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Mercedes' best options to replace Hamilton after Ferrari exit

Mercedes' best options to replace Hamilton after Ferrari exit

F1 News

Mercedes' best options to replace Hamilton after Ferrari exit

Mercedes' best options to replace Hamilton after Ferrari exit

The stunning news that Lewis Hamilton will leave Mercedes at the end of the season has meant that the Silver Arrows will have to step up their succession plan.

However, due to Hamilton's age, the team have been putting plans in place - knowing that the Brit couldn't keep racing forever.

Replacing a driver of Hamilton's calibre is more than finding someone to win; the Brit has set incredibly high standards in consistency, marketability, and the ability to lead a team.

When considering who might be the best hope to replace him, a few key factors come into play: current performance, potential for growth, compatibility with Mercedes' team culture, and the ability to handle the pressure and expectations that come with driving for a top team.

READ MORE: Ferrari F1 supremo masterminded Hamilton swoop after 'years of meetings'

Lewis Hamilton is one of the hardest acts to follow in F1 history

So, who are the top contenders to be the next Lewis Hamilton?

George Russell

George Russell has the first-hand knowledge to step up and try to fill Hamilton's shoes after what will end as a three-year spell as his team-mate when the seven-time champ leaves. .

Even compared to a seasoned champion like Hamilton, his performances have been impressive.

Russell's familiarity with the team, understanding of the Mercedes car, and proven track record of extracting performance from it make him a prime candidate.

Few drivers, if any, were bred for the F1 life more than Russell, who had Mercedes backing since 2017 as a GP3 driver.

Throughout his three years at Williams, there was a sense of destiny around the 2018 F2 champ, but whether that was to reach the Silver Arrows or replace Hamilton as an F1 great is less clear.

The Norfolk man can beat Hamilton on his day, and you can't forget he outscored his team-mate during their first season together, but there's more to becoming the next great than speed.

Russell's PR training was notable from his first moments in the public eye, and a perceived lack of authenticity is at odds with Hamilton's paddock fashion and unapologetic political statements, placing the two apart on the marketability front.

After a long wait for approval from Toto Wolff, another question arises whether Russell can lead Mercedes, the team that has long supported him, rather than just be a part of it.

George Russell might be the most obvious to replace Hamilton, but he's not the only candidate ready to take over from F1's most victorious driver, nor the only one within the Mercedes camp...

Andrea Kimi Antonelli

Unlike their Milton Keynes rivals, Mercedes is not a team to add dozens of junior drivers to their ranks and let the filtration process bring the best to the top.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli has been a big name in the junior ranks

Russell rose through the ranks after long-time support, as did other F1 graduates, Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein.

Hot on the heels of Russell's rise, another name has enjoyed Mercedes backing before even racing in cars.

Italian star Andrea Kimi Antonelli is one of the most highly-rated feeder series drivers in recent memory, storming to multiple karting and single-seater titles with the support of the three-pointed star on his overalls.

You can never tell if a racer will fulfil the potential carried in junior ranks up into Formula 1, let alone reach the pinnacle of motorsport, so there's already a lot of pressure on this teenager's shoulders.

The only other times I can remember such a furore about a young driver on the F1 pathway was when Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were making headlines in karting and junior formulae.

Antonelli is undoubtedly quick and is already enjoying some time in the media spotlight in Italy, which will expand much wider with his upcoming Formula 2 campaign.

Having had the fortune to interview him, too, I can say that he doesn't possess the arrogance one might expect from a 17-year-old young man continually told (and continually proving) that he's the next big thing.

He instead comes across as extremely personable and incredibly likeable, with humbleness and genuine curiosity about those around him.

Furthermore, as well as being a marketer's dream, he's well-liked within his PREMA team and is getting used to being the top driver to lead the charge.

Time will tell if he's the one to try and continue Hamilton's legacy, but Antonelli certainly looks the most likely one to partner Russell at Mercedes in the long term.

Charles Leclerc

Contracts within Formula 1 seem far closer to the dark arts than long-term agreements to lock a driver in place for the future.

Ferrari and Charles Leclerc's extension 'beyond 2024' appears to be a prime example of one such loose handshake created with clauses galore that prevent a simple end date from going public.

Charles Leclerc has a new Ferrari deal - but for how long?

The announcement has all the hallmarks of performance requirements and options to jump elsewhere should other seats open up.

Red Bull and Mercedes are the only teams to have consistently beaten Ferrari in the turbo-hybrid era, so these would be the only logical landing spots Leclerc would target should he hit the emergency exit button.

Sergio Perez is the keystone for the 2025 driver market as the one on the most prized seat.

However, Red Bull hasn't had two top-tier drivers in their garage since the race-winning version of Daniel Ricciardo left after 2018, so I can't see Leclerc replacing the Mexican.

That leaves the second Mercedes seat at the most likely. Of the 2024 field, Leclerc seems the best-suited outsider to take on the monumental task of taking over from F1 and Mercedes' most successful racer.

Leclerc's single-lap pace throughout his career without having the fastest car (fuel flow tricks in 2019 aside) puts him as one of the best qualifiers on the grid, one of Hamilton's best qualities.

Despite having three championships fewer, Leclerc has millions more Instagram followers than Verstappen and is second only to Hamilton, demonstrating his popularity and marketing appeal.

Like Russell, there is a slight sense of gratefulness for his position at Ferrari for their years of junior support that might have him slower to chastise him for mistakes, as Sainz has done.

It's polite but not necessarily the way to lead the team to strive for perfection, which wouldn't be an issue at Mercedes should Leclerc join as a newcomer.

Should the Antonelli hopes fade out, Mercedes could do far worse than swooping in for a Leclerc who has outgrown his Ferrari stable.

Only the future will show if anyone can come close to repeating Hamilton's level of success at Mercedes, but the Silver Arrows are not without hopefuls to take over.

READ MORE: He must've watched the Ferrari movie!' - social media reacts to Hamilton's HUGE news

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