Lewis Hamilton’s sudden departure from Mercedes to join Ferrari at the end of 2024 will be remembered as one of the biggest driver transfers in F1 history.
With more than half of the grid out of contract, a ‘silly season’ in the driver market will always be a big storyline until 2024.
But no one expected a driver whose future seemed set in stone to cause such a stir so early in the season, with only a month left until the new season. Hamilton’s two-year contract, announced in August, was actually a “1+1” deal, opening the door for him to leave Ferrari.
This will have huge ramifications for the driver market and will earn him one of the most coveted seats on the F1 grid. It will be a huge task to succeed a seven-time world champion and someone whose success has been synonymous with the team’s success.
Which driver could take on this challenge? Here are the candidates who could replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes.
Carlos Sainz has always said he wants to go into the new F1 season confident about Ferrari’s future. Now he understands exactly that.
Four seasons at Ferrari make Sainz an attractive option for the team, and certainly enough for Mercedes to consider a driver to replace Hamilton, effectively making it a direct swap. .
Sainz has proven himself as a race winner with Ferrari, delivering the best performance of his career in Singapore last year. As a driver with recent first-team experience, Sainz could offer Mercedes a lot. The Spaniard has always thrived on stability, meaning he is unlikely to agree to anything other than a multi-year deal.
He will be a key player on the market no matter what and will be a safe pairing with Ferrari with a strong track record.
At 42, he is F1’s oldest driver. However, Fernando Alonso shows little sign of slowing down or losing his edge.
Alonso’s return to Aston Martin was one of the big stories last year. The two-time world champion will spearhead Lawrence Stroll’s efforts to create the next great F1 team and has always said he is committed to the long-term project of growing at Silverstone.
But if Mercedes came calling, would Alonso be able to say no?
It would not be a risk-free move for Mercedes. Alonso has a history of rocky relationships with teams, and his departure from Ferrari at the end of 2014 was particularly acrimonious. He is also relentless in demanding the best from those around him. Aston Martin is perfect for building for the future.
In the short term, Mercedes appear to be in a better position to succeed, which could be attractive to Alonso. He’s also good friends with George Russell (they posted a video of themselves playing ping pong on a private jet just a few days ago). As Hamilton prepares for a late-career dice roll, will Alonso be tempted to do the same?
Esteban Ocon enjoys a long-standing association with Mercedes, dating back to before he made his F1 debut with Manor Racing in 2016. The Frenchman joined the Silver Arrows’ junior program in 2015 and they have been involved in his management ever since.
Ocon’s F1 career was not a simple one, as he also worked on the sidelines as Mercedes’ reserve driver. However, upon his return to the grid in 2020 with Renault (which later became Alpine after a rebrand), he consistently proved that he is a competitive midfielder. Ocon recorded his first F1 victory in 2021, but Ocon’s best season overall came in 2022, when he scored 92 points and finished ahead of then-teammate Alonso in the driver standings. did.
The question will be whether Ocon, who has a competitive car, can go toe-to-toe with the top teams. Mercedes had previously considered him as a replacement for one of their drivers when Valtteri Bottas left the team in 2020, and team principal Toto Wolff and development driver advisor Gwen Lagrue still highly recommend Ocon. I am evaluating it. It’s not far-fetched to think he might run for office again.
Alex Albon competed in single-seaters as part of Red Bull’s junior program, but when he was let go at the end of 2012, Lagrue, who now works at Mercedes and is known for identifying potential new stars, moved him to Lotus. He signed a contract with the junior team. He has known Albon since his go-kart days and helped him through Formula Renault, F3, GP3 and F2.
Albon returned to the Red Bull family and began his F1 career with Toro Rosso in 2019, before being promoted to the first team midway through the season, replacing Pierre Gasly. He held his own and proved he could consistently compete among the top teams, but he fell short of Max Verstappen’s skills and spent 2021 on the sidelines at Red Bull.
He is now helping lead Williams into a new era and is widely considered to be a hot target in the driver market.
Daniel Ricciardo is a bit of a wild card for Mercedes.
He has proven he can compete with the top drivers. In his first season with Red Bull in 2014, he scored three wins and 238 points, finishing the year in third place in the driver standings. He achieved similar results in 2016 (one win, eight podiums and his first F1 pole position) and secured three more wins in the following two seasons. In his later years, Verstappen began to take charge of the team, but surprisingly Ricciardo moved to Renault, but was never able to fully tap into the magic he had at Red Bull. He then moved to McLaren and won one more race in 2021.
Mercedes had never considered Ricciardo as a driver despite his proven ability to compete at the top level, but when his future was at stake in 2022, the Australian The player was involved in the conversation about the role of reserve driver. Ultimately, Ricciardo returned to Red Bull instead. He became the third driver last year and is now back on the race seat with Visa Cash App RB (formerly AlphaTauri), with an option to join Red Bull Racing in 2025.
andrea kimi antonelli
Of all the drivers on the list, 17-year-old Andrea Kimi Antonelli has the longest look. Given that the minimum age for the series is 18, he won’t be old enough to race in F1 until August.
But he is also the most exciting talent to emerge on F1’s junior ladder since Verstappen. And we all know how that turned out.
Antonelli is the star of Mercedes’ young driver program. His decision to skip F3 in 2024 and jump from Formula Regional to Formula 2 is already a sign of confidence. Wolff is very excited about the young Italian’s future potential, but always cautions against setting expectations too high.
If Antonelli takes F2 by storm this year, will Mercedes consider taking him straight to the top team? Replacing Hamilton with an 18-year-old rookie will be a big ask. It can also be some kind of radical decision that has significant benefits in the long run.
Perhaps Mercedes would prefer another driver for a few years to give Antonelli time to reach F1, make some rookie mistakes and hone his skills before stepping up.
But the team is envisioning a long-term lineup with Russell and Antonelli. The question is how quickly do you want to achieve that?