After a devastating Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for Lewis Hamilton, who lost his chance to take on a record-breaking 8th championship on the controversial final lap of the last race of the season, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has reason to believe there is a possibility that the disappointed Briton may not return for the 2022 season. On the off-chance that Lewis Hamilton does indeed choose to retire from F1 next year, there is likely to be a great mix-up in the line-up for 2022 and it could be very interesting to see which drivers are most likely to join George Russell at Mercedes.
Although Lewis Hamilton will likely take the season's disappointments and turn them into determination for next season and come back stronger than ever with a point to prove, speculation regarding Hamilton's plan to retire is definitely on the rise.
Lewis Hamilton is known to be one of the greatest F1 drivers in the history of the sport and all the broken records are evidence of it. Whilst no driver available to the team can match the level at which he performs yet, Mercedes will have to take a tough call and pick a driver that has the potential to grow into an F1 champion.
Here are 3 F1 drivers who could replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes
#1 Esteban Ocon
Esteban Ocon of Alpine, who took his maiden F1 win at the Hungarian Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton this year after a phenomenal drive, is the driver most likely to replace the Briton. Until his move to Renault in 2020, the 25-year-old was part of the Mercedes junior driver development program. After losing his F1 seat Racing Point at the end of 2018, the Frenchman became the reserve driver for Mercedes. The time spent by Ocon with Mercedes makes him a good choice for the team because of his comfort and familiarity.
At the same time, he proved his talent and growing abilities with his win at Hungaroring and an impressive season overall. Although he is very much under contract with Alpine, his experience as an F1 driver and his relationship with team boss Toto Wolff and the people at Mercedes make him a pretty feasible replacement for Lewis Hamilton. If Ocon was to move to the Brackley-based team in the upcoming season, the 2021 Formula 2 championship winner and member of the Alpine Academy, Oscar Piastri, may be expected to partner with Fernando Alonso in 2022.
#2 Pierre Gasly
Yes, Pierre Gasly drives for the sister team of Mercedes' biggest rival, and yes, the Frenchman is expected to be driving for Red Bull once again someday, regardless of an underwhelming stint with the Austrian team in 2019. There is, however, reason to consider him a contender for Lewis Hamilton's seat at Mercedes in 2022.
Although Gasly had a difficult time with Red Bull, to say the least, ever since his return to Toro Rosso, the Frenchman's consistently strong performances and the unbelievable maiden victory at Monza are an indication of his experience and skill as an F1 driver who has the potential to contribute greatly to a team. Ever since it was revealed that Red Bull extended their contract with Sergio Perez for another year, the 25-year-old, who has held on to the hope of joining Red Bull once again, has been rather vocal about his frustration at "not being rewarded" for his "best season" at F1 this year, as reported by Planet F1.
If Mercedes do recognize the potential of Pierre Gasly and believe he would be the right fit for the team in the coming years, the Alpha Tauri driver is likely to make the move to replace Lewis Hamilton, especially if he believes that his future at Red Bull is far reached, since his main target is "to be in a car which allows me to fight for wins and podiums."
#3 Nyck de Vries
2021 Formula E championship winner Nyck de Vries is a reserve driver for Mercedes and has demonstrated immense potential having also bagged victory at the 2019 Formula 2 Championship, making him a great candidate to consider for a seat next to Russell at Mercedes in 2022.
The Dutchman is currently racing in the 2021 European Le Mans Series, but despite his abilities, what he lacks today is experience as an F1 driver and Mercedes may be unlikely to risk their reign as defending constructors' champions to replace Lewis Hamilton with de Vries.