice

    2. A promotion system would only work if F2 (and F3?) ran to same spec as F1, albeit with smaller budgets and therefore more basic cars. It would probably ensure the promoted team gets demoted every single year though, unless even more parts are homologated and we lose the whole “build your car” thing.

      1. @chrischrill Yeah there’s a million reasons why it couldn’t and wouldn’t work. But we can dream!

    3. While I see where you are going with the Champions League, it is heavily skewed in favour of the bigger leagues in Europe.

      It was probably a lot more fairer in the old European Cup days, when teams from all over the continent qualified on the basis of winning their national top tier championships. Looking through the history of not only the European Cup, but also the UEFA cups and CWC, there were many more instances of a “surprise” winners. The likes of Red Star and Steaua Bucharest will never ever come close to making the latter stages of the tournament these days.

      The problem is Sport=Money=Entertainment=Money. It is inevitable.

    4. I don’t think promotion/demotion for F1/F2 is viable, as the technical side is almost completely different. In football, all teams are playing the same sport to the same rules, and promotion just means facing different teams on the field. In F1/F2, that’s really not even close to the case!

      However, I have often thought that something could be done with this. If we made an “F1B”, whereby teams built cars which were compatible with the F1 technical regulations but with more restrictions (and maybe some spec parts or some such) to reduce the costs, you could have a promotion/demotion system between those 2. You could get more entrants due to more reasonable costs, and they would have a chance to build the team before promotion to “F1A”, competing in their own championship, with their own podium etc. They could, potentially, even be run at the same time as F1A races, with the F1B grid lining up behind F1A. At the end of the season, take the top 2 teams from F1B, the bottom 2 from F1A, and have them take part in a one off race: The 1st place driver automatically wins a place in F1A for their team, either 2nd place/next placed team or some other method used to decide the other.

  3. Give the devs/3rd drivers your stupid Sprint Qualifying seats. Heck, run a full length GP on Friday with them with their own pool of parts. The “Champions League” is not the place for the Strolls, Marzipans, Latifis and Tsunodas taking a seat learning to drive

    1. It is if they can get the job done, and it is because heck they ARE in F1. F1 is a capitalist business, not a champions league at all. All the F2, super formula, indycar, WEC hypercar and lmp2 drivers are F1 worthy. The other drivers on the f1 grid got to F1 through money and sponsorship also.

      1. Yeah it’s the reality that these drivers are in F1 but it doesn’t mean that’s the best thing for the sport. F1 would be more interesting if all the drivers had their seats on merit alone. Sure they have super licenses but a lot of cash went into obtaining them

  4. Excellent article.

    I think 2 extra teams make more sense than 3rd drivers (which would give even more leverage to constructors). Even if Ferrari / Mercedes / Red Bull / Renault were to fund these new teams, its ok because over time, their relationship could ebb and flow (like Williams-Mercedes, Haas-Ferrari) and the new teams would be atleast partly independent (vs having the 3rd car in the same garage).

    May be the cost cap and revised rules for next year will help attracting more investors into setting up a racing team (supported by the existing manufacturers)

    1. re: new teams baulking at the entrance fee

      We are talking about billionaires supposedly willing to commit more than half a billion to an F1 team. Yet they somehow feel that paying $200 to the existing teams as compensation for their share of the revenues diminishing is too much of a hurdle.

      Poor, poor billionaires. Why won’t anyone ever think of them?

      1. @proesterchen No, we’re talking about millionaires that have been priced out, and billionaires who think it is poor value for money.

        1. New entrants into F1 commit for several years and have to show their ability to finance that at the time of signing up.

          Even under the cost cap regulations, there is no realistic way a simple millionaire could provide the required guarantees, so they are out either way. And any person or consortium of people capable of providing the necessary guarantees is also capable of compensating the existing teams for their reduced revenues, plain and simple.

          Does that make the business plan less appealing? Sure, but that’s the whole point. If just anyone could turn up and grab a share of the existing income streams that wouldn’t be fair to the teams that are the reason for said income to exist in the first place.

          1. you don’t get to be a billionaire by giving away $200M for nothing in return

  5. Let teams run a third car, some will and some won’t and mandate that only a driver with less than ‘x’ years or ‘y’ grand prix miles can have the seat. With the cost cap is should be easy enough to assume the current cap is for two teams and then increase the cap accordingly for a team running a third car. They can even get into things like you can run a third car but only ‘x’ number of times per year, which would probably see teams use them at tracks where they thought they had a better chance of scoring points.

    1. That’ll be a huge mess and very confusing for viewers who aren’t up to date with when teams are or aren’t bringing a third car. For those reasons F1 would never approve that.
      I think it’d be much easier to simply get rid of the initial barrier to entry and to get more teams into F1, possibly on the Haas model.

    2. You do that and in 3 years time, you have 7 or maybe 8 teams running 3 cars instead of 10 running 2.

      The most current example would be Mazepin, who would much rather have bought a seat in the third Merc than put up with that hopeless Haas creation. And Haas would have folded.

    3. @velocityboy WRC tried this in the early 2000s. It was a mess. Especially since only a few teams can afford the third seat, and most of those would need a pay driver to make it work (a third car is $25 million, does not look likely to attract that much extra sponsorship, and apart from the richest four teams, all teams had to increase sponsorship to approach the current cost cap).

    4. Yeah teams with a strong car is going to outpace those with weaker car most likely. And with the 26 max safety rule, you have a legit chance of whole teams missing out on a race.

  6. The narrative that Zhou is desired merely due to his nationality not being represented is of course not true. It’s much more about wanting to cater to the huge Chinese market. If he’d been from Liechtenstein or Bhutan, there would be way less interest from a commercial perspective.

    1. Indeed @aapje, otherwise the huge success Verstappen has would also make de Vries interesting (but it’s a limited market bc. NL isn’t a big country and one might think Verstappen saturates it). Similar for drivers from the USA (but not really one on offer I guess).

    2. @aapje Zhou’s nationality is Chinese. The Chinese nationality is valuable for the reasons you specify.

      You just confirmed the narrative that Zhou is desired for his nationality is true.

      1. @alianora-la-canta

        Perhaps you should reread my comment, since you seem to have misread it.

        1. The point is not that he is desired not just because his nationality is not represented, but that said nationality happens to be Chinese, where there is obviously a huge market. So it is only apparent, but on first reading you seem to contradict yoursel a bit

        2. @aapje You don’t appear to have understood what you wrote (it apparently contradicts what you think you wrote).

    3. This is what the article is saying. He’s Chinese and to have a Chinese driver in F1 is great from a commercial perspective (same as having a decent American driver in F1 but there isn’t really one knocking on the door).

  7. I would argue that middling drivers that had their chance retaining seats is part of the problem.

    Valtteri Bottas doesn’t need to be in Formula 1 going forward, we’ve seen all there was to see from him. He’s just occupying a seat that could go to someone fresh with potential.

    You could argue that the same is true for Checo, Dani, Lance, Seb, Yuki, Tonio, Nikita and Nici.

    And boom, you don’t even need to drop every one of them to get every conceivable new guy a chance at it.

    1. Jelle van der Meer (@)
      7th September 2021, 10:30

      Not sure if I agree with all the listen drivers but overall I agree with your statement.
      That said I am surprised that if you are listing Dani and Seb why Alonso isn’t in your list.

      1. I thought about both Fred and Esteban, and do agree that both are names that could make the list.

        It’s probably recency bias with Esteban and his lucky win in Hungary (plus his strong form early on), and he would’ve definitely made the list in June / July.

        The deciding point for me to leave them off was that they are both in the unique position of profiting from Renault getting the new regulations right. If the PU guys and the Enstone team both land a home run, I could see their drivers fighting for the Championship in 2022, which while not a huge chance IMHO still ran afoul of my ‘having seen everything from them that we’re going to see’ criterium.

    2. @proesterchen There is more than one role for drivers in F1. Teams are quite aware that for some circumstances (covering many midfield situations and some title-fighting ones), they’re better off having a spearhead (driver likely to get most of the points) and a spear shaft (driver able to help development and work behind the scenes, while also supporting the spearhead to maximise points).

    3. Yuki’s barely been there for a year though. Kinda unfair to boot one young rookie in.

      1. If Red Bull think highly enough of Alex to buy him a seat at Williams or Alpha, why would they keep Yuki around who hasn’t shown much beyond a quick tongue?

        1. *Alfa, not Alpha. Oops.

        2. You raise a good point. I agree, why didn’t Alpha Tauri give Yuki’s seat to Alex? Every team wants to have the best drivers they can afford in their cars. Maybe Alex wanted a change of environment.

    4. This whole notion is based upon the idea that drivers do not improve or change in performance from season to season.
      You’d be also arguing that Button in 2008 should’ve left because he could’ve gone to someone with more ‘potential’.
      Potential is a risk, and teams are free to choose a known quantity instead.

      1. Who is the last World Champion that got into F1 without showing his exceptional talent almost immediately?

        Not Hamilton. Not Rosberg. Not Vettel. Not Button. Not Räikkönen. Not Alonso. Not Schumacher. Not Häkkinen. Not Villeneuve.

        So I guess that may leave Damon who got his WDC thanks to Schumacher going to Ferrari and Williams supporting him over rookie Villeneuve? Not sure about his early days at Brabham, but his 1993 campaign with Williams was thoroughly lacklustre.

        Are we holding our breath that the Checos, Danis, or Yukis of the grid all of the sudden manage to get into the title picture while their clearly superior teammates lose their advantages?

  8. Great article. So typical of F1 this sort of thing, although I guess their argument is that they want to avoid teams entering that aren’t up to it like HRT. Again the people at the top in F1 fail to see what the unintended consequences could be. You will have the likes of Hamilton (36), Alonso (40), Vettel (34), and possibly Perez (31) Ricciardo (32) and Bottas (32) all heading for retirement at a similar time, most likely between 2023-2028. So it may well result in a vacuum where they struggle to fill those seats with the right talent. Something does need to be done to ensure that the young drivers are getting a chance to race in F1, there’s some nice suggestions here in the comments. One thing that was so intriguing about the Sakhir GP last year, was that so many young drivers got a chance to race. Maybe that could be the answer a non-championship race where the teams have to field at least one young driver.?

  9. The matter is further complicated by F1’s desire for a wider spread of nationalities

    So, drop some British drivers to make room for talents.

    1. Some talents are British, they’re not mutually exclusive descriptors…

    2. No, we should drop noobs.

    3. Ah, yes…

      Three terrible drivers that have shown zero talent this year or in previous years /s

      The British drivers are on the grid not because they are British, but because they are flipping great drivers.

  10. As I always said, small private teams (even if relatively uncompetitive) are essential to the sport, they offer seats to potential new drivers (aside of other team personnel – Newey, to name one, debuted in F1 with March). IMO the sport needs at least 12 teams to be sustainable, also to have some kind of buffer just in case one of the existing teams decides to pull the plug.

    1. the thing is, they won’t pull the plug, they will just sell. the anti-dillution fee makes them an even more attractive buy as they’re the only way to enter F1 without paying it

    2. The power dynamics of F1 are always going to favor manufacturer teams who can build their own chassis and their own PUs. Most small private teams are not capable of that so they will be midfield teams in the best-case scenario. Even if the owners are ok with being in the midfield, most sponsors are not going to be attracted to a midfield team. Just look at how long it took McLaren to get some decent sponsorship on the side of their car and they have a tremendous history and brand recognition in F1.

      If F1 is truly about being the pinnacle of motorsport with the best designers, the best drivers, the best management, etc. and if having a spec chassis or engine to cut development costs is antithetical to the DNA of F1, it is going to be extremely hard to attract small private teams that will endure as long as McLaren or Williams. Haas has already been looking to exit and they’re not even 8 years old. Due to all the technology and R&D involved, to be competitive in the pinnacle of motorsport at this point means you have to have the tremendous resources that only a large manufacturer has access to.

      F1 has tried to have it both ways with being both the pinnacle of motor racing while trying to preserve its garagiste past. But the two are becoming incompatible with each other as time marches on.

  11. Lewisham Milton
    7th September 2021, 12:24

    The Champions League’s a bloated gravy train, with far too many tedious uncompetitive matches featuring nonentities and losers who’ve scraped 4th place and never looked like champions of anything. Only gets interesting for a couple of rounds near the end. Perfect analogy!

    1. losers who’ve scraped 4th place and never looked like champions of anything.

      You mean like Chelsea, who two years ago scraped 4th on final day to get into last year’s tournament…….and then winning the whole thing?

  12. I thought Mazepin was already confirmed for Haas next year and it was MS that is still to be confirmed.

  13. What if they allow 3 F1 cars per team, but with limitations? They are allowed to extend their budget to say +75mil from the existing 150mil cap, but only if they ensure there is at least 1 rookie in one of the car. If they retain him for the next year, they can continue with maybe +50mil, else replace one of your drivers, get a rookie in again, and get +75mil. This opens up a lot of seats on the grid, and more competition. And, they dont have to get new teams either.

  14. I think the problem of the smaller field is exacerbated by the fact drivers are often entering F1 at a much younger age than they used to in previous decades, so they have longer careers in F1 and take up a seat for longer. Half of the current field are 25 or under. Whereas 25 used to be a reasonable age to enter F1.

  15. But the tussle for the second seats at Williams and Sauber is currently concentrating the minds of most team bosses.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who still keeps doing this. It’s been almost three years and I still can’t ever seem to reference the team as Alfa Romeo.

  16. I think the product has to improve first to be able to sustain and grow more teams. Yes there’s enough money out there to get into the paddock and build a car but there’s no guarantee yet that those teams could come in and be competitive enough to run at a reasonable deficit to provide mid to long term value.

    F1 needs to learn from the 2010 debacle and first provide an opportunity to compete, the aim of next year’s regulation changes. If next year’s changes go well and it’s conceivable that a new or currently back of the pack team could go out and race with Mercedes and Ferrari, not necessarily beat but have Russell-type performances of late. $200m would look pretty cheap to buy into what would be the next major sporting franchise model.

  17. Not a fan of these incoherent wall of text articles, but apparently some people do like a random assortment of semi related tidbits.

    Compounding the issue is that Mercedes no longer enjoys the cosy relationship it enjoyed with the Williams family after the team was sold to hardnosed investor group Dorilton

    On the other hand with Claire gone, Williams has finally become a full technical partner to Mercedes rather than simply a powertrain partner. So you’d expect more cooperation between the two teams from that shift.

    1. I don’t really see what’s so incoherent about any of what was written?

      1. There are five or six loosely related story lines going on.

  18. I don’t think F1 is short of seats. It is filled with drivers that just shouldn’t be there.

  19. Toto Wolff defending the $200 million “non-dilution” fee by comparing it to a “closed club like the American franchises” is rather dishonest. Yeah, F1 is a closed club, but one with 4 empty chairs at the table they are keeping empty.

  20. F1 definitely needs to encourage new teams from new manufacturers like Porsche or Lotus or other high end suppliers. More teams with more people and new blood is what F1 needs to grow and thrive.

  21. So why, in this age of cost-cutting and budget caps, is the entry fee ($200 million) GREATER than the allowed budget for any team in F1 ($145 million)?

  22. I actually think the real issue is not enough cars in the grid. Allowing 3 cars per team would solve pretty much all of these issues while creating more exciting racing on track.

    1. It would also mean that, with 2 “top” teams with 3 cars a piece, every other team is fighting for only 4 points-paying positions. With 3 “top” teams, the remaining 7 teams are battling for only 1 top-10 place…

      For more cars, we would be much better with more teams than more cars per team.

  23. “or Leclerc, simply as their flags are already represented in F1”
    How many Monegasque drivers apart from him?

  24. Christian Horner believes that F1 is “probably missing a team or two.”
    It’s unquestionably missing 3 teams, there are supposed to be 13 teams in F1, he haven’t had that since the start of the 1995 season.
    That’s 6 more seats… would help a lot of young drivers if they were available, and especially now that the 2022 rules are designed to close the teams performance gaps, yet they included the “$200-million-additional-fee-to-be-paid-to-rival-teams” barrier that stops ANY new team from entering the sport.

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