Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says the decision of who to put in Hamilton's seat in 2025 “it’s not something I want to be rushed in."
Wolff adds that current Mercedes driver George Russell 'has the potential to be the next lead driver in the team.'
Hamilton has won six of his seven world titles with Mercedes but has not won a race since the penultimate round of 2021.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the organization will take its time to assess its options as it considers a replacement for Lewis Hamilton in 2025.
Hamilton stunned Formula 1 on Thursday when it was revealed that the seven-time world champion had activated a break clause in his Mercedes contract to join Ferrari on a multi-year deal beginning in 2025.
Hamilton has raced for Mercedes since 2013.
Speaking on Friday, Wolff emphasized that the quick nature of Hamilton’s deal with Ferrari means Mercedes will take time to determine its future driver lineup. George Russell, a long-time member of Mercedes’ operation and its race driver since 2022, is under contract through 2025.
Wolff was keen to emphasize that “with all the Lewis discussion something that has not been talked enough is George—he has the potential to be the next lead driver in the team.”
Wolff labelled Russell as a “quick, talented and intelligent guy” and “I couldn’t wish for a (better) new team leader when Lewis leaves, no doubt about that.”
Russell endured a modest 2023 campaign, scoring only two podiums. He delivered his maiden win in São Paulo, in 2022, which is the only Mercedes victory of the current Formula 1 regulatory cycle.
Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris recently signed fresh long-term deals with Ferrari and McLaren respectively, and while he did not name the pair Wolff conceded that “a few contracts have been signed a few weeks ago that we could have looked at, that could have been interesting, but timing bit us a bit.”
Wolff added that the decision “it’s not something I want to be rushed in” but quipped that “maybe it’s a chance to do something bold.”
Expanding further, Wolff said: “I haven’t really properly reflected with the team on where we want to go, from a rookie to a very experienced (driver) because I don’t know yet what is the best for any potential driver coming or for the team going forward.
“If you told me two days ago that Lewis would be going to Ferrari I didn’t think it was possible. Situations and things can change quickly. Contracts are only as good as the driver or the teams (who) want to race and who knows what’s happening in the driver market that could be unexpected or opportunities for us.”
Aside from Hamilton, Russell, Leclerc and Norris, only Red Bull’s Max Verstappen (2028) and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri (2026) have contracts beyond the end of 2024.
“In 2025 and beyond, the driver market is very interesting and we need to look out to the future,” said Wolff. “Who is it that we can partner with George? What’s the best combo? What’s the best combination? And I think in terms of the drivers who could hopefully join, that could join, there are a variety of options. At that stage, I wouldn’t want to commit to this is when we’re going to do it. I want to take my time.”
When directly asked about 17-year-old protégé Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who will jump from Formula Regional to Formula 2 this year, Wolff insisted it “is most important that he focuses on F2—if we start to spin his mind or unleash rumors that’s not going to help his F2 campaign.”
Wolff also revealed that Hamilton had informed him of his decision to leave for Ferrari during their usual scheduled post-winter breakfast catch-up at Wolff’s house in Oxford on Wednesday.
Wolff and Hamilton had “a good hour of conversation” and he insists that there is no bad blood between the pair.
“All I know is that we were very aligned when we went in to the Christmas period and I think we have said that in public and in the team,” Wolff said. “You need to ask Lewis why he changed his mind. How he framed it to me is perfectly understandable, he needed a new challenge and he was looking for a different environment and this was maybe the last possibility to do something else.
"We are big boys, we knew that signing a short-term contract could be of benefit to both sides. We couldn’t commit for a longer period and he has taken the option to exit. So, in a way, we totally respect that you can change your mind in different circumstances, and switching to Ferrari maybe for the last peak in his career, maybe rolling the dice a bit, I can follow that decision.”
Wolff conceded that “maybe the timing” of Hamilton’s decision caught him by surprise – and said that Hamilton’s long-term race engineer Pete Bonnington joked “is it April 1st” when informed—but acknowledged that “every race driver dreams about being in a red overall and in the red car.”
Hamilton has won six of his seven world titles with Mercedes but has not won a race since the penultimate round of 2021, a championship he lost to Max Verstappen in controversial circumstances at the finale.
Wolff stressed that he and Hamilton “want to make it the most successful” final year possible, but acknowledged that another title is unlikely.
“Is it realistic that we are competing for a world championship against Max in a Red Bull? If I am a probability person, the odds are against us but nevertheless we will give it our best shot,” he said.