Who could replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes? Toto Wolff faces that question with the seven-time Formula One champion out of contract at the end of the year. Here’s who could potentially replace him.
Hamilton is chasing a record eighth title but trails Red Bull’s Max Verstappen ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Briton recently signed a one-year deal to compete in 2021 and contest his ninth season with Mercedes.
The 36-year-old’s previous deal expired in 2020 and new terms were not agreed until this February. He now wants to conclude negotiations for the future by the August summer break and Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff expects a two-year contract.
But Wolff needs options in mind should Hamilton decide against committing to another deal. Especially with Formula One set to enter a new era next year with the introduction of vastly overhauled technical regulations.
Here’s who could replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes.
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George Russell: Mercedes’ protégé
George Russell is the natural choice for Wolff should Hamilton decide to leave Mercedes. The Williams racer is the team’s protégé after joining their Young Driver Programme in 2017.
Wolff stated at the time that Mercedes saw “great potential in him”, which Russell proved with Formula Two and Three titles in his rookie seasons before stepping up to F1. There, Mercedes rewarded his efforts with a drive at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix after Hamilton tested positive for coronavirus.
Russell shone as a stand-in driver, taking his Silver Arrow to within a whisker of a maiden Grand Prix victory. But, after overcoming a botched pit stop, a puncture would send the Briton down the order in the closing stages.
Russell has continued to impress in 2021 back at Williams alongside Nicholas Latifi. He has taken one of the slowest cars on the grid into Q2 at all five of the opening rounds. The 23-year-old also narrowly missed out on a top-10 start at the Portuguese Grand Prix by four-hundredths of a second.
If Wolff does not now promote Russell to replace or drive alongside Hamilton, he risks losing the King’s Lynn-born talent. His three-year Williams contract expires at the end of 2021, making him a free agent and wants a multi-year contract for 2022 and beyond.
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Max Verstappen: Rival to Hamilton’s Mercedes heir?
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner stated in February that he expects Max Verstappen would be Mercedes’ number one choice to replace Hamilton if the seven-time champion left. He also confirmed the Dutchman has a performance-related clause in his contract that could see him leave Red Bull.
Mercedes do not need Hamilton to leave in order to hire Verstappen. Wolf rubbished talk of a veto clause being a part of the 36-year-old’s current contract.
The Silver Arrows would boast a powerhouse pairing with the two drivers, who are currently rivals for the title.
But Verstappen replacing Hamilton would be the most likely scenario if he were to leave Red Bull for Mercedes. It would also appeal to the Silver Arrows by having one of the next-generation’s brightest talents stepping in for the established benchmark.
Verstappen is only 23 years-old yet has 124 Grand Prix under his belt, winning 12 of them. He has claimed pole position four times, and currently leads the drivers’ standings to Hamilton in a title fight likely to boil down to the final race.
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Esteban Ocon: Mercedes’ returning bright hope?
Esteban Ocon was Mercedes’ bright hope before George Russell burst onto the Formula One scene.
The Frenchman entered the sport midway through the 2016 season racing for Manor. He soon earned a promotion to Force India after standing out with the back of the grid outfit.
Ocon was a close match for current Red Bull driver Sergio Perez at Force India before losing his seat after Lawrence Stroll hired his son, Lance, to race from 2019 after buying the team.
Ocon was forced to sit out 2019 after failing to secure a drive as all seats were taken. A difficult first year with Renault then followed alongside Daniel Ricciardo in 2020, but he has since got his career back on track following a maiden F1 podium at Sakhir in December.
Racing alongside Fernando Alonso for the rebranded Alpine squad, Ocon has outqualified the two-time champion at four of the opening five rounds. He has also out-finished one of Formula One’s all-time greats at all five Grands Prix to date this year.
Mercedes may now consider hiring the former member of their Young Driver Programme.
Ocon is out of contract at Alpine at the end of 2021. Talks between the Frenchman and French-owned outfit over a new deal are already underway, however, so impressive has he been.
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