Lewis Hamilton’s surprise decision to leave Mercedes at the end of this year means there is an open seat at Mercedes for the 2025 Formula 1 season.
Hamilton will replace Carlos Sainz at Ferrari in a blockbuster switch and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has said his team is “in no rush” to find a new partner for George Russell.
Wolff said the new long-term contracts of Charles Leclerc at Ferrari and Lando Norris at McLaren would “beat” Mercedes in terms of timing.
The Mercedes boss also said that “it’s probably an opportunity to do something bold” but added Russell “has the potential to be the next driver”.
Mercedes has already been caught in the drivers’ market, with Nico Rosberg surprising everyone by announcing his retirement just days after winning the 2016 world championship.
Valtteri Bottas has been invited by Williams to join Mercedes but the Silver Arrows have had plenty of time to decide, with the season remaining to consider their options for Hamilton’s replacement.
2025 update ready
Alex Albon, Williams
There are no clear names but one contender should be Alex Albon. Quickly promoted to Red Bull in mid-2019 and enduring 18 months under Max Verstappen’s management, Albon spent 2021 on the sidelines.
However, he returned in 2022 with Williams and his stock has grown. He successfully defeated Nicholas Latifi and Logan Sargeant, ending last season with an undefeated streak by defeating his fellow American.
Albon has a contract with Williams until the end of 2025, but there are almost no release clauses. Williams team principal James Vowles spent 12 years at McLaren, too, which could make the move easier.
Russell and Albon are doing well on the track and both drivers were in a trio to make their F1 debut in 2019 – Lando Norris was the other.
Carlos Sanz, Ferrari
Another obvious candidate is Carlos Sainz, if Mercedes believes that a direct exchange with Ferrari is the best option.
Sanz was the only non-Red Bull driver to win the championship last year and has struggled to secure a seat, due to his performances.
The Spaniard has long been linked with Sauber as Audi takes over the team from 2026 and the German manufacturer sees Sainz as a driver who can lead the outfit.
If Sainz is looking at the best options where to go, it is Red Bull (something that seems impossible because his father did not join the team during his son’s time at Toro Rosso in 2015) or Mercedes.
It seems that Sainz is not considered by the entire F1 paddock as one of the top drivers – Ferrari signed Leclerc and not Sainz for a long time, after all – but it is a process.
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin
This can be a very interesting choice. Fernando Alonso has a lot of respect for Russell and is still driving at a very high level despite being 43 years old this season.
Alonso returned to Aston Martin in 2023, leading the team to six points from the first eight events and showing no signs of slowing down.
If Mercedes is just looking for the best driver they can find in 2025, and promoted Alonso over Albon or Sainz, don’t let the world champion become a double driver for the sixth F1 team of his career.
Alonso is said to have offered to drive for Mercedes for free during his reign between 2014 and 2016, but was ignored when the team chose Bottas to replace Rosberg in early 2017.
“I would like to see Fernando Alonso at Mercedes. He is 42 years old but the hunger is there. If the hunger is there, the fitness is there – he drives every day,” said the 2009 world champion and Sky Sports F1It’s Jenson Button.
Esteban Ocon, Alpine
Esteban Ocon has been linked with a move to Mercedes in the past, especially when Bottas was forced to keep his seat.
Ocon was a Mercedes junior and team driver when he spent one year in F1 in 2019.
His career was managed by Toto Wolff before he joined Renault, now known as Alpine, in 2020 so he has a very important relationship with the Mercedes team principal.
If the conflict increases in Alpine between Ocon and Pierre Gasly, one of them can move and look at the current seat of Hamilton.
Sebastian Vettel, who retired recently
Sebastian Vettel has retired from F1 at the end of 2022 but has not ruled out a return, saying “it will take some hard work”.
Like Alonso, Vettel will bring experience to Mercedes and was one of the most popular drivers when he left the sport.
The German driver in a German car could play a role in Mercedes’ decision and it would be a surprise story if Vettel returns.
However, his impressive performance in his last two F1 seasons – with Aston Martin – leaves questions about whether he has the potential to make a breakthrough.
Kimi Antonelli, Formula 2
You might be thinking, ‘Who is Kimi Antonelli?’ I can assure you that you will be hearing more about him in the coming years as many believe that the 17-year-old Italian will be the next big thing to find a seat in F1.
Antonelli has won most of his career since karting and has dominated the Formula 4 and Formula Regional championships in the last two years.
He became a Mercedes junior in 2019 and will compete in Formula 2 with the Prema team this year, with the decision to skip the Formula 3 team emphasizing his skills.
Hamilton went straight from the Formula 2 race to the McLaren F1 seat in 2007. Could this be “brave” what Wolff did, if Antonelli does the same?
Outsiders – Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas
The list does not stop there as there are several drivers from the middle of the sport who want to go to the front of the team.
Daniel Ricciardo is eyeing Sergio Perez’s seat at Red Bull but if he can’t find it, what about Mercedes if they have a strong campaign at RB this year?
Bottas has been teasing his surprise return to Mercedes after leaving at the end of 2021, posting on Instagram that he was at Brackley on January 30.
Mick Schumacher is a Mercedes driver, but due to his disappointing performance in 2022 which saw him drop from the team, it is difficult to see him replacing Hamilton.
An ‘unexpected opportunity’ in 2026?
Something that Mercedes must consider is the 2026 season when major changes will be made to the technical regulations, which will affect the leading system.
During the last major change to the electronic regulations, Mercedes came out on top in 2014 and won eight constructors’ titles in a row.
If Mercedes can demonstrate to a senior driver that they have got the 2026 regulations right, is there a chance they can attract other big names to join the team? Wolff insists that anything is possible.
“If you told me two days ago that Lewis would go to Ferrari, I wouldn’t have thought it would be possible,” said Wolff. “Things can change quickly. Contracts are good if a driver or a team wants to race. Who knows what will happen in the driver market – there could be unexpected opportunities for us.”
Max Verstappen, Red Bull
Red Bull is working on a new era with Ford as the two companies meet to create their 2026 powerhouse.
It is another risk for Red Bull and if Max Verstappen feels that the team does not have a car that can fight at the front, he may look elsewhere.
Although he has a contract with Red Bull until 2028, comments made by Verstappen to Sky Sports F1 in May 2023 suggest that he will ultimately be looking for a way that will give him the best chance of winning more titles.
“People always ask me if I have a dream team,” Verstappen said. “I know that Ferrari has an amazing history in Formula 1 and it’s an amazing team to race for, but I always told myself that I just want to be in a very fast car. I had to wait a few years to be in a very fast car. Now we have a very fast car and it’s a great feeling.
“At the moment, when it happens, it happens, but I’m very happy where I am and for myself, the desire to manage one team in any way, no. [It] it depends on how things are going here but at the moment I’m very happy, there are no discussions, but other people can be in different places and there is a possibility, I don’t know. “
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
With Hamilton joining Ferrari and putting the team on his side, perhaps Leclerc will feel it’s time to move on.
The Monegasque has been heavily linked with Mercedes in 2023 as his future remains uncertain, while Ferrari’s failure to confirm the length of his contract has left many questions about how long it will last.
Leclerc is undoubtedly one of the fastest drivers in the group and any team would strongly consider him, as Wolff admitted amid rumors last year, the 26-year-old is on his “radar”.
Lando Norris, McLaren
The same can be said about the character of Lando Norris, and if McLaren can’t get to the front in the next few years, maybe he will look at Mercedes.
Norris is deeply committed to the Woking club, but it is unclear whether he would have rushed to extend his contract had it been known that the Mercedes seat would soon be available.
In the same way that contention could arise in the inter-team competition between Leclerc and Hamilton, Norris has his hands full with the incoming Oscar Piastri, who had an impressive rookie campaign in 2023.
Piastri, who is managed by veteran driver Marc Webber, will no doubt be pushing for a partnership as he continues to improve, which could affect Norris’s happiness at the club.
For now, it’s all ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ but if Mercedes emerge as a team to win again in 2026, every driver will be knocking on Wolff’s door.
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