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.
But because Hamilton is getting older, the team has been making preparations, realizing that the British driver won’t be able to continue competing.
Finding a driver to succeed in Hamilton’s shoes is not the only challenge; the British driver has set extremely high standards for reliability, marketability, and team leadership.
A few important considerations are current performance, growth potential, fit with Mercedes’ team culture, and capacity to manage the demands and pressures of driving for a top team when evaluating who could be the best candidate to succeed him.
So, who are the top contenders to be the next Lewis Hamilton?
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.
From his earliest public appearances, Russell’s PR training was evident, and Hamilton’s paddock style and unreserved political remarks contrast with Russell’s perceived lack of authenticity, setting the two apart in terms of marketability.
Another question is whether Russell can take the helm of Mercedes, the team that has long supported him, instead of just being a member of it, following a protracted wait for Toto Wolff’s approval.
Although George Russell seems the most likely successor to Hamilton, he is by no means the only contender prepared to succeed the most successful driver in Formula One history, nor is he the only one in the Mercedes camp.
Andrea Kimi Antonelli
Mercedes does not recruit a large number of young drivers and then wait for the best to rise to the top, in contrast to their rivals from Milton Keynes.
Russell, like other F1 graduates Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein, ascended through the ranks following extended support.
Following in Russell’s footsteps, another name has benefited from Mercedes support even prior to competing in auto races.
With the help of the three-pointed star on his overalls, Italian sensation Andrea Kimi Antonelli, one of the most highly regarded feeder series drivers in recent memory, swept to multiple karting and single-seater titles.
There’s already a lot of pressure on this teenager to perform to the best of his abilities from junior ranks up to Formula 1, because you never know if a racer will truly reach the pinnacle of motorsport.
I can only recall similar uproar regarding a young driver on the Formula One pathway during the times Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were gaining notoriety in junior formulae and karting.
Without a doubt, Antonelli is fast and is currently relishing his moment in the Italian media limelight, which will get considerably more widespread with his next Formula 2 campaign.
Having had the good fortune to interview him as well, I can state that he lacks the conceit one might anticipate from a seventeen-year-old who is constantly being told (and proving) that he is the next big thing.
Rather, he strikes me as incredibly likeable and personable, humble, and genuinely curious about everyone around him.
In addition to being a marketer’s dream come true, he enjoys a positive reputation within his PREMA team and is growing accustomed to taking the lead as the top driver.
Although Antonelli appears to be the most likely candidate to work alongside Russell at Mercedes in the long run, only time will tell if he is the one trying to carry on Hamilton’s legacy.
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.
There are clear performance requirements and options to move to a different seat in the event that one becomes available in the announcement.
If Leclerc were to press the emergency escape button, his only realistic options would be Red Bull and Mercedes, as they are the only teams who have defeated Ferrari on a regular basis during the turbo-hybrid era.
As the driver with the most valuable seat, Sergio Perez is the cornerstone of the 2025 driver market.
Leclerc won’t be replacing the Mexican, though; Red Bull hasn’t had two elite drivers in their garage since the championship-winning Daniel Ricciardo left after 2018.
The second Mercedes seat is now the most likely option. Leclerc appears to be the most prepared outsider in the 2024 field to take on the enormous responsibility of succeeding Mercedes’ and Formula One’s most successful racer.
Despite not having the fastest car (apart from some fuel flow tricks in 2019), Leclerc has consistently maintained his single-lap pace throughout his career, which makes him one of Hamilton’s strongest qualifiers.
Leclerc’s popularity and marketing appeal are evident in his millions of Instagram followers, which surpass those of Verstappen and place him second only to Hamilton, despite having three fewer championships.
Similar to Russell, he may be reluctant to correct him for errors as Sainz has done because of a small sense of gratitude for his position at Ferrari and their years of junior support.
It’s courteous, but it may not be the best way to inspire the team to aim for excellence. If Leclerc were to join Mercedes as a rookie, this wouldn’t be a problem.
Mercedes could do much worse than to move for a Leclerc who has outgrown his Ferrari stable if the Antonelli hopes fade.
The future will tell if anyone can replicate Hamilton’s success at Mercedes, but there are still contenders for the Silver Arrows to challenge him.