Why Lewis Hamilton replacement is ‘not an easy situation’ for Toto Wolff

Michelle Foster
The George Russell team-mate question for 2025.

The George Russell team-mate question for 2025.

With Andrea Kimi Antonelli not yet ready for F1, finding a new team-mate for George Russell after Lewis Hamilton announced he’s off to Ferrari won’t be “an easy situation” for Mercedes.

Hamilton shocked the motor racing world on Thursday when it was confirmed he’d be leaving Mercedes at the end of this season to head to rival team Ferrari.

Having only informed his team boss Toto Wolff about his decision some 36 hours before the official confirmation, Mercedes have been left reeling as they contemplate what comes next, and, more importantly, who comes next as Hamilton’s replacement.

‘It’s not an easy situation for Toto’

From reserve driver Mick Schumacher to former Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon, just about every driver’s name is on the list of potential candidates although it is thought Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso are leading the running.

The big question, though, is whether either would consider a one-year contract for 2025 as Mercedes have protégé Antonelli already pencilled in as Russell’s future team-mate.

Sky Italia’s Roberto Chinchero believes Mercedes, if they want a star driver alongside Russell for 2025, would be best served putting a two-year deal on the table.

“I think that if you are in the condition to offer a two-season deal there are many possible drivers. But if you want to offer only a one-year deal, the number of drivers you can call is much smaller,” he told the F1 Nation podcast.

“A driver like Fernando Alonso, he could be interested in one season as he’s tried a lot of times in the past to come to Mercedes without success. It could make sense for him, the right way to say goodbye to Formula 1.

“The problem of Antonelli is he should be ready for Formula 1 [in 2025], but you’ll only know that in the summertime and then it’s too late in the driver market.

“It’s not an easy situation for Toto.

“Of course, he has a good relationship with [Alex] Albon, with Ocon, with a lot of guys. But it is hard to offer a one-year deal. It’s not easy for them.”

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F1 correspondent Lawrence Barretto agrees that most drivers, including Alonso despite being 42 years of age, would want a two-year contract.

“That’s why,” he said, “from the early conversations that are happening and what I’m hearing, I think they are prepared to offer a two-year deal to entice the client to widen the pool of who they can entice over,” he said.

“I actually think Fernando will still want more than one because Fernando is going to drive to at least 50, right, so he doesn’t want to give up this Aston Martin project for a one-year dance at Mercedes.

“Give him a two-year, give him something to really chew on for a couple of years, give him an opportunity to rile some people up, do his Fernando thing. So I think Fernando is a great shout.

“But then I do think that if they’re looking at properly rebuilding this team, consistently developing the car, they want a driver who could deliver good feedback.

“And Sainz and Albon, talk to anyone that they’ve worked with, talk to Red Bull for both those drivers, to Ferrari, especially for Sainz, in terms of feedback and car development and they will tell you that they are very good on that.

“And I’m not saying that George Russell isn’t strong in that area. But I think that would be a real strong point for that team going forward just as Fernando would be of course. So it depends if they want fireworks or not.”

Would Mercedes gamble on Antonelli as a rookie?

Although Wolff has said he’s yet to decide Mercedes’ criteria and whether they want a “rookie” driver or “experience”, Barretto can’t see the team putting Antonelli in the car next season.

In fact, he reckons Mercedes would probably want – if he even steps up to F1 next year – for him to have two years with Williams as they did with Russell.

“Assuming that Antonelli has an incredible year this year having skipped F3, and has an incredible year and goes and wins it in the way that Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen stormed through the junior categories – assuming that happened – I still think that Toto’s preference would be to put him in a Williams maybe first and give him a year or two in that team,” said Barretto.

“I’m not sure Toto is quite the gambler to put him straight into that Mercedes even if they are in this rebuild process.”

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