The F1 future of Lewis Hamilton was cast into doubt by Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff following the controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year, but if he leaves, who could replace the seven-time champion?
Whilst the most likely scenario is that Hamilton will return for the new season, GPFans has compiled a list of potential replacements SHOULD Hamilton elect to call time on his incredible F1 career.
Nyck de Vries - Current team: Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team
The most likely candidate would be one of Mercedes' own drivers, Nyck de Vries.
The Dutchman clinched the first-ever Formula E world championship for the Silver Arrows last season so would arrive in F1 on good form.
The fact de Vries is within the Mercedes stable would mean a much smoother transition process and take away the need for negotiation with other teams on the F1 grid. Oh, Mercedes would have its own Dutchman to rival Max Verstappen!
With the FE season beginning in late January, however, timing could be a stumbling block, as well as his lack of F1 experience, with de Vries only having conducted tests for the team.
Possibility - 8/10
Stoffel Vandoorne - Current team: Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team
The other Mercedes FE driver may not have won the championship, but his results were just as impressive as de Vries.
Vandoorne also comes with the added bonus of having F1 experience after spending two seasons with McLaren, albeit struggling in an uncompetitive package alongside Fernando Alonso.
The same negative of season timing applies as it did for his Dutch team-mate, it would simply come down to choice.
Esteban Ocon is an interesting option for Mercedes because he retains links to the Silver Arrows through his management after climbing through the junior ranks with the manufacturer.
Alpine may be less than keen to allow the Frenchman to depart ahead of the sport's new era, but given the team has the highly-rated F2 champion Oscar Piastri waiting in the wings, Ocon is the most likely current driver to make the switch.
In his career to date, Ocon has shown well against team-mates Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo, with his breakthrough win coming in last year's chaotic Hungarian Grand Prix.
Nico Hulkenberg - Current team: Unattached
The driver that could have been in Hamilton's seat in 2013 had the Briton elected not to leave McLaren.
Hulkenberg served as the official reserve and development driver for Aston Martin last year but, as of the time of writing, his position with the team has not been confirmed to have been extended.
The German last raced in F1 in 2020, standing in for three race weekends at Racing Point as Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll were struck with Covid, although his last permanent race seat was the year previous with Renault.
As a short-term one-year fix, Hulkenberg could be viewed as an ideal solution for Mercedes should it decide against utilising de Vries or Vandoorne or be unable to capture Ocon.
Valtteri Bottas left Mercedes at the end of last year with the team giving great fanfare to his exit after a five-year stay.
Although at the top of this list, the chances of the Finn making an immediate return to the Silver Arrows is slim despite the insistence that he will forever be a part of the 'Mercedes family'.
Alfa Romeo, a Ferrari customer team, signed Bottas to partner rookie driver Guanyu Zhou and the Finn's knowledge will be crucial to the team's development, a fact which means his contract is likely to be as unbreakable as is possible in F1.
Whilst a season-long repeat of the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, Bottas alongside George Russell, would be entertaining for fans, don't hold your breath.
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