Sir Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes together dominated the turbo-hybrid era of Formula 1, often making the pinnacle of motorsport frustratingly predictable.
But, with the seven-time world champion approaching 40 and potentially lacking the appetite for an intra-team fight with George Russell, the Silver Arrows may well need to find a replacement in the next couple of years.
Hamilton’s current contract with Mercedes runs until the end of 2023, but it is nevertheless possible that the Briton could walk away at the end of this season.
This wouldn’t be surprising if Mercedes fail to close the gap to Ferrari and Red Bull, as the 37-year-old may not be interested in merely fighting Russell for P5 in the Drivers’ Championship.
Most top drivers are already locked into a contract for 2023, but, as has been demonstrated previously, that doesn’t exactly mean they won’t be able to switch teams.
Is Lando Norris the best option?
Should Hamilton decide to hang up his boots at the end of 2022 or after another year or two, Mercedes could either sign another star driver, or alternatively opt for a solid rear-gunner to support Russell.
Personally, I think the Brackley-based team would be better off opting for another uber-fast driver, especially if they are unable to re-establish themselves as the dominant team in Formula 1.
Norris, in my opinion, would be the strongest candidate to replace Hamilton, as he has been one of the standout drivers in the last year-and-a-half, despite him being yet to take his maiden victory.
The impressive manner in which he has comprehensively outperformed Daniel Ricciardo in equal machinery should be enough to convince Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.
Furthermore, his standout performances in Sochi and Imola have demonstrated his ability to outdrive a mediocre car – and a Norris-Russell pairing would perhaps be the strongest driver line-up on the F1 grid.
Will McLaren let him go?
McLaren are understandably eager to hold onto Norris; the contract he inked with the team that runs until the end of 2025 stands testament to this.
However, Norris’ loyalty to the Woking-based side is not infinite, and it is hard to imagine him turning down a rival team’s offer if McLaren are unable to provide him with a championship-winning car in 2023 or 2024.
It should also be emphasised that Norris has indicated that he has a “get-out” in his contract, which could allow him to leave McLaren under certain, unspecified circumstances.
Therefore, as long as Mercedes are able to produce a more competitive package that McLaren, it seems very likely to me that Norris will eventually replace Hamilton at the Silver Arrows.