Ever since the end of the 2021 season, it has been speculated that Sir Lewis Hamilton is mulling his future in Formula 1.
The Briton was cruelly denied his eighth F1 crown after Max Verstappen passed him on the very last lap of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following a highly controversial decision by race director Michael Masi.
Specifically, after Nicholas Latifi crashed and brought out the Safety Car late on in the season finale, Masi initially decreed that none of the lapped cars would be allowed to un-lap themselves.
However, after being lobbied on the radio by both Red Bull and Mercedes, he decided to order only the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to overtake the Safety Car.
This gave Verstappen, who had just pitted for a set of fresh tyres, a clear run at Hamilton on the final lap – and the Dutchman took his chance to sweep past the Mercedes driver to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and, with it, claim his maiden F1 crown.
Speaking after the race, Hamilton congratulated Verstappen but said “we’ll see about next year,” prompting many to speculate that the Briton is considering not returning in 2022.
Should he choose to call it quits at this stage, Mercedes would be left in a difficult position, as they would need to find a replacement just a few weeks before pre-season testing kicks off.
Signing Mercedes reserve and Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne might be the most straightforward course of action, but the Belgian looked lacklustre during his two seasons with McLaren in Formula 1.
Alternatively, the Silver Arrows could try to sign Esteban Ocon, who has ties to Mercedes.
However, the Frenchman is under contract with Alpine for 2022, and the French team are unlikely to let him go at such short notice.
Another option would be to recall Valtteri Bottas, who departed Mercedes at the end of the season for Alfa Romeo.
It’s unclear if Alfa Romeo or the Finn would be open to this, but with Mercedes set to remain strong in 2022 and Hamilton no longer being a factor, it’s hard to imagine Bottas would turn down another season at the Silver Arrows.
Another driver who has been tipped as a good replacement for Hamilton at Mercedes is Sebastian Vettel.
Ex-F1 racer Ralf Schumacher recently said he believes the four-time world champion could be a good choice, as he has knowledge of driving with Mercedes power and raced in 2021 with a car that has a similar design philosophy to the Silver Arrows’ most recent challenger.
“The experience that Sebastian has, the speed that he has, continues to be there,” Schumacher said.
“And above all, he knows his way around the Mercedes car – and with the engine. And I think the Aston Martin concept is also very close.
“If he had the opportunity to get into this team, of course, he would take it one hundred percent, because [it’s] a better chance to race again – that’s what Sebastian wants.
“He wants to win races, he showed that too.
“Lewis Hamilton has not left, and Toto Wolff has some other talents up his sleeve,” he added.
Who do you think should replace Sir Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes if he retires ahead of the 2022 season? Cast your vote below!