When the Formula 1 circus is packed away for the summer, fans and F1 media often begin to look ahead and wonder how the grid lineup will look for the following season. Countless theories and ideas begin to appear online and on the back pages, signaling the start of the F1 silly season.
Silly season in F1 is a period often coinciding with the start of the summer break, where rumors begin to appear about potential driver moves for the start of the following season. The rumors are largely unsubstantiated and are fueled by the press and fans having no on-track action to talk about.
Silly season creates a level of uncertainty among fans as they wonder where their favorite drivers will end up come the following season. In this article we will look at what silly season means in F1 and in other motorsports, as well as highlighting some high-profile silly season moments.
What Does Silly Season Mean In F1?
The term ‘silly season’ was first used in the 19th century to describe the time where both American and European politicians were on their summer breaks, leaving newspapers with little choice but to fill the empty slots with trivial stories that wouldn’t usually be deemed newsworthy. This same principle has been attached to Formula 1 for many years, keeping fans engaged despite a lack of racing.
The main bulk of F1 silly season usually surrounds the following season’s grid lineup. Formula 1 publications, both big and small, will heavily speculate about who is moving where, and which teams are either happy or unhappy with their drivers.
With so many claiming to be in the know, silly season creates controversy and fierce debate among fans, effectively turning the sport into a soap opera until the drivers return to the track after the summer break has finished. Despite this, it keeps the overall engagement and media attention surrounding Formula 1 high, even without any racing taking place, which can be regarded as a positive.
When Does F1 Silly Season Start?
F1 silly season usually starts around the time of the summer break, as that’s when a lot of teams choose to negotiate new contracts with their drivers. However, silly season can really begin at any time, and usually fans will say it has begun when a big driver move or contract signing is announced.
The silly season seeds will begin to be sown during the second half of the F1 season, before coming into full bloom when the summer break begins around the beginning of August. The fanfare inevitably dies down once racing begins again towards the end of the month when the fans and media can turn their attention to actual races once again.
There will of course be rumors circulating all the way until the season is wrapped up in December, when team reshuffles and driver moves will start to be finalized. However, silly season will peak during the three weeks that the drivers have off in the summer. This is when the rumors will spiral out of control, and bored fans will be clinging to every bit of gossip circulating the internet!
KEY POINTS• Silly season is simply a term used to describe the mass of rumors that fly around the F1 world, usually during the summer break
• It concerns drivers signing contracts, moving teams, or even retiring from the sport
• These occurrences usually trigger lots of rumors about driver replacements, and so silly season begins
F1 Silly Season Examples
Piastri vs Alpine
Where else to start other than the story that gripped the F1 world during the 2022 summer break. Following the news of Fernando Alonso’s shock switch to Aston Martin to replace the retiring Sebastian Vettel, Alpine announced that reserve driver Oscar Piastri would be racing for them in 2023. This didn’t originally come as too much of a surprise after Piastri’s success in Formula 2.
However, nobody was prepared for what was to come next. Just two hours later, Piastri rebuked Alpine’s statement in a scathing tweet, saying, “I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year. This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”
Even by silly season’s standards, it doesn’t get much sillier than this. What makes the situation even more bizarre is that Alpine never retracted their original announcement that Piastri had signed as a driver and failed to address Piastri’s blatant refusal of the seat. Perhaps we’ll never know how this misunderstanding happened, but it certainly made for interesting viewing.
Daniel Ricciardo’s Future
With eight race wins to his name, Daniel Ricciardo has been an esteemed driver for some time, and thanks to his bubbly personality, he is also one of the most well-liked drivers on the grid. However, a disappointing start to the 2022 season with McLaren saw him fall down the pecking order, with many questioning his future in the sport.
Some rumors suggested he may stay with McLaren for the 2023 season, while others suggested he may be replaced by Oscar Piastri or IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward (among others). Some even touted him to replace Nicholas Latifi at Williams, or maybe even to take Mick Schumacher’s seat at Haas (although he was eventually replaced by Nico Hulkenberg). The Ricciardo rumors sum up silly season – nobody really knows what’s going to happen until it happens.
Potential Reshuffle At Haas
As the only American team currently involved in F1, there will always be some sort of attention surrounding Haas. This attention is ramped up when you have the son of Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher driving for you. The first half of 2022 didn’t go to plan for Mick Schumacher though, as he was yet to pick up any points after the first nine races of the season.
Even his uncle Ralf Schumacher admitted that his place could be under threat from the Brazilian F2 prospect Felipe Drugovich. It was even rumored that Ferrari had all but discarded the fairytale of Schumacher Jr following in his father’s footsteps in the future, having been unimpressed with the young driver’s supposed inability to fulfill his potential.
For a very brief period, Schumacher was the odds-on favorite to take over from his mentor and friend Sebastian Vettel after he announced his retirement in July 2022, before Aston Martin made their shock swoop for the veteran Fernando Alonso. This was an example of one silly season rumor being displaced from the top of the silliness pile by another move that nobody expected!
Max Verstappen To Mercedes
After a heavily disrupted 2020 season, F1 was crying out for an unforgettable 2021. And that it was, with the Drivers’ Championship going down to the final race, and ending in the most horribly controversial fashion, eventually costing race director Michael Masi his job. 2021 also spawned one of the most far-fetched silly season rumors to date – Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to arch-rivals Mercedes.
With Lewis Hamilton only signing a short-term contract with Mercedes, it was widely thought that he was ready to bow out from the sport, with rumors suggesting that Verstappen was top of Toto Wolff’s shopping list. Red Bull team principle Christian Horner added even more fuel to the fire, suggesting that this was likely the case, sending F1 fans into a frenzy.
Things turned out very differently though, as Verstappen went on to win his maiden World Championship before signing the largest contract in F1 history, to keep him at Red Bull until 2028, on almost $50 million a year. Verstappen has also publicly expressed his desire to see out his career at Red Bull.
Hamilton To Mercedes
2013 saw rumors of Lewis Hamilton’s desire to leave McLaren for Mercedes. Originally, these rumors were widely disbelieved and thought to be just another product of F1 silly season. However, the rumors were true, and Hamilton replaced retiring Michael Schumacher, and the rest was history. Hamilton went on to spend the best years of his career at Mercedes, winning a further six championship titles.
2013 ended up being a busy year for F1 moves, with a widespread reshuffle taking place across the grid, and multiple moves taking place, including Sergio Perez to McLaren, Hulkenberg to Sauber and the promotion of rookie driver Valtteri Bottas at Williams.
Senna To McLaren
The silly season of 1987 saw one of the most important driver changes in F1 history being negotiated, as a young Ayrton Senna was snapped up by McLaren. The 1988 season would see the start of a heated Formula 1 rivalry between Senna and then teammate Alain Prost. They went on to win a combined 25 out of 32 races in which they were teammates, before Prost moved to Ferrari in 1990.
Silly Season In Other Motorsports
Any motorsport discipline with a limited number of seats per team will inevitably have its own version of the F1 silly season. Both NASCAR and IndyCar have large enough fan bases and garner enough media attention for rumors to fly. However, the packed nature of the NASCAR schedule means that there isn’t a long enough pause in the middle of the calendar to really classify as a silly season.
IndyCar’s schedule is more like Formula 1’s with more breaks between race weekends, meaning more time for fans to stew over where their favorite drivers may end up. The similarity between the two disciplines means that their silly seasons sometimes intertwine, with McLaren being involved in the silly seasons of both sports in 2022 through Alex Palou and Oscar Piastri.
Much like F1, MotoGP has a summer break where silly season truly begins. 2021’s biggest rumors were surrounding nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi and whether he would retire at the end of season (he did). MotoGP only has 24 rider seats available, and having so many willing prospects wanting to fill those seats guarantees a constant stream of rumors and speculation.
Silly season in F1 refers to the period during a season in which fans and the media spread rumors about the drivers and where they will be racing in the future. It’s usually set off around the summer break, but it can also be triggered any time a driver announces they’re moving teams.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.