Lewis Hamilton: Who will replace Mercedes driver to be George Russell’s team-mate after shock Ferrari move

There are plenty of options for Mercedes to fill Lewis Hamilton’s shoes in 2025 but they also need to consider the long-term future; watch every F1 race live on Sky Sports F1 and pre-season testing in Bahrain from February 19-21

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Sky Sports F1’s Jenson Button would like to see his former teammate Fernando Alonso replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for the 2025 season

Lewis Hamilton’s shock decision to leave Mercedes at the end of this year means there is a seat open 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 stated his team will “not rush” into looking for George Russell’s new team-mate.

Wolff has hinted the new long-term deals of Charles Leclerc at Ferrari and Lando Norris at McLaren have “beaten” Mercedes in terms of timing.

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The Mercedes boss also says “maybe it’s a chance to do something bold” but adds Russell “has the potential to be the next lead driver”.

Mercedes have been caught out before in the driver market, when Nico Rosberg stunned everyone by announcing his immediate retirement just days after winning the 2016 world championship.

Valtteri Bottas got the call-up from Williams to join Mercedes but the Silver Arrows were limited on time to make a decision, whereas they have the rest of the season to consider their options for Hamilton’s replacement.

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Alex Albon believes Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari is ‘amazing’ for the sport and says he remains focused on Williams despite rumours linking him to Mercedes

The 2025-ready replacements

Alex Albon, Williams

There are no obvious favourites but one lead contender must be Alex Albon. Promoted arguably too quickly to Red Bull in the middle of 2019 and enduring 18 months of being dominated by Max Verstappen, Albon spent 2021 on the sidelines.

However, he returned in 2022 with Williams and his stock has got bigger and bigger. He comfortably outperformed Nicholas Latifi and Logan Sargeant, ending last season with an unbeaten streak in qualifying against his American team-mate.

Albon has a contract with Williams until the end of 2025, but there are almost certainly release clauses. Williams team principal James Vowles spent 12 years at Mercedes, too, which could make a move easier.

Russell and Albon get on very well off the track and both drivers were among a trio to make their F1 debut in 2019 – Lando Norris was the other.

Image: Alex Albon could be on the move to one of F1's top teams in 2025

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari

The other obvious candidate is Carlos Sainz, if Mercedes believe a straight swap with Ferrari is the best option.

Sainz was the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race last year and has been hard done by to find himself looking for a seat, given his performances.

For a long time, the Spaniard has been linked to Sauber as Audi will take over the team from 2026 and the German manufacturers see Sainz as a potential driver to lead the outfit.

If Sainz simply looks at his best options on where he could go, it’s Red Bull (something that seems unlikely as his father didn’t get on with the team during his son’s time at Toro Rosso in 2015) or Mercedes.

It does seem Sainz is not considered by the whole F1 paddock as among the very top bracket of drivers – Ferrari signed Leclerc not Sainz for the long term, after all – but he is nevertheless an option.

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While analysing his top 10 drivers this season, Karun Chandhok debates whether Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc are evenly matched in the Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin

This would be the most exciting realistic choice. Fernando Alonso has plenty of respect for Russell and he’s still driving at a very high level despite turning 43 years old this season.

Alonso was back on top form at Aston Martin in 2023, leading the team to six podiums from the opening eight events and is showing no signs of slowing down.

If Mercedes simply want the best driver they can get for 2025, and rate Alonso higher than Albon or Sainz, do not rule out the two-time world champion driving for a sixth different F1 team in his career.

Alonso allegedly offered to drive at Mercedes for free during the peak of their dominance between 2014 and 2016 but was also overlooked when the team chose Bottas to replace Rosberg at the start of 2017.

“I’d love to see Fernando Alonso at Mercedes. He’s 42 but the hunger is there. If the hunger is there, the fitness is there – he drives every day,” said 2009 world champion and Sky Sports F1’s Jenson Button.

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Ride on board with Fernando Alonso as he takes on Sergio Perez in an epic battle to seal a podium place in Brazil

Esteban Ocon, Alpine

Esteban Ocon has been linked with a move to Mercedes in the past, particularly when Bottas was under pressure to retain his seat.

Ocon was a Mercedes junior and the team’s reserve driver when he surprisingly spent a year on the F1 sidelines in 2019.

His career was managed by Toto Wolff before he joined Renault, now known as Alpine, in 2020 so he has that potentially key relationship with the Mercedes team principal.

If tension increases at Alpine between Ocon and Pierre Gasly, one of them could move on and eye up Hamilton’s current seat.

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Both McLarens are out and Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon come close to a tangle in a chaotic Q1

Sebastian Vettel, currently retired

Sebastian Vettel retired from F1 at the end of 2022 but has not ruled out a comeback, stating it will “depend on the challenge”.

Similarly to Alonso, Vettel would bring experience to Mercedes and he was also one of the most popular drivers when he left the sport.

The factor of a German driver in a German car may also play a part in Mercedes’ decision and it would be an incredible story if Vettel returned.

However, largely underwhelming performances in his two most recent F1 seasons – with Aston Martin – leave questions over whether he retains the ability to merit the opportunity.

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Sebastian Vettel sat down with Martin Brundle to discuss sustainability in motorsport, life in retirement, a possible return to the sport, and Max Verstappen’s dominance back in September

Kimi Antonelli, Formula 2

You may be thinking, ‘who is Kimi Antonelli?’ I can guarantee you will hear a lot about him in the years to come because many believe the 17-year-old Italian will be the next big thing to land a seat in F1.

Antonelli has won pretty much everything he has driven in since karting and has dominated various 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 category underlining his talent.

Hamilton went straight from Formula 2 champion to a McLaren F1 seat in 2007. Could this be the “bold” move Wolff touted, if Antonelli does something similar?

Image: Mercedes junior Kimi Antonelli could be the next big star to drive in F1 (Credit Mercedes)

Outsiders – Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas

The list does not stop there given there are several drivers from the midfield wanting a move to the front of the grid.

Daniel Ricciardo will surely be targeting Sergio Perez’s seat at Red Bull but if he cannot get it, why not Mercedes if he has a strong campaign at RB this year?

Bottas has been teasing a surprise return to Mercedes after leaving at the end of 2021, posting on Instagram he was in Brackley on January 30.

Mick Schumacher is Mercedes’ reserve driver but given his disappointing performances in 2022 led to him dropping off the grid, it’s hard to see him replacing Hamilton.

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Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz, Damon Hill and Karun Chandhok have their say on the monumental news that Lewis Hamilton will join Ferrari in 2025

‘Unexpected opportunities’ in 2026?

Something Mercedes must consider is the 2026 season where significant changes will be made to the technical regulations, which will likely influence the pecking order.

The last time significant changes were made to the power unit rules, Mercedes came out on top in 2014 and they won eight constructors’ titles in a row.

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Toto Wolff shares how Lewis Hamilton first told him he would be leaving Mercedes to join Ferrari in 2025

If Mercedes can showcase to a top driver that they will get the 2026 regulations right, there is a chance they could sway other big names to join the team? Wolff insists anything is possible.

“If you told me two days ago that Lewis would be going to Ferrari, I didn’t think it was possible,” Wolff said. “Things can change quickly. Contracts are only as good as the driver or team wants to race. Who knows what’s happening in the drivers market – there could be unexpected opportunities for us.”

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Following the news Lewis Hamilton is moving to Ferrari in 2025, relive some of his previous comments on potentially joining the team

Max Verstappen, Red Bull

Red Bull are working on a new era with Ford as the two companies come together to make their 2026 power unit.

It’s somewhat of a risk for Red Bull and if Max Verstappen feels the team will not have a car that’s capable of fighting at the front, he could look elsewhere.

Despite being contracted to Red Bull until 2028, comments Verstappen made to Sky Sports F1 in May 2023 suggest he will ultimately be looking for the drive that gives him the best opportunity to win more titles.

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Max Verstappen says ‘it’s been incredible’ after picking up the F1 drivers’ championship trophy but will miss driving the RB19

“People always ask me if I have a dream team,” Verstappen said. “I know Ferrari has an amazing history in Formula 1 and is an amazing team to race for, but I always said to myself I just want to be in the fastest car. I had to wait a few years to be in the fastest car and now we do have the fastest car and that is a great feeling.

“At this stage, if it happens, it happens but I’m very happy where I am and for me personally, the desire of having to drive for one particular team at all costs, no. [It] depends how things are going here but at the moment I’m super happy, no discussion, but some people might be in different scenarios and there is a possibility, I don’t know.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

In a scenario where Hamilton joins Ferrari and gets the team on his side, maybe Leclerc will feel it’s time to move on.

The Monegasque was heavily linked to Mercedes in 2023 when his future remain unresolved, while Ferrari’s failure to confirm the length of his contract extension left some questions marks over how long-term the commitment was.

Leclerc is without doubt one of the fastest drivers on the grid and any team would strongly consider him, while Wolff admitted amid the rumours last year the 26-year-old is on his “radar”.

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Charles Leclerc says it is an honour to extend his contract at Ferrari and he hopes to share many more victories with the team

Lando Norris, McLaren

The same can be said regarding the quality of Lando Norris, and if McLaren are unable to get to the front in the next couple of years, maybe he will eye up Mercedes.

Norris is clearly committed to the Woking squad, but it’s unclear whether he would have been so quick to extend his deal had it been known a Mercedes seat would be becoming available so soon.

In the same way that tension could arise in the intra-team contest between Leclerc and Hamilton, Norris has his hands full with the up-and-coming Oscar Piastri, who delivered an impressive rookie campaign in 2023.

Piastri, who is managed by hugely experienced former driver Marc Webber, will undoubtedly be pushing for parity as he continues to improve, which could have an impact on Norris’ happiness at the team.

Right now, this is all ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ but if Mercedes emerge as the team to beat again in 2026, every driver will be knocking on Wolff’s door.

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