Formula 1’s driver market for the 2025 continues to fascinate with nine of next season’s 20 seats still unfilled almost halfway through this year.

While Sergio Perez – and a coveted Red Bull seat – are now off the market, Esteban Ocon is definitely on it after the Frenchman’s time at Alpine confirmed to be coming to an end after five seasons at the team.

So what next for Ocon and the Alpine team he is leaving? And what’s the latest on Carlos Sainz’s Formula 1 future, four months after the shock news that he had lost his Ferrari seat for 2025 to Lewis Hamilton?

Speaking before Perez’s expected Red Bull renewal was confirmed, David Croft and Simon Lazenby joined the Sky Sports F1 podcast before flying to this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix to assess the latest picture…

What now for Ocon after Alpine?

Aged 27 and with 141 grands prix under his belt, including a win at the 2021 Hungarian GP, Ocon is theoretically entering the prime of his career and, Monaco aside, has outperformed Pierre Gasly in a difficult Alpine car so far this season.

However, the Frenchman’s options to continue in F1 seem to be limited to the area of the grid where struggling Alpine are currently racing. Ocon appears to be a ‘Plan B’ for Sauber/Audi should they not land Sainz, while he has also been linked to a seat at Haas.

Following paddock discussions he had on the Thursday of the Monaco GP, Croft says this week’s news of the Frenchman’s Alpine exit did not come as a surprise to him, even before Ocon’s first-lap collision with team-mate Gasly that so angered Alpine’s boss three days later in the Principality.

“I got the distinct impression that Esteban wasn’t top of the shopping list for Alpine for next year and beyond,” said Croft.

“There were a lot of driver’s names being mentioned and Esteban wasn’t particularly high up on that. I’m not saying they wanted to get rid of him at that stage, but he wasn’t uppermost in their thoughts.

“Then we went to the press conference and Esteban was extolling the virtues of driving in Le Mans and competing in WEC [World Endurance Championship] and that often smacks of a driver who is keeping his options open for his forthcoming career.

“Then of course we had the race where, once again, he had a coming together and, once again, it was with his team-mate, and I think that might have hastened the decision.

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Ocon goes down the inside of Pierre Gasly in Monaco and the Alpine pair bang wheels, with Ocon being lifted high in the air

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New angles of the big crash between Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen and when Ocon was lifted high in the air after tapping team-mate Gasly on the opening lap of the Monaco Grand Prix

“Bruno Famin, the team principal, was rightly non-pleased with what happened. Whether his mind was made up before I’m not sure, I think it was definitely made up afterwards, and that transpired with the news that we had.

“Esteban Ocon is a really truly lovely human being, I’ve got a lot of time for him, but he does have these moments with these team-mates, and it doesn’t necessarily do his CV any favours.

“He has been talking to other teams, so it’s not that we are definitely going to lose Ocon from Formula 1. I hope we don’t; there is potential out there for him.

“He certainly is on the shortlist for Haas along with a number of other drivers as well. But he’s talking up other series, and that didn’t come as much of a surprise as well in the [Monaco] press conference.”

Who could replace Ocon at Alpine?

The Enstone outfit are one of three teams with neither of their seats yet filled for 2025, although Gasly is expected to stay on.

Renault-owned Alpine represent one of only four current teams with ‘works’ status – an engine manufacturer’s priority outfit – but are mired in a period of upheaval on and off track. They currently sit ninth in the constructors’ standings with only two points on the board.

“Right now, things aren’t very rosy in the Alpine garden, so what are they looking at?” asked Lazenby of the Enstone team’s approach to their driver line-up.

“Are they going to be able to attract the top echelons on the grid? I think the answer in the medium term depends on their commitment going forward and we have seen this before where they have had a four or a five-year plan.

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Alpine team-mates Ocon and Gasly collided with each other during the Japanese Grand Prix

“Everyone’s got a four or five-year plan. Alpine’s, or Renault’s as it was, never seems to materialise so it depends what they put in place going forward and how that Renault engine is looking from 2026 onwards.

“Ultimately, they are a works team and drivers want to put themselves in a position where they are driving for a works team. But to counter that argument, look at what’s happening with Mercedes this year whereby one of their customers [McLaren] is almost double the points ahead of them

“So they’ve got to get their house in order.”

Assessing some of the possible contenders for 2026, Croft said: “Jack Doohan is a very lively candidate and would be a very good candidate.

Jack Doohan has been on Alpine’s books since 2022 and has driven in four Practice One sessions for the team

“Pierre Gasly is still there and I’m sure would like a contract to stay in Formula 1 for next year, and that might be his best option.

“Valtteri Bottas might be on the scene as well, but I think he’s unlikely to go to Alpine, he’s looking at other places.”

Zhou Guanyu is another linked with the team with the Chinese driver himself likely seeking pastures new for next year with Sauber having already signed Nico Hulkenberg and seemingly looking elsewhere for their second seat.

Could Zhou, China’s first F1 driver, offer Alpine a different solution?

“They need investment and, while they are a works team, I don’t think they receive similar levels of investment as, say, Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes do,” added Croft.

“There is speculation that Zhou Guanyu and his backers might be willing to invest. Zhou is a former Renault academy driver, so it would be going back to the stable that got him into F1 in the first place.

Zhou Guanyu, a member of Renault’s driver academy in 2018-2021, is on the look out for a 2025 drive

“Say Zhou and his backers were prepared to take a 30 per cent stake in Alpine, invest money into the facilities at Enstone and future staff – of which they have lost a lot of top-end staff in the past 12 months – then that might be the zenith that the team needs and the turnaround that they are looking for.

“But what’s going on with the engine for 2026: has Viry-Chatillon come up with a really good power unit? We don’t know.

“So it’s a two-fold thing. Renault need to invest in the power unit, someone needs to invest in Enstone, and then you’ve got a works team that people want to start driving for. I don’t think a driver is necessary going to make all the difference at Enstone, not by a long shot.”

Sauber/Audi or Williams for Sainz?

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Speaking on the Sky Sports F1 Podcast, David Croft and Simon Lazenby discuss who Carlos Sainz will drive for next season

Unless Max Verstappen causes the second driver market shock of the year and decides to leave Red Bull before the expiry of his contract in 2028, then it is Sainz who remains the central cog to the rest of the driver market.

With a Mercedes move to replace Hamilton understood to be off the table, and Red Bull renewing Perez’s deal, the decision for three-time race winner Sainz appears to have come down to a direct choice between long-time pursuers Sauber/Audi and Williams, whose interest in the Spaniard emerged over the Monaco GP weekend.

“[Williams team principal] James Vowles is a very, very inspiring person. He has a strategy, he knows that nothing is going to happen overnight, and he is selling a dream,” explained Croft.

“He sold a dream to Albon, who also has a lot of faith in the Mercedes power unit for 2026, and can he get Sainz? Well, the answer to that is ‘yes, he can’.

“I’ve spoken to the Sainz camp on this one – he’s got a decision, Audi or Williams. There is no deadline from Audi. That had been reported but it’s not true, he didn’t have to make his mind up by the end of May. It’s not about money. It’s about where Carlos sees the vision for the future.

“So do you put your faith in a brand-new project [Audi] that you know is an entity that has been successful in world motorsport on many occasions in the past but not in Formula 1? Or do you put your faith in a rather more known entity that has been successful in F1 but has been in very much lean times over the last few years?

“Personally, hand on heart, I think he’ll go to Williams. I think that is where Carlos Sainz is heading because he can see what is in front of him with Williams. He probably can’t see the Audi vision at the moment because there is not much to tell. They haven’t taken over at Sauber, they are building power units but that’s it. If James Vowles gets him, then fair play to him…because that’s a major coup and a brilliant driver line-up that can power that team for many years to come.”

Lazenby added: “I think Sainz was Horner’s man a little bit within this and if he was going to come back [at Red Bull] it was going to be Horner convincing him to do so. But I think the biggest problem there was back from the Toro Rossos and it’s the fathers not particularly seeing eye to eye, and that might have proved too much of a tricky thing for them to have to handle.

“Mercedes I don’t think he’s in the running for so it is a direct [decision] between Sauber/Audi and Williams. The case for Williams at the moment is performance because just look at how Sauber are performing on track. [Sauber] have got a long way to go, but Williams is quite a strong case at the moment for him.”

Formula 1 leaves Europe for the final time before the summer break as the championship moves on to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix. Watch every session at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve this weekend live on Sky Sports F1, with Sunday’s race at 7pm. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime