Following the recent news of Lewis Hamilton leaving Mercedes for Ferrari in 2025, questions of who will take that second seat in Mercedes have been on the rise.
At the end of August in 2023, Mercedes had announced that Lewis Hamilton was ‘here to stay.’ The 7-time champion of the world had signed a contract extension with the Brackley team that was meant to run till the end of 2025.
When it came to silly season talks, Hamilton wasn’t expected to be in the conversations until 2025. However, recent developments have completely changed that. Following Ferrari to Hamilton rumours, earlier today, at 7 pm GMT, Mercedes announced that Hamilton has triggered the release clause in his contract. The Brit has opted to join Scuderia Ferrari from the 2025 season onwards, on a multi-year contract.
With George Russell’s contract keeping him at Mercedes until the end of 2025, the question is who will join Russell in the Silver Arrow team? Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri who would be likely targets for Mercedes have all recently signed on the dotted lines for their respective teams. That puts them out of the question…for now. However, the driver market is not lacking in talent, so there are definitely still options that are considerably worthy of a Mercedes seat now that Hamilton’s off to Ferrari.
The most likely option looks to be Alpine’s Esteban Ocon. The French driver enjoyed his first full season in Formula One when he joined Force India in 2017. He stayed with Force India until the end of the 2018 season. Following the conclusion of the 2018 season, he was dropped. Mercedes took Ocon under their wing, naming him as their reserve driver, and choosing to manage his career.
Mercedes managed to score Ocon a return to F1 in 2020 as a driver for Renault where he partnered with Daniel Ricciardo. In 2021, Ocon joined Alpine, where he has since managed to be on the podium twice, with one of those as a result of a win at the 2021 Hungarian GP.
Esteban has been performing well since his return to F1, but that is not the only reason he might have a shot at Mercedes. See, despite last having a role at Mercedes over four years ago, he still holds ties to Mercedes.
“He’s still very linked to us. He’s an Alpine driver, and he’s fully committed to Alpine, but we’re still managing his career. There are only 20 seats in Formula 1, and we are in a way pretty much all collaborating in the best interests of the sport. And in our case we have a very good relationship with Alpine and with others. And we always try to find the best solution to work together in the best interest of the team and the driver.” – Gwen Lagrue, chief of Mercedes’ junior programme told The Race.
Alex Albon has had a remarkable year at Williams. Notably, with a contract valid until the end of the 2024 season, he could make an appearance in silly season headlines soon enough. Team principal James Vowles has also publicly stated that he sees Albon as a part of the team in the long run. Therefore, the chances of the Thai-British driver signing a contract extension at Williams is high.
The driver who was previously being managed by Red Bull has since been tied down to Williams only, with Albon cutting ties with Red Bull in August 2022. Mercedes have no control over who drives for Williams unless they pay for a driver’s seat, as they did with Russell for example. Therefore, Mercedes cannot dictate Albon’s career decisions.
With Albon driving brilliantly and earning favour in the eyes of former chief strategist James Vowles – now William’s team principal – as well as the rest of the grid, the chances of Mercedes scouting him cannot be out of the question. Should the former Red Bull driver choose to explore his options, maybe Mercedes will come knocking.
The young Italian is a talented fan favourite. Antonelli has been part of the Mercedes Junior Programme since April 2019, a seemingly wise decision by Mercedes.
At the end of 2021, he raced in the last few rounds of Italian F4, scoring several podiums. Antonelli then moved on to compete in both ADAC and Italian F4. He won the Drivers’ Championship in both ADAC and Italian F4. His team, Prema, also took the Constructor’s title in both competitions. As of 2023, he competed in FRECA. After a well-driven rookie season, Kimi Antonelli finished P1 in the Drivers’ Championship. The young driver will be driving for Prema again this season but in Formula 2 instead.
Should Antonelli have a successful rookie season in F2, and potentially even win it in his first season, Mercedes could consider promoting him to F1. Mercedes will have two options. The first would be to try and secure a seat for him at Williams – potentially – before eventually bringing him to Mercedes later. The other option would be to challenge him to join Mercedes just after his 2024 season in F2. The second option may seem like a stretch, but McLaren have once made that gamble with rookie Lewis Hamilton. It does seem like a possibility that Mercedes could do the same with Antonelli who many have already compared to a young Hamilton.