Lewis Hamilton is statistically the greatest Formula 1 driver of all-time, with seven world titles, 104 pole positions and 103 victories to his name; unsurprisingly, he’s an incredible asset for Mercedes.
Since Hamilton left McLaren for Mercedes at the conclusion of the 2012 season, the two are formed a formidable partnership, with the 39-year-old having effectively led the team ever since he joined them.
It’s almost impossible to imagine Mercedes without Hamilton in their driver line-up, not only because of the success they’ve had together but because 2024 will be his 12th campaign with them.
Of course, 2024 won’t be his last season with the Brackley-based outfit, as he signed a two-year extension prior to last year’s Italian Grand Prix.
Hamilton will remain a Mercedes driver until at least the end of 2025 and there is every chance that he could continue racing for them beyond that.
42-year-old Fernando Alonso is proof that age really is just as a number, given that 2023 was arguably his strongest season since fighting Sebastian Vettel for the 2012 Drivers’ Championship.
Hamilton could definitely race for Mercedes in 2026 when the new power unit regulations are introduced; however, there will eventually be a day when he does decide to walk away from F1.
Hiring a replacement for Hamilton is a task Mercedes are possibly already preparing themselves for, especially as they’ll need someone who has the potential to be as impactful as the Stevenage-born driver.
Thankfully for the German manufacturer, they do have a young star in the making on their books.
Kimi Antonelli is regarded by many as potentially the hottest talent since Max Verstappen leapt from Formula 3 to F1 in 2015, which is why Mercedes were quick to sign him onto their junior programme.
Mercedes are aware of Antonelli’s potential and are nurturing him towards an F1 career, with him making the giant step up from Formula Regional European Championship – he won the 2023 title with ease – to Formula 2.
He will be racing for Prema Racing with support from Mercedes, with some openly expecting him to compete for the title in his rookie season.
With Hamilton being contracted until at least the end of 2025, it gives Mercedes minimum 24 months to get Antonelli ready for F1.
Should Hamilton continue beyond 2025, then the Silver Arrows will have time to get Antonelli a seat at one of their customer teams before replacing Hamilton, similar to what the outfit did with George Russell.
It was always known that Russell would eventually race for Mercedes; however, the side gave him to Williams for three seasons so he could settle into the sport, before being thrown into the spotlight next to Hamilton.
The spotlight will arguably be even bigger on Antonelli if he is Hamilton’s replacement, a pressure Mercedes will need to manage extremely carefully.