Formula 1 Racing

How Hamilton’s exit could leave the Mercedes F1 team in a tough spot

McLaren's duo have been taken off the driver market with new deals

Hamilton only signed a fresh two-year deal with Mercedes for 2024 and 2025 last summer, but clearly left wiggle room for the usual exit clauses in case he had a change of heart.

And as Ferrari confirmed Charles Leclerc’s new contract but dragged its feet over giving Carlos Sainz a similar extension, it turns out Hamilton being on the table has made the Scuderia think twice over its future driver line-up.

With Leclerc and Hamilton, both former proteges of team boss Fred Vasseur while Sainz was seen as a Mattia Binotto hire, Ferrari’s driver line-up now looks well poised for Maranello’s bid to topple Red Bull.

But it has also left a hole at Mercedes at a most inconvenient time.

Had Hamilton’s move been rubber-stamped any earlier, Mercedes may have had more options to play with on the driver market. But Hamilton’s shock move has been preceded by several high-profile contract renewals that took key pieces off the board.

McLaren’s duo have been taken off the driver market with new deals

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Leclerc, who is set to partner the seven-time world champion from 2025 onwards, would presumably have been a key target for the Silver Arrows. And with Max Verstappen firmly locked in at Red Bull, there aren’t too many other proven names that are available in 2025.

Mercedes would have had a good look at McLaren’s pairing Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, but after the Australian extended last year Norris also recently put pen to paper on a deal that will keep him at McLaren for 2026 and possibly beyond.

So, who else could Mercedes move for?

There was initial excitement on social media about Mercedes’ prodigy Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who is debuting in Formula 2 this year after being fast-tracked through the junior ladder following a single, championship winning season in FRECA.

But even if there is a precedent in F1 with Kimi Raikkonen and Verstappen, promoting the now 17-year-old after just three years in cars seems fanciful and against Mercedes’ previous young driver policy.

Following his F2 title George Russell was farmed out to Williams for three seasons of learning the ropes before re-joining his parent team. And even if Antonelli delivers on his promise in F2 right away, a similar move might be more beneficial for the starlet’s long-term career.

So, if Russell-Antonelli is seen as Mercedes’ future, then who could be a stop-gap signing for at least 2025 and 2026?

If there is one free agent whose…

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