Lewis Hamilton‘s future in Formula 1 remains uncertain as the fallout from the highly controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix continues.
Whether Hamilton will return could be decided by the FIA’s findings from their inquiry into the race at the Yas Marina circuit. The British driver is yet to speak out about the events that took place, which saw him lose the championship to Max Verstappen.
Whilst it remains highly unlikely that Hamilton will choose to walk away, Mercedes would have a major problem because the realistic list of drivers they could sign to replace the seven-time World Champion is limited.
The most obvious replacement for Hamilton would be his former teammate Valtteri Bottas, who has joined Alfa Romeo ahead of the 2022 F1 season.
Bottas knows how Mercedes operate and it wouldn’t be a surprise if there was a clause in the Finn’s contract to retain him at the Silver Arrows, if Hamilton retired. It’s possible Hamilton may have chosen to retire if he won an eighth title in 2021 and Mercedes must have had contingency plans in place.
However, a driver pairing of George Russell and Bottas is significantly weaker than Russell and Hamilton. Perhaps Mercedes think they can get their hands on a stronger driver.
Another option for Mercedes is Esteban Ocon. The Frenchman held strong Mercedes links from 2015 to 2019 and has always been rated highly by Toto Wolff.
Now a race-winner, Ocon was able to match Fernando Alonso at Alpine in 2021 and has the potential to have a big career in F1.
Alpine also have Formula 2 champion Oscar Piastri waiting on the sidelines, as their reserve driver, so they may be willing to sell Ocon to Mercedes which would give the opportunity for the Australian to step up to F1.
Mercedes‘ and Aston Martin‘s strong ties could pave the way for Sebastian Vettel to replace Hamilton. The four-time World Champion brings plenty of experience and knows how to lead a team to a championship.
Whilst Vettel does not have the same marketability credentials as Hamilton, he would certainly be more lucrative than Bottas and Ocon.
There remains a question mark of whether Vettel still has the consistency and speed to challenge for a title with a top team, so that might be his downfall when Mercedes are weighing things up.
He didn’t exactly comfortably beat Lance Stroll in 2021, and he’s definitely past his peak so it might not be enough to get the call up from Mercedes.
Who else could replace Hamilton?
Apart from the three aforementioned drivers, it’s difficult to see who would realistically replace Hamilton. Mercedes and McLaren share reserve drivers, but it seems unlikely Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries have the experience and speed to immediately be a top driver in F1.
Money probably wouldn’t be an issue for Mercedes, so they will want to get the best driver possible to replace Hamilton, and they should be able to buy any driver out of their contract.
However, there’s almost no chance the likes of Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc or Carlos Sainz would be allowed to leave their respective teams.
There’s a slim chance McLaren will give Lando Norris the opportunity to join Mercedes, only because they share the same Mercedes power unit but it depends on whether the Woking-based team feel Daniel Ricciardo can return to his very best. Surely McLaren wouldn’t want to give Norris away.
You can see why Mercedes will be in trouble if Hamilton decided to retire from F1, because their options would be scarce.