RACE DEBRIEF

    Lewis Hamilton's dramatic decision to leave Mercedes and join Ferrari for 2025 has ignited the Formula 1 headlines and the driver market. So what options do the Silver Arrows have with regards to a replacement?

    I wrote last weekend that Carlos Sainz and Alex Albon were the keys to the driver market – and they’ve only taken on even more importance now Hamilton has switched allegiances.

    READ MORE: Hamilton to make shock switch from Mercedes to Ferrari for 2025 season

    Mercedes have a tricky decision to make, as they look to fill the massive void seven-time world champion Hamilton will leave alongside George Russell.

    F1’s leading lights are already all tied up, with Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc last week nailing their colours to their respective masts of McLaren and Ferrari, while Max Verstappen already had a monster deal with Red Bull that runs to 2028.

    But they are not in as bad a spot as in 2016, when Nico Rosberg retired unexpectedly after winning the world championship, as there are some very good options on the table.

    SUZUKA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 21: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes looks on in the Paddock
    Lewis Hamilton's decision to swap Mercedes for Ferrari will send shockwaves through the driver market

    Carlos Sainz

    Carlos Sainz is the collateral damage to the biggest F1 news story to break in the 21st Century, the Spaniard having arguably been the strongest Ferrari driver during his so far three-year partnership with Charles Leclerc. However, he can at least take comfort in the fact that of all the drivers to usurp him, it’s the most decorated driver the sport has ever seen.

    And he hits the market with his stock riding high, the Spaniard the only non-Red Bull driver to win a Grand Prix in 2023. Sources say Sainz has a good relationship with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and there have been multiple conversations between his management team and the Silver Arrows over the last few years.

    The equivalent of a straight swap would make sense for both parties.

    ANALYSIS: Why Hamilton decided now was the time to jump from Mercedes to Ferrari

    Mercedes get a super consistent driver who scores well and whose feedback has been highly-rated by every team he’s ever driven for in F1 – a key tool for a team that has struggled with performance in recent years. He has also got on well with every team mate – and there’s no reason to believe that won’t continue with Russell.

    For Sainz, he’ll bounce from one race-contending team to another – and one that has pedigree of winning world championships at a relentless rate in recent times. He’ll back himself to perform well against Russell and deliver a run of podiums and wins if the car is up to scratch.

    Why is it not done yet? Well Mercedes have options – and they can take some time to evaluate them. Equally Sainz has options too, with sources saying Aston Martin, Sauber (who will become Audi), Alpine (whom he raced with when they were Renault) and Williams all realistic landing spots.

    SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 3: Carlos Sainz of Spain sits in the (55) Ferrari SF-23 in the garage
    Carlos Sainz will be left looking for a new seat with Ferrari signing up Hamilton

    Alex Albon

    Alex Albon’s stellar performance in 2023 – his points score essentially secured P7 for Williams single-handedly – has made him one of the most sought-after drivers on the market.

    Sources say his multi-year deal commits him to Williams until the end of 2025, but there are always clauses and should a team like Mercedes come calling, it’s likely there’ll be a way to allow the move to happen – as was the case when Valtteri Bottas exited his deal early with Williams to join Mercedes as Rosberg’s replacement.

    Albon feels like he’s in the shape of his life – with plenty of headroom to get even better in the coming years and thus he’ll want to capitalise on the large amount of interest he’s currently enjoying.

    READ MORE: How Lewis Hamilton’s sensational move from Mercedes to Ferrari played out

    That might be staying at Williams – who are rebuilding and investing heavily and would love to make Albon the driver they mould themselves around on that journey.

    It might be at Mercedes, a team that offers Albon the chance of machinery that will likely be in contention for podiums and wins in the short-term.

    Or it might be signing for another team, with at least three teams on the grid understood to be interested in securing his signature.

    Plenty, then, for Albon and his management team – plus Mercedes – to consider over the next few days and weeks.

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 18: Alexander Albon of Thailand and Williams looks on from the drivers
    Albon enjoyed a stellar 2023 with Williams and other teams are taking note of his performances

    Fernando Alonso

    Mercedes could take a leaf out of Lawrence Stroll’s book and replace one world champion with another (Aston brought in Fernando Alonso to replace Sebastian Vettel for 2023).

    To do that, they would have to tempt Alonso away from Stroll’s team but the double world champion’s contract is up at the end of the year, which makes him a real possibility.

    READ MORE: 10 years on from the start of Mercedes’ dominance – How did their pre-season testing pan out?

    Would Mercedes want such a big personality alongside Russell? Well, if they fancy it, they would get a driver operating at an incredible level into his 40s.

    He’s proved he can still fight at the sharp end if you give him the right machinery. And it’s a heavyweight name that gives Mercedes a bit more time to scope their medium to long-term future.

    Alonso has been reborn at Aston Martin and is loving life there, helped significantly by the fact the car has given him the chance to fight for podiums on a reasonably consistent basis. But would the carrot of a Mercedes seat be too tempting to ignore as he looks to return to winning ways as soon as possible?

    SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 05: Third placed Fernando Alonso of Spain and Aston Martin F1 Team
    Fernando Alonso has been reborn at Aston Martin

    Daniel Ricciardo

    Daniel Ricciardo has previously been linked with a move to Mercedes so it wouldn’t be surprising if contact was reinitiated now that a seat is free.

    The Australian is of course currently contracted to Red Bull, with the reigning world champions placing him at their sister team RB for this season.

    And after a disrupted return to F1 midway through last year – he missed five races because of a broken hand – we’ve yet to see just how consistently competitive Ricciardo can be since he was dropped by McLaren.

    READ MORE: Leclerc signs new Ferrari contract extension 'beyond 2024 season'

    However, his stock remains high – and there were glimpses last year, particularly in Mexico, where he showed he’s lost none of his speed and is capable of extracting everything out of a car.

    He would be a superb team mate to Russell, whom he gets on well with, and providing he can show he’s as strong as he was in his Red Bull days, that would be a very strong line-up for the Silver Arrows.

    ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Scuderia
    Daniel Ricciardo could yet be an option for Mercedes

    Esteban Ocon

    Toto Wolff knows Esteban Ocon’s talents very well, with Mercedes managing his career, so it would make sense for the Frenchman to be on the shortlist.

    Ocon outperformed Alonso in their final season together at Alpine and was super competitive relative to team mate Pierre Gasly last year, despite enduring six retirements – more than any other driver.

    Wolff, then, could stick with a known quantity and draft him in alongside Russell if he doesn’t fancy any of the options above.

    ANALYSIS: Loyalty, title-winning ambitions and unwavering faith – Norris and McLaren is a partnership that just works

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 18: Esteban Ocon of France and Alpine F1 looks on from the drivers
    Toto Wolff has seen Ocon rise through the Mercedes junior ranks