F1 silly season: Lando Norris’ pre-contract, Carlos Sainz’s Audi switch and the driver Mercedes want

Michelle Foster
Lando Norris, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz pose for a photo. Barcelona, Spanish Grand Prix June 2023.

Lando Norris, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz pose for a photo. Barcelona, Spain. June 2023.

Formula 1 could see a host of big-name driver moves in the coming years with Ferrari losing both of their current drivers but signing Lando Norris as a replacement.

That’s according to the latest round of silly season rumours reported by F1 journalist Joe Saward.

Although most of Formula 1’s driver market rumours this week relate to Daniel Ricciardo potentially nabbing Sergio Perez’s race seat with the Mexican driver either relegated to AlphaTauri or booted out of F1 altogether, they aren’t the only ones making headlines.

F1 silly seasons rumours in full swing

Earlier this week Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko talked up Alex Albon, after the former Red Bull driver finished a brilliant P8 at the British Grand Prix, before going onto praise Norris.

Speaking to Kleine Zeitung, the 80-year-old said: “He has a contract with McLaren until 2025, but he is by far the strongest of the young drivers. His youthful nature would also suit him best to Red Bull.”

Red Bull, though, may have already lost Norris to Ferrari.

According to Saward, there’s a rumour in the paddock that Norris has already signed a pre-agreement with the Scuderia although that won’t be before 2026 given that McLaren insist Norris will see out the full duration of his contract.

In the meantime Ferrari are said to be losing Carlos Sainz to Audi, the Spaniard to join the team a year before Audi officially arrive, while Mercedes have an eye on Charles Leclerc as Lewis Hamilton’s long-term replacement.

“Norris and Albon were the subjects of wildly diverse rumours about the future over the weekend, with both being mentioned in connection with Ferrari and with Red Bull,” Saward wrote in his latest blog.

“Whether such moves make sense for either man in open to question but there are some who believe that Lando may already have some kind of pre-contract with Ferrari.

“I cannot see that as being a logical career path, given where Ferrari currently is, but then going to Red Bull and trying to beat Max Verstappen is also a career path from hell.

“The rumour mill now thinks Carlos Sainz will go off to Audi in 2025 while others think Charles Leclerc will go mad if he stays where he is at Ferrari and that Mercedes would love to have him.

“I am not saying any of this is true, I am merely pointing out the chitchat.”

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But that’s chitchat for the future with the attention right now very much on Perez and whether or not he can hold onto his Red Bull seat with Ricciardo looming large.

Promoted to an AlphaTauri race seat this week, Ricciardo will make his return to racing at the Hungarian Grand Prix with the Honey Badger said to be in a 12-race audition for Perez’s job.

Saward agrees with the audition rumours.

“The big question mark in the immediate future remains Sergio Perez, who has been having a horrible time of late as Max Verstappen’s team-mate,” he wrote.

“The Mexican’s has had his socks blown off in recent weeks and although he has a contract for 2024, there is fear in the team that if the opposition is stronger next year, Red Bull will need a better second driver.

“I think this is probably why Daniel Ricciardo is being given a chance to show his paces with Scuderia AlphaTauri for the rest of the year.”

He, however, doesn’t believe Perez would be demoted to AlphaTauri as Liam Lawson is knocking on that door.

“The latest speculations suggests that Liam Lawson is likely to show up in an AlphaTauri (or whatever it is called in 2024) but that stories about Spain’s Alex Palou being with Red Bull team are fading and although the IndyCar driver has been talking to other teams, the chances are that he will end up back in IndyCar, with either McLaren or his current employer Ganassi,” Saward added.

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