Could George Russell hold the key to Mercedes’ choice to replace Lewis Hamilton?

Thomas Maher
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

George Russell's 2024 performance level could decide Mercedes' future driver signing, believes Natalie Pinkham.

Mercedes’ choice on who to replace Lewis Hamilton with will come down to George Russell’s performance levels, believes Natalie Pinkham.

Mercedes are without a confirmed second driver alongside George Russell for 2025, following Lewis Hamilton’s decision to depart the Brackley-based squad to jump to Ferrari next season.

Mercedes’ driver choice ‘depends on Russell’s performance’

Mercedes’ team boss Toto Wolff has firmly said he won’t be rushing into making a decision on who to sign to replace Hamilton, with plenty of driver contracts coming up for renewal and negotiations for next season.

Wolff has thrown his support behind Russell – whose move to the team coincided with their dip in performance at the start of the new regulation cycle – to grow into the role of team leader as Hamilton departs, meaning there’s no immediate panic to try signing an established leading driver to replace the seven-time World Champion.

But, while Russell has compared quite favourably against Hamilton during their two-and-a-bit years together, the younger British driver has scored just a single Grand Prix win and remains unproven as a consistent frontrunner or championship challenger.

Having had a self-confessed scrappy season against Hamilton in 2023, including a high-profile mistake while leading Hamilton in Singapore that ended with him in the wall, Russell’s performances in 2024 will be put under close scrutiny this year.

This scrutiny could decide what direction Mercedes decide to take for 2025, according to Sky F1’s Natalie Pinkham, who believes Russell flourishing will allow his team to take a risk on someone more unproven for the second seat – perhaps the highly-rated Formula 2 racer Kimi Antonelli.

“I think much depends on how Russell performs this year because I think, if Russell grows into the natural team leader, then they will be happy to bring on a young, inexperienced driver under him. Like Antonelli,” Pinkham said on the F1 Nation podcast.

All sorts of links have been hypothesised about in recent weeks, including the possibility of Fernando Alonso swapping Aston Martin for Mercedes, or even Max Verstappen walking away from Red Bull to join Mercedes ahead of the new engine regulations introduction in 2026.

“I think if Russell falters, as we saw in Singapore, and little mistakes creep in – which I don’t think they will, but if they do – then I think they might be more inclined to go for Fernando [Alonso], potentially,” Pinkham said of the rumours.

“I’d love to see Max [Verstappen] there, but no, I [think] Max is staying [at Red Bull].”

But, with Mercedes not being a notable step up from where Aston Martin’s performance levels are at the moment, Pinkham reckons Alonso might opt against a switch to Brackley unless he feels the Aston Martin project isn’t going in the right way.

Alonso has also been linked with Red Bull, due to the rumours surrounding Max Verstappen, as well as Sergio Perez’s contract coming to an end – Pinkham reckons Alonso will end up at one of these two teams, rather than Mercedes.

“[Red Bull or Aston], I think so,” she said.

“I mean, he’ll be the one that knows the most, he is on the inside. He’ll know if they are going in the right direction for him. I mean, to leave Aston for Mercedes, I would say it would be a gamble for Fernando.

“There’s no guarantee to do better at Mercedes than to stick around at Aston. He hasn’t always made the best decisions with his moves something throughout his F1 career.”

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Fred Ferret doubts Kimi Antonelli to Mercedes move

Appearing alongside Pinkham on the F1 Nation podcast was French L’Equipe F1 journalist Fred Ferret, who said that, whatever happens, he doubts Mercedes will take up the option of promoting Antonelli straight away.

“Whatever happens for next year, I wouldn’t bet on Antonelli to Mercedes for 2025,” he said.

“It’s better to make younger ones learn away from the pressure even if Kimi Antonelli is set to be the next Messiah.

“Remember, we only have one Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, or Fernando Alonso every 10 or 15 years, so don’t put pressure on these guys. Even Max learned in a small team.”

As a result, Ferret reckons Mercedes will turn to Alonso, or perhaps even calling upon the Toto Wolff-managed Esteban Ocon to replace the departing Hamilton.

“I would bet on one last year for Fernando Alonso or one year for Esteban Ocon and see what happens,” he said.

“Ocon is part of the managing of Mercedes, so he can accept to sign for only one year. And then, in 2026, you can put Antonelli back in Mercedes after he has learned at Williams or whatever.”

George Russell’s influence on driver selection revealed

Russell himself is likely to play a small part in the direction Mercedes take with the decision on his future teammate, with the British driver revealing the extent of his influence as he spoke to media, including PlanetF1.com, during the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend.

“I think for any team it’s important to have good harmony between the drivers, because that trickles down to all of the engineers, and the whole team, but ultimately the decision’s with Toto and the board,” he said.

“We’ve already had a lot of conversations and I’ve been with Toto a lot this winter, so seeing the drivers’ names pop up on the telephone has been quite funny and even on my phone as well, I’ve had a few phone calls and and text messages.

“So it’s been quite interesting, but as a team, we’re in a really good opportunity and position to go into this next chapter, [after] so much success with Lewis and Mercedes.”

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