Toto Wolff shortlist: Which F1 drivers could replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes?

Mercedes are in talks with several F1 drivers to join the team as Lewis Hamilton's replacement from 2025

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Mercedes chief Toto Wolff has revealed he has finalised his shortlist of drivers to replace Lewis Hamilton for the 2025 season, with some of Formula 1‘s finest from the past, present and future said to be in the running.

With Hamilton leaving the team for Ferrari in 2025, the Silver Arrows are searching for someone to fill the seven-time world champion’s seat, and there are several different drivers reportedly contention to take over from the 39-year-old, according to Wolff.

“As I said before, I think we haven’t taken the decision yet and it’s not something that we plan to do in the in the in the in the next few weeks,” Wolff said at the team bosses’ conference in Japan.

When pressed further if he has whittled down the number of drivers and drawn up a shortlist of drivers, the Austrian bluntly replied: “Yes.”

He has time on his side, but Wolff cannot afford to be caught napping with other teams in the hunt to complete their own 2025 lineup.

With five potential options on his shortlist, Total-Motorsport looks at who could join George Russell at Mercedes next season.

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen looks on ahead of the 2024 Australian GP | Mark Thompson / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen has a decision to make over his future. | Mark Thompson / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Wolff has made no secret of the fact he would jump at the chance to recruit Max Verstappen. Simply put, he is the best driver on the grid and he proves that by beating his team-mate Sergio Perez by roughly half a second every weekend.

Unrest within the Red Bull team has strengthened the previously unimaginable prospect that Verstappen could leave the team, despite him winning three consecutive world championships. A tense situation between team principal Christian Horner and the driver’s father Jos Verstappen appears to have cooled in recent weeks, but the 26-year-old’s future remains uncertain.

Verstappen has a contract until 2028, although it is understood to contain a break clause – so much so that he declared he would leave the team if Helmut Marko was ousted. It certainly feels like Wolff will wait to see how Verstappen sees his future before making a final decision on his next driver.

But he would undoubtedly give Mercedes and Wolff a huge morale boost after losing Hamilton to rivals Ferrari, particularly in his personal battle with Horner.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso could leave Aston Martin in 2025.

There is no question Fernando Alonso is one of the quickest drivers on the grid in the right car – his seven podium finishes in 2023 established that. And even though he will turn 43 on his next birthday, it is merely just a number for F1’s very own age-defying phenomenon.

But the Spaniard is never afraid to air his views when the car isn’t delivering the level of performance he expects. Those with a decent memory will recall Alonso’s infamous “GP2” engine comment at McLaren in 2015, and Mercedes have taken exception to Hamilton’s constant complaints about the W15.

Likewise, Alonso has already insisted he needs to be convinced his next team can win races if he is to leave Aston Martin. If that’s the case, Red Bull would be a more viable option for him to spend what could be his final year in motorsport.

Having an egocentric driver may be difficult for the Silver Arrows to handle, particularly if they are prioritising Russell as their new No.1 driver. Alonso didn’t like that when Hamilton joined him at McLaren in 2007, and he won’t want to be second-string at Mercedes either.

Carlos Sainz

Carlos Sainz admires the Sir Jack Brabham Trophy after taking victory in the 2024 Australian GP | Xavi Bonilla/DPPI / Scuderia Ferrari

A strong start to the season has put the Ferrari star firmly in contention for the seat and Carlos Sainz arguably represents the most attractive free agent option for 2025.

At 29 years old, he is entering his peak as an F1 driver and he is starting to embrace the new responsibility placed upon his shoulders. The Spaniard has been responsible for Ferrari’s last three race victories, including a sensational drive in Australia, which only endeared him to the paddock.

Sainz confirmed on Thursday that he and his representatives have held talks with several teams, and Mercedes are likely to be amongst those at the top of his own wishlist, while a return to Red Bull could be on the cards.

Given how he has raced alongside Charles Leclerc without kicking up much of a fuss, hiring Sainz would be the most sensible choice – although he is yet to a win a world championship like Verstappen and Alonso, which may count against him.

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel retired at the end of the 2022 campaign. | Aston Martin F1 Team

He hasn’t raced since 2022, but Sebastian Vettel‘s clear yearning for a return to F1 could see him tempted out of retirement. Wolff won’t need reminding how talented he is after winning four drivers’ titles on the spin between 2010 and 2013, in addition to his title battle with Hamilton in 2017 and 2018.

Signing a four-time world champion isn’t an opportunity that comes by every day, and as Vettel alluded to in his interview with BBC Radio 1, he is actually younger than Hamilton. If he proves he has the speed, it could work out nicely for Wolff with Vettel acting as a placeholder while they wait for the 2026 regulations to come in.

But there is that risk that because the 36-year-old hasn’t raced for so long, Mercedes would be going blind into it. Could they get the German into the W14 on a private test without anyone knowing? It might just prove to be Wolff’s masterstroke if he can get Vettel back to his best.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli

Kimi Antonelli is driving for Prema in Formula 2 in 2024 | Mercedes

On April 16, Kimi Antonelli will test with the W12 – their 2021 constructors’-winning car – at Austria’s Red Bull Ring, followed by several tests with Mercedes cars. Is this the strongest indication yet that Mercedes could unleash Antonelli in 2025? Wolff says he is keen to see how quick he is inside the car, so it can’t be ruled out.

“He’s driving the 2021 car in Austria for the first time. We want to give him a feeling of what a really good car feels like before we put him in the 22,” Wolff said.

“Obviously, he’s been our young boy since a long time with James and we’re keen to see what he’s able to do in the Formula 1 car.”

Antonelli is currently racing in Formula 2 with Prema Racing and, while the Italian youngster hasn’t done anything spellbinding just yet, at 17 years of age he is the youngest driver in the series.

Without a doubt, that would represent a big risk for Mercedes – but as Oliver Bearman showed on his Ferrari debut in Saudi Arabia, if you’re quick enough in an F1 car, you’re old enough.

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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