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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

How Hamilton’s exit might depart the Mercedes F1 group in a troublesome spot

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Hamilton solely signed a contemporary two-year take care of Mercedes for 2024 and 2025 final summer season, however clearly left wiggle room for the same old exit clauses in case he had a change of coronary heart.

And as Ferrari confirmed Charles Leclerc’s new contract however dragged its toes over giving Carlos Sainz the same extension, it seems Hamilton being on the desk has made the Scuderia assume twice over its future driver line-up.

With Leclerc and Hamilton each former proteges of group boss Fred Vasseur, whereas Sainz was seen as a Mattia Binotto rent, Ferrari’s driver line-up now appears to be like nicely poised for Maranello’s bid to topple Pink Bull. But it surely has additionally left a gap at Mercedes at a most inconvenient time.

Had Hamilton’s transfer been rubber-stamped any earlier, Mercedes might have had extra choices to play with on the driving force market. However Hamilton’s impending swap has been preceded by a number of high-profile contract renewals that took key items off the board.

Leclerc, who is ready to accomplice the seven-time world champion from 2025 onwards, would presumably have been a key goal for the Silver Arrows. And with Max Verstappen firmly locked in at Pink Bull, there aren’t too many different confirmed names which are accessible in 2025.

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Mercedes would have had an excellent take a look at McLaren’s pairing Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, however after the Australian prolonged final yr Norris additionally not too long ago put pen to paper on a deal that may preserve him at McLaren for 2026 and presumably past.

So, who else might Mercedes transfer for?

McLaren’s duo have been taken off the driving force market with new offers

Photograph by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

There was preliminary pleasure on social media about Mercedes’ prodigy Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who’s debuting in Formulation 2 this yr after being fast-tracked via the junior ladder following a single, championship successful season in FRECA.

However even when there’s a precedent in F1 with Kimi Raikkonen and Verstappen, selling the now 17-year-old after simply three years in vehicles appears fanciful and towards Mercedes’ earlier younger driver coverage.

Following his F2 title George Russell was farmed out to Williams for 3 seasons of studying the ropes earlier than re-joining his mother or father group. And even when Antonelli delivers on his promise in F2 straight away, the same transfer is likely to be extra useful for the starlet’s long-term profession.

So, if Russell-Antonelli is seen as Mercedes’ future, then who may very well be a stop-gap signing for no less than 2025 and 2026?

If there’s one free agent whose inventory has risen lately, it needs to be Williams’ Alex Albon. Now a a lot stronger driver than when he was burnt by an early promotion to Pink Bull, Albon has performed an instrumental function within the Williams restoration course of.

He scored all however one of many group’s 28 factors in 2023 to pull the group up from tenth to seventh within the constructors’ championship, and has been praised for his blossoming management qualities.

Aged 27 and coming off the again of his strongest ever season in F1, Albon’s mix of pace and maturity would make him an astute signing. Russell and Albon’s long-time friendship ought to on paper assist present Mercedes with a harmonious pairing.

When requested by Autosport final yr about his expiring deal, Albon mentioned: “I feel I’ve the boldness in myself to maintain myself open.

Alex Albon's form at Williams could make him a good option to replace Hamilton

Alex Albon’s kind at Williams might make him an excellent possibility to interchange Hamilton

Photograph by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

“Being completely trustworthy, I need to see this group and I need to be a part of a group that brings this group ahead. I am absolutely dedicated to the group till my contract just about ends.

“However I’m additionally 27 and I do really feel like I’m in an excellent a part of my profession. For those who take one other yr I am 28, then 29 going onto 30 quickly.

“I need to give myself the possibility to have the ability to battle for wins and battle for podiums. And what it comes right down to is, at the moment and in that point, can we convey this group to be that group?”

One other secure pair of arms, with race successful credentials no much less, is the apparent swap of Hamilton with the driving force he replaces, Carlos Sainz.

Sainz has traded blows with Ferrari team-mate Leclerc fairly evenly in 2023, with each drivers having fun with dominant spells earlier than ending on the same factors tally. The Spaniard’s crafty victory Singapore, gifting Ferrari the one non-Pink Bull win of the yr, has additionally underlined his racing intelligence that may make him a practical asset to Mercedes or every other squad.

Because the mud from Hamilton’s sensational transfer settles, Sainz’s supervisor will probably be on the cellphone to Mercedes chief Toto Wolff about making it a straight swap.

A 3rd, maybe much less probably, possibility would rekindle Wolff’s relationship with certainly one of his different former proteges. Earlier than Russell was earmarked as Hamilton’s inheritor, Esteban Ocon was Wolff’s and Mercedes’ foremost man for the long run.

Could Ocon be an unlikely target for Mercedes?

Might Ocon be an unlikely goal for Mercedes?

Photograph by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

And whereas the Frenchman discovered his toes with first Manor after which Power India/Racing Level, Ocon acted as Brackley’s reserve driver till he left the Mercedes household by signing with Renault, now Alpine.

It’s not totally clear how excessive Ocon’s inventory nonetheless is at Brackley, however on the similar age as Albon and with a powerful race win in Hungary on his belt, Ocon supplies the same mix of youth and expertise that may entice Mercedes, no less than till Antonelli is prepared.

Out of the free agent choices, essentially the most exceptional signing can be two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who will even be out of contract at Aston Martin after displaying he has misplaced nothing of his means in a exceptional 2023 marketing campaign with eight podiums.

Changing one world champion with one other may very well be an enchanting prospect for Mercedes, at the same time as Alonso will likely be 43 initially of the 2025 season.

However Hamilton’s transfer is a stark reminder that F1 contracts are sometimes not as watertight as they appear. Maybe Mercedes would possibly but discover a solution to entice a giant title and trigger a switch shock of its personal.

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