Without a lap raced this Formula 1 season, the careers of several drivers have already been impacted.
Some are stepping up to bigger things, while Sebastian Vettel, a four-time world champion, could be gracing the paddock for a final time.
After the German decided not to renew his contract with Ferrari last week, the Italian outfit was quick to sign Carlos Sainz from McLaren on a two-year deal.
The Spaniard was the stand-out non-top-three driver last year, securing a first podium in Brazil and finishing sixth in the drivers’ standings. He has the best balance of talent, age, salary requirement, and is low maintenance.
It will be fascinating to see how the 25-year-old fares in a race-winning car, and against a talent like Charles Leclerc. It makes for a bright future for the Scuderia’s youngest ever line-up.
While the signing of the Madrid man as Ferrari’s second driver was significant, the announcement that Daniel Ricciardo would step into the vacant McLaren seat for 2021 was equally striking.
The Australian, a seven-time grand prix winner, endured a difficult time in his first season at Renault, managing only one fourth-place finish and ended up a lowly ninth in the standings.
A switch to McLaren for the next campaign, with new Mercedes power units, could help revive his battle for podiums again.
What it means for Vettel is the big question. Does retirement beckon for the German or does he hang on for one final contract? A move to Renault, who powered him to his four world titles during his Red Bull days, could be an option? Does he really want to take a step backward though?
Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul has previously said he would not rule out a move for the 32-year-old. His salary demands may be high, but it would be a serious coup for the French side as they continue to push towards the front of the grid.
If Renault do not opt for Vettel’s services, then it leaves the door open to another former world champion in Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard, 38, won his two world titles with the Estone-based outfit in 2005 and 2006, and claims to have unfinished business in the sport.
He left F1 for a turn driving Toyota’s hybrids at Le Mans in 2018, and even an improving Renault car will surely be more attractive than trying to win the Indy 500.
It all depends on whether Alonso has the bite to fully commit to a 21-race season. If he doesn’t, then the seat is Vettel’s to lose, providing he wants to remain in the sport after 13 years.
Elsewhere, Mercedes may have a vacant seat from the end of the season as Valtteri Bottas enters the last year of his agreement.
Toto Wolff is also understood to favour youth and one would assume if he is to put anyone in Bottas’ seat then it is likely to be Williams’ George Russell, 22, who has been on Mercedes’ books for some time.
Of the other drivers, Alexander Albon and Kimi Raikkonen’s respective deals at Red Bull and Alfa Romeo are up at the end of 2020. However, you’d imagine Albon will have his contract renewed, while it is 50-50 on Raikkonen’s future plans in F1. He turns 41 in October.
With no suggestion as to when the season will resume, the recent moves on the grid are the first part of what looks set to be a fascinating patchwork of changes over the coming months.
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