The 2024 season hasn’t even begun yet, but we’ve already had the biggest Formula One news story of the year – if not of the last decade.
On Thursday – out of nowhere – it was announced that Sir Lewis Hamilton will be leaving Mercedes for Ferrari in 2025, bringing his 11-year tenure with the team to an end.
With six drivers’ titles and 82 wins, Hamilton and Mercedes is the most successful partnership in the long-history of the sport, and the Silver Arrows now face the very difficult task of replacing the British sporting legend.
Almost every driver on the grid (and beyond) will be gunning for the seat alongside George Russell, so Metro Sport have taken a look at the five most likely to be in the running:
Carlos Sainz Jr.
Hamilton’s move to Ferrari means Carlos Sainz is now out of a drive for 2025. The Spaniard joined the Scuderia in 2021 and had been hoping to extend his stay with them.
The two-time race winner is very highly-regarded and reportedly the No.1 target for Audi who are set to takeover the Sauber team in 2026. But a driver of his experience and talent is deserving of a team at the front of the grid.
As a soon to be free agent, the 29-year-old would certainly be an easy signing, though he may want a guarantee of being the No.1 driver, something that Mercedes will not give him.
Alex Albon’s first experience of driving for a leading team didn’t go very well as he looked out of depth compared to Max Verstappen at Red Bull, but in fairness to the Thai racer that was very early in his career.
Two years of dragging Williams far higher up the grid then they belong have proven that the 27-year-old has the quality and consistency for another shot at the big time.
It is said that Albon is under contract at Williams until the end of 2025, but he’s keen to leave and advance up the grid.
Esteban Ocon was a Mercedes junior and still has Toto Wolff as his manager. As a result, he was always linked with partnering Hamilton but the timing was never right – so could he now replace him?
Perhaps the most inconsistent driver on the grid, the 27-year-old is a grand prix winner and even beat two-time champion Fernando Alonso while they were teammates at Alpine, but his temperament on track leaves much to be desired.
The Frenchman has had friction with nearly all his teammates – including Alonso, Sergio Perez and currently Pierre Gasly – and the last thing Wolff will want is another toxic environment after what went down between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Bar Hamilton and Verstappen, Lando Norris is probably the best driver on the grid and will surely be a world champion in the future. He is the obvious choice.
His chances of moving to Mercedes are not so high however. For one, the 24-year-old has literally just signed a new deal with McLaren that will keep him there until at least 2026. He is fiercely loyal and determined to win races – and titles – with the team he’s driven for his entire career.
If McLaren continue their upwards trajectory, they’ll be little reason for him to leave. Mercedes will have to pay a substantial amount to buy out his contract and convince him they have the better project. Not impossible, but not too likely.
It’s rare for a rookie to enter F1 with one of the frontrunners, but there is a lot of hype surrounding Frederik Vesti. The Mercedes junior driver took part in two practice sessions for the team last season and will be hoping to make the leap to the pinnacle of motorsport in the near-future.
The 22-year-old Dane was runner-up in Formula 2 in 2023, and will be racing in European Le Mans Series this year. It’d be a risk throwing him in the deep end, but as Hamilton proved all those years ago, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
Vesti will certainly be considered, as will fellow Mercedes junior Andrea Kimi Antonelli who has skipped Formula 3 to race in F2 at the tender age of just 17. Whether the teenager will actually be allowed to race in F1 due to his inexperience remains to be seen.
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