In fact, the 2022 silly season rather turned into a case of “when” rather than “if”, with the promotion of Hamilton’s new team-mate George Russell from Williams an open secret until they finally confirmed the move.
That made Valtteri Bottas available, Alfa Romeo winning the race for his signature, making it possible for Alex Albon to return to the sport, while Alfa also took the opportunity to welcome in China’s first ever F1 driver, Guanyu Zhou.
And then we got a bonus, when we thought all was said and done, as Haas dropped Nikita Mazepin and brought back Kevin Magnussen after a year away from the sport.
So here is a rundown of all drivers now the 2022 F1 driver line-up is finally complete…
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton, George Russell
There was, however brief and speculative it might have been, some discussion about Hamilton moving on from Mercedes at the end of 2021.
What exactly the seven-time world champion would have done instead was not clear, although as usual Red Bull and Ferrari were banded around with about as much legitimacy as the links with MotoGP and a full-time fashion career.
So it was no real surprise when he signed a new two-year contract with the team in July, just as it was little surprise when Mercedes announced that his team-mate for 2022 would not be Valtteri Bottas, the Finn who was first recruited as a late replacement for shocking retired Nico Rosberg in 2017.
And it was no surprise then that the anointed George Russell, already contracted to Mercedes and more than proven worthy albeit in a back-marking Williams, was promoted to Hamilton’s team-mate a day after Bottas’ move to Alfa Romeo.
Red Bull: Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez
The role of Verstappen’s team-mate has never been a particularly easy one in F1, all the way back to Carlos Sainz at Toro Rosso when he first broke into the sport.
The uneasy truce between two drivers who share a garage, data and virtually identical cars but would happily cut the other to shreds on the track is never straightforward, and you don’t have to tell Red Bull: Daniel Ricciardo left because he felt the team were favoring the Dutchman (they were), Pierre Gasly’s confidence was shattered by the pressure of racing him and Alex Albon couldn’t cope with the unstable rear end that Verstappen relishes.
Step forward Perez, the man whose performances at Racing Point and years of experience made him an unusual choice for Red Bull, who usually prefer to promote from within. In this case though, he offered stability and a large sponsorship package that was good enough to earn him a one-year deal. His performances in 2021, while short of what he might have hoped for, were enough to earn him a new contract for next year.
Ferrari: Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz
Ferrari have made a long-term commitment to Leclerc, whose current contract expires in 2024, meaning that whoever partners him will inevitably have to play second fiddle.
For a while, that was Sebastian Vettel, who understandably did not enjoy the role in particular and his performances suffered. Sainz meanwhile is just 2.5 points behind the Monegasque driver and is increasingly growing into the Ferrari. Soon the team may have to give more equal footing – even if they claim they already do – to the Spanish driver.
McLaren: Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo
When it comes to experience in F1, Ricciardo is by far the more senior driver at McLaren, having raced more than 200 times compared to Norris’s 51. However, the Brit has spent more time at McLaren and is miles ahead of his team-mate in the World Drivers’ Championship and if pressed, McLaren would have to admit he is their No 1 driver.
Ricciardo signed a “multi-year” deal when he joined McLaren from Renault while Norris signed a new deal keeping him at McLaren until at least 2023 earlier this year.
Alpine: Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon
The rebranded Renault team will hope the major play they made to sign two-time world champion Alonso to partner Frenchman Ocon, the ideal line-up for a team partially owned by the French government, pays greater dividends than it has so far.
While Ocon did pick up a surprise and invaluable victory in Hungary, they have been well off the pace of the grid’s four front-running teams, but will hope the stability of the same driver line-up in 2022 can help them make further progress forward .
Alpha Tauri: Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda
There is always plenty of excitement surrounding who “the sister team” might drop into their seats because they are never afraid to take a chance on youth.
It has been the proving ground for some of the modern greats in F1, including most prominently Verstappen, and plenty of other names have been bandied around for inclusion in 2022.
However, team boss Franz Tost has said that he cannot see any alternatives to Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, his current line-up – although it took him until the same day as Russell was confirmed at Mercedes to make that official.
Aston Martin: Sebastian Vettel, Lance Stroll
Vettel’s move to Aston Martin was one of the worst kept secrets in the paddock in 2020 but the exact length of his contract was rather more veiled. The deal was for “2021 and beyond”, making his confirmation for 2022 a virtual certainty. After that, it may be that Aston go in a different direction – or Vettel himself may sail off into the sunset.
Alongside him for now though will remain Lance Stroll, a similarly inevitable piece of news given that his father Lawrence owns the team.
Stroll Jr said: “We have not achieved what we set out to do this year, but that has only amplified our hunger and drive for success next season.”
Alfa Romeo: Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu
It may be that moving back to a middle market team from a front-runner is the mojo that Bottas needs after a difficult few years as a nearly man, and then a second man, at Mercedes.
Alfa Romeo have long since abandoned developing this year’s car in favor of the one that will look very different after off-season regulation change ahead of 2022, and that may allow them to make a significant leap forwards.
Antonio Giovinazzi has made limited progress in his three years in F1 and has been dropped from the team, to be replaced by China’s first ever F1 driver: Zhou Guanyu.
Williams: Nicholas Latifi, Alex Albon
The loss of George Russell to Mercedes, while inevitable, will still hurt Williams, who knows exactly how lucky they have been to have someone of that talent level in their car.
They have hung on to Nicholas Latifi, who brings financial clout and some semblance of stability, for a third season with the team and have added Alex Albon, a driver they describe as “one of the most exciting young talents in motorsport”.
The Thai-British driver, who turns 26 in March, will be hoping to bounce back from the disappointment of being dropped by Red Bull in 2020 and rediscover the form that earned him promotion from Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) back in 2019.
Haas: Mick Schumacher, Kevin Magnussen
When it comes to popularity in the wider racing community, Haas might have had the most popular and the least popular drivers last season. With the legacy of his father bearing heavy on his shoulders, there is barely a bad word to be spoken about Mick Jr. Everyone wants him to succeed.
There had been a sense that Schumacher, who is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, could have been moved into Antonio Giovinazzi’s seat at Alfa Romeo. Instead the German will hope for a more competitive year at Haas before moving on in 2023.
Schumacher will have a new team-mate though, with Haas terminating Russian driver Nikita Mazepin’s contract following his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
His father, oligarch Dmitry Mazepin, is a part-owner of Haas’ title sponsor, Uralkali, and an associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Haas confirmed its partnership with Uralkali has also been terminated.
The team has announced the surprise F1 return of Kevin Magnussen. The Dane, who previously raced for Haas between 2017 and 2020, signed a new “multi-year” deal with the team just a week out from the opening grand prix in Bahrain.