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Alex Albon or Carlos Sainz? The contenders to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton ahead of the Grand Prix
Carlos Sainz (left) will be in the mix for the vacancy at Ferrari created by Lewis Hamilton's impending departure - Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

Lewis Hamilton’s decision to throw in his lot with Ferrari from 2025 has opened up a coveted spot on the grid next year alongside George Russell at Mercedes. And with 13 drivers out of contract at the end of 2024, silly season has started early.

In a media call on Friday, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said he was in “no rush” to decide, admitting he did not even know yet whether the team would go the rookie route or plump for experience.

“If you’d told me two days ago that Lewis would go to Ferrari I wouldn’t have thought it was possible,” Wolff pointed out. “So things can change quickly. Contracts are only as good as the driver or the teams want to make them. Who knows what’s happening in the driver markets that could be unexpected and [open up] opportunities for us?”

That has not stopped frenzied speculation about who might come in. Here, Telegraph Sport sizes up the options:

Carlos Sainz

Collateral damage in the Hamilton move, Sainz is a safe pair of hands and a straight swap is very much a possibility. The Spaniard is 29, fared well against Charles Leclerc at Ferrari and would likely get on well with Russell. That said, he is probably not the boldest choice.

Wolff did reference the opportunity to do something “bold” with Russell already capable of leading the team. And there is a school of thought that he ends up at Audi, who are taking over Sauber and with whom his father recently won Dakar. Carlos Snr has already confirmed talks have taken place.

Alex Albon

A bolder choice. Albon, who is one of Russell’s best friends, was superb for Williams last year.

Formula One driver Alex Albon
Alex Albon impressed at Williams last season - PA Wire/David Davies

And while he has signed a multi-year deal with the Grove team, Williams are ultimately a customer team of Mercedes. Wolff could probably lean on his former chief strategist James Vowles to make it happen.

Fernando Alonso

If Aston Martin do not get their act together, there is no doubt Alonso’s agent Flavio Briatore will be on the blower to Wolff. Alonso is out of contract at the end of the year. Yes, he is 42. But as Wolff said recently of Hamilton (before he knew he was losing him): “Age is just a number”. Still an incredible driver.

Mick Schumacher

Schumacher is the team’s reserve driver and obviously the name has a special pull for Mercedes and German fans. But this one seems less likely. Schumacher didn’t pull up trees at Haas, and so far it is mainly his uncle Ralf who is pushing his name.

F1 Team's German driver Mick Schumacher
Mick Schumacher has the name but does he have the ability for Mercedes? - Getty Images/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC

“Toto Wolff is clever enough, he always likes to have young guys,” Ralf said. “Russell is strong enough to lead the team and so it’s time to get a new driver on board. At the moment, Mick can for sure have a chance.”

Daniel Ricciardo

Contracted to Red Bull who have placed him with sister team RB until the end of the year. Another who gets along famously with Russell. The Australian is experienced and if he has a good season he would definitely be in the frame.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli

The boldest choice of all would be to go with a complete rookie, although Antonelli has not even raced a season in F2 yet and Wolff would not even entertain speculation about the talented Italian. “If we start to spin, or unleash rumours in the media, that’s not going to help his F2 campaign,” the Austrian reasoned.

“He’s just stepped out of karts a few years ago and he’s not even 18. So I would rather not start speculation on Kimi going into F1 at this stage.” All true. But if Antonelli hits the ground running in the feeder series, the rumour mill will start of its own accord. Oscar Piastri went straight from F2 to McLaren and was sensational.

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