In news that’s shaken the Formula 1 world, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is moving from Mercedes to Ferrari in 2025. Now his future is confirmed, it’s natural to wonder how this impacts both Mercedes and Carlos Sainz moving forward.
Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. Rumours Lewis Hamilton was trading Mercedes, the team he’s driven for since 2013 and won six world titles at, for Ferrari, Formula 1’s most prestigious, and successful outfit, were the smoke.
Confirmation the Englishman had signed for the Maranello-based side on a multi-year contract beginning in 2025, was the fire. So is the Formula One world about the get burnt by a red-hot, resurgent Ferrari bolstered by the services of arguably the greatest driver ever?
As is the case with most things, only time will tell. For now, the motorsport world can only speculate.
In many ways, Hamilton’s move to Ferrari somewhat mirrors Michael Schumacher’s to Mercedes in the early 2010s. Where the German moved to a Mercedes looking to establish themselves as an F1 force after winning five titles with Ferrari, Hamilton heads to a Ferrari far from what they were, a struggling outfit looking to reclaim their competitive edge and position itself as the glorious side they once were.
In 2010, Schumacher’s first year behind the wheel for Mercedes, the seven-time world champion linked up with Nico Rosberg, a highly promising young driver with championship potential. In 2025, when Hamilton joins Ferrari, the seven-time world champion will link up with Charles Leclerc, a highly promising young driver with championship potential.
How it all plays out will be one of the sporting stories of the 2020s. In the meantime, Hamilton’s departure has created a chain reaction of pandemonium; How does Mercedes replace him? What now for Carlos Sainz? Does he instantly make Ferrari title challengers? Will he and Leclerc work?
How will Mercedes replace Lewis Hamilton?
Succession in sports is never easy. Manchester United have failed to adequately replace Sir Alex Ferguson, the Chicago Bulls haven’t looked threatening since Michael Jordan’s departure and the New England Patriots post-Tom Brady era has been exceptionally mediocre.
For Mercedes, replacing Lewis Hamilton was always going to be on the cards sometime in the near future. At 39, he’s not getting any younger. No doubt they’d have formulated the rough basis of their post-Hamilton succession plan. No doubt, they didn’t expect to implement it as early as 2025.
But life waits for no one and the search for his replacement must begin now. Naturally, Carlos Sainz, the man Hamilton’s replacing at Ferrari, seems the most likely of successors.
The only non-Red Bull driver to win a race in a Max Verstappen-dominated 2023 season, Sainz is ultimately one of the finest Formula 1 drivers on the circuit and a move to Mercedes would make sense for both team and driver as they make the best of a bad situation.
Over recent years Sainz has showcased his breakneck pace, feisty determination and ability to operate as a team’s number two driver, a position he will inevitably fill at Mercedes given George Russell’s age and championship pedigree.
Bringing in the 29-year-old Spaniard would also mirror the trajectory of one of world sport’s most successful successions ever; how Ferrari replaced Michael Schumacher after his 2006 retirement with Kimi Räikkönen’s arrival.
In his final season at McLaren before switching to Maranello, Räikkönen finished fifth in the drivers championship standings having ended on the podium six times and in his first season at Ferrari, the Finish racer won the world title.
This isn’t to say signing Sainz would immediately deliver a championship, rather that, historically speaking, replacing a seven-time world champion with an already proven driver who’s shown capacity to fight at the front of the grid, appears the best course of action.
However, outside of Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes has notably filled their team with highly talented drivers from smaller teams; Rosberg, Russell and Valtteri Bottas, all of whom were signed from Williams, or Michael Schumacher, undoubtedly the greatest driver of all time when he joined in 2010 but who’d not driven an F1 car for three years.
Incidentally, it just so happens another talented Williams driver, Alex Albon, is one of the hottest properties on the F1 market. 2024 was a breakout year for Albon, who somehow managed to thrust an uninspiring Williams into points contention consistently and his stock has consequentially never been higher.
Critics will point to Albon’s unsuccessful stint at Red Bull and question his ability to showcase his talents at the bigger teams, where pressure is more intense and the cost of failure greater. Yet, he is many years removed from Red Bull and is not only a more experienced driver but also a more mature human.
While Albon’s contract runs to the end of 2025, nothing is sacred in sports these days as players and teams, feel no guilt at breaking contracts early to secure their needs.
Other current F1 drivers available include Fernando Alonso, whose contract expires at the end of 2024, Esteban Ocon, previously managed by Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff and Daniel Ricciardo, a driver who’s always attracted Mercedes’ watchful eye.
All three are wonderfully talented drivers coming off contract at the end of 2024, meaning securing their signatures could be less frictionless than Albon’s, and in Alonso Wolff will be able to replace an outgoing world champion with an incoming one.
Alonso and Ricciardo’s age and experience in particular could be highly useful in ushering in a new era of Mercedes in a few years. This new dawn could be spearheaded by Mick Schumacher, whose time at Haas was hardly a glowing endorsement of his talent, yet Mercedes saw enough in him to bring him on a reserve driver.
Racing is in Schumacher’s blood. Although he’s joined Alpine for the 2024 World Endurance Championship, how could he resist the allure of Formula 1, especially considering his prestigious family history in the sport, and especially considering what Mercedes could offer him?
Elsewhere, acquiring Alonso or Ricciardo’s services as a stop-gap solution could allow Mercedes to further develop 17-year-old Andrea Antonelli, one of their promising junior drivers. Such are the Italian’s talents, he is expected to line up for Prema Racing in 2024’s Formula Two season.
Where to next for Carlos Sainz?
Obviously, Sainz is the biggest loser from the Hamilton move. It seemed inevitable the Spaniard’s time at Ferrari would draw to a close at the end of 2024 but that won’t make his new reality any less of a kick in the guts.
If a move to Mercedes does not materialise, Sainz benefits from the fact plenty of doors remain open to him. Highly skilled, Sainz is one of the few drivers on the grid with multiple race wins under his belt, making him an instantly enticing proposition for most teams on the grid, especially with a large portion of drivers coming off contract at the end of 2024.
Whether Sainz desires a move to a team that’s not capable of fighting at the top of the grid is another question in itself. If this is the case, and it’s not Mercedes as Hamilton’s replacement, and it’s not a McLaren return because of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri’s long-term deals, then that only leaves Red Bull.
Sergio Perez’s contract expires at the end of the coming F1 season with his performances throughout 2023 suggesting this could be the Mexican’s final at the Austrian outfit. Of course, Ricciardo’s presence in camp Red Bull complicates matters for Sainz, with the Australian likelier a more natural second fiddle fit alongside a rampaging Verstappen.
So, if it’s not Mercedes, it’s not McLaren and it’s not Red Bull, what are Sainz’s other options?
He could put his feet up, take a year off, take a sabbatical, the professional equivalent of a siesta. By the end of the season, Sainz will be 30. Not young in sporting senses, but not old either considering Hamilton and Alonso’s longevity.
At the halfway point of his career, a break would do him more good than harm. Fellow Spaniard, Pep Guardiola, took a year off between coaching Barcelona and Bayern Munich, with the break seemingly doing good as he led the Bavarian outfit to a trio of domestic titles in the ensuing years.
There can be no harm in sitting off on the sidelines, resting and recharging before an inevitable return to Formula One for the back half of his career. Of course, Sainz runs the risk of F1, a notoriously fast-paced sport, moving beyond him and teams locking drivers down on deals.
Sainz doesn’t even have to give up racing if he doesn’t want to. He could follow in the footsteps of his father, who’s just won his fourth Dakar rally, and embark on a short rally car career that will preserve his racing skills, ensure he remains in motorsport conversations and allow him to do what other successful Formula One drivers have done and succeed in multiple motorsport disciplines.