Today's announcement that seven-time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton is leaving Mercedes for Ferrari at the end of the 2024 season is a blow for both current Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz and Hamilton’s current F1 team Mercedes.
At least both Sainz and Mercedes will have some time to regroup and test the waters before moving on after the 2024 campaign.
Sainz joined Ferrari in 2021 after stints with Renault and McLaren, having made his debut alongside Verstappen at Toro Rosso in 2015. Sainz has largely played second fiddle to teammate Charles Leclerc across their partnership, but he has delivered two wins, one each in 2022 and 2023.
Sainz was thought to have been offered only a short-term extension by Ferrari beyond 2024. The Spaniard, who will turn 30 this year, wanted a slightly longer deal to safeguard his future—but that before the prospect of an available Hamilton lured Ferrari boss John Elkann to the Briton.
There are still options on the table—most obviously a soon-to-be-vacated Mercedes seat—while Sainz has also been linked with the Sauber-run Audi project.
Mercedes faces the challenge of replacing the most successful driver in history, and one whose departure hints at a lack of faith that Mercedes can return to Formula 1’s summit during the competitive years that he has left in him.
It is only five months since Mercedes thought Hamilton had committed to race with the tan through 2025 prior to Thursday’s bolt-from-the-blue move, meaning Mercedes is now an unexpected player in the silly season.
Mercedes will likely face no shortage of options for the seat, with more than half of the grid currently without at contract for 2025. And for all of Mercedes’ recent struggles, it remains one of Formula 1’s top teams.
Who Gets Hamilton's Seat?
The most obvious candidates are Sainz and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who are the the top free agents after 2024.
Lando Norris recently recommitted his long-term future to McLaren while his teammate Oscar Piastri is contracted to the team through 2026. World Champion Verstappen is tied to Red Bull until 2028.
Mercedes’ highly-rated junior Andrea Kimi Antonelli—previously tipped as a long-term successor to Hamilton—will debut in Formula 2 this year, but the Italian is only 17 years old, and Mercedes will not rush his development.
It is an important decision for Mercedes to get right as it begins to contemplate life post-Hamilton.