There was plenty of mystery at the start of the year with as many as 11 seats potentially available at the end of 2022, teasing the prospect of a corridor of movement for 2023.
But several early deals have somewhat killed the market, which already appears to be fizzling out after the initial hype and anticipation that F1 was set for one of the busiest and most intriguing years in recent times.
Red Bull were the key to the 2023 driver market, but Sergio Perez’s impressive form at the start of 2022 saw him rewarded with a new two-year contract after his Monaco Grand Prix win. Teammate Max Verstappen’s lucrative deal has him locked in until at least 2028.
A month before Perez secured his future, Carlos Sainz signed a fresh two-year deal that means his contract is as long as Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc, who penned a five-year deal before the 2020 season.
Meanwhile, at Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton’s current contract covers the 2022 and 2023 seasons, while George Russell joined on a long-term deal and is regarded as the future of the team.
McLaren have star driver Lando Norris tied down on a fresh multi-year contract through 2025, but there have been doubts about the teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s position given his struggles to adapt.
Ricciardo is under contract through 2023 but Zak Brown’s recent admission of “mechanisms” in the deal that could lead to an early break raised eyebrows. For now at least, McLaren seem keen to persist with Ricciardo next season.
Uncertainty remains about the futures of F1 veterans Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. Both are out of contract at the end of the season but it would not be a surprise to see the multiple world champions extend their careers.
Their teammates are also set to stay put. Esteban Ocon is contracted at Alpine through 2024, while Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin seat is considered relatively safe for the foreseeable given his father owns the team.
Despite speculation surrounding Pierre Gasly’s F1 future following the announcement of Perez’s new Red Bull deal, team principal Franz Tost stressed in Canada it is “100% confirmed” that the Frenchman will drive for AlphaTauri again in 2023.
After showing signs of the consistency he lacked in his rookie campaign, Yuki Tsunoda is expected to be retained for a third campaign at AlphaTauri with Red Bull’s highest-placed juniors not exactly setting the world alight in F2.
The most interesting development is the one surrounding reigning F2 champion and current Alpine test and reserve driver Oscar Piastri.
After missing out on a seat this year, Alpine expects the 21-year-old Australian to be racing in F1 next season after carrying out a series of recent private tests.
Piastri is considered one of the brightest young talents after winning a hat-trick of junior championship titles (Formula Renault Eurocup, F3 and F2) between 2019 and 2021.
Speaking on Saturday at the Canadian Grand Prix, Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer simply replied “yes” when asked if he thought Piastri would be racing in F1 in 2023.
Pressed on the subject, he added: “We don’t talk about the details of our contracts with drivers, and that’s sometimes we never do. But when I do say yes, that’s the plan.”
Piastri is reported to be close to sealing a drive for Williams next year to partner Alex Albon. It is believed to be a loan deal from Alpine, similar to when Red Bull loaned Carlos Sainz to Renault for the end of 2017 and 2018.
There were rumors of a possible mid-season switch that would have seen Piastri replace Nicholas Latifi from the upcoming British Grand Prix, but Williams boss Jost Capito has rubbished such talk.
“We don’t have any other plans, both have a contract for this season and our plan is to fulfill that,” Capito said in Canada.
“We are convinced Nicky will find the confidence in the car through the season and his results will be better.”
However, Capito did admit that Piastri is “on the list” of drivers Williams is considering for 2023.
Alfa Romeo has one driver under contract for 2023 in the shape of Valtteri Bottas, who arrived on a multi-year deal following his Mercedes departure.
The second seat is likely to be between F1 rookie Guanyu Zhou and F2 title contender Theo Pourchaire, an exciting member of Sauber’s junior academy who appears destined for F1 in the near-future.
Zhou’s quick adaptation to F1 has impressed Alfa Romeo, while his presence on the grid is expected to help both the sport and his team crack the Chinese market.
With the Chinese Grand Prix set to return to the calendar in 2023, there are plenty of benefits of keeping Zhou on for at least one more season, not least the financial backing he brings.
And if he continues his impressive displays, he will make the decision all the more easier for Alfa Romeo.
At Haas, Kevin Magnussen agreed a long-term deal as part of his shock return to F1, but Mick Schumacher’s future is less certain. The German is under pressure to match Magnussen and shake-off his costly crash habit.
After a miserable start to life in Formula E, Antonio Giovinazzi has been mooted as a possible alternative for Haas next season if Schumacher fails to turn things around.
Hamilton will be at the epicenter of the 2024 driver market, with any decision he makes about his future likely to have huge repercussions up and down the grid.
The seven-time world champion’s future will surely hinge on Mercedes’ competitiveness in 2023 and whether the reigning world champions can return to winning ways after their dramatic fall from grace.
Should Hamilton retire, that would leave a gaping whole at Mercedes for 2024.
Who would Mercedes look at to replace Hamilton? Would they attempt to prize Norris away from McLaren, or perhaps provide Gasly with the opportunity to finally fly the Red Bull nest?
Vacancies could subsequently open up at the likes of McLaren, Alpine and Aston Martin, potentially causing a dramatic driver market ripple effect.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff made it clear the team’s preference is to continue with the all-British pairing of Hamilton and Russell for as long as possible.
“Are we starting talking [about] 2024 contracts in June 2022? No, we are in a happy place with Lewis. There is no doubt that we are embarking on the season and the next one in a good place,” Wolff said in Azerbaijan.
“It’s too early to discuss 2024. But having said that, I couldn’t wish for a better driver pairing.”
It will be fascinating to see how things develop over the next 12 months.