The fact that Mercedes are the only team without a confirmed driver lineup for the 2021 Formula 1 season is quite surprising but not completely unexpected.
When the 2020 Formula 1 season ended this past Sunday with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit, a total of 17 of the 20 seats in the 2021 driver lineup had been solidified, with seven teams having completely confirmed their lineups and another three still needing one more confirmation.
Shortly thereafter, AlphaTauri confirmed the worst-kept secret that Formula 2 driver and Red Bull junior driver Yuki Tsunoda is set to replace Daniil Kvyat alongside Pierre Gasly next year, and Red Bull then confirmed that Sergio Perez is set to replace Alexander Albon alongside Max Verstappen.
Now the only team without a confirmed driver lineup for the 2021 season is Mercedes.
While this is fairly surprising, given the fact that the Silver Arrows are the seven-time reigning constructor champions and the fact that it is seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who has won the last four and six of the last seven titles, who does not yet have a deal to compete next year, it wasn’t completely unexpected.
Back in August, the team extended the contract of Valtteri Bottas through the 2021 season, despite the fact that he is the clear number two driver to Hamilton within the team.
Since the pair became teammates following the unexpected retirement of 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg after he won the title, Hamilton has been victorious 42 times while Bottas has won only nine races.
Ironically, Bottas and Rosberg are tied in wins since the start of the 2016 season.
At that point, it was evident that neither the team nor Hamilton were in any rush to solidify a deal for 2021, and they have maintained that stance throughout the last few months.
Hamilton has said that it would be nice to get a deal done by Christmas, but there are no guarantees in that regard.
In fact, team principal and CEO Toto Wolff, who signed a three-year extension himself earlier this week, said that Hamilton may not be signed until the day before preseason testing begins in early March.
With all things considered, it does appear to be a matter of when and not if. Hamilton was included on the initial FIA entry list for 2021, indicating that there are no plans for him to walk away from the sport and that Mercedes have no plans of letting that happen.
Additionally, George Russell, who many believe will be the next full-time Mercedes driver not named Hamilton or Bottas, is still under contract with Williams through 2021.
Russell made his Mercedes debut in the Sakhir Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit toward the end of the season after Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19, and he turned heads throughout the paddock.
While it is still quite surprising that the only seat left without a confirmed driver for the 2021 Formula 1 season is Hamilton’s Mercedes seat, we mustn’t forget that there are, in fact, still more than three months to go until the season is scheduled to get underway at Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, March 21. More than likely, the 2021 grid is set.