Mercedes may well have a Formula 1 driver contingency plan already but if Lewis Hamilton's decision to join Ferrari has come about as quickly as it seems, then probably not.
And in any case the short answer to ‘who can replace Hamilton?’ is ‘not many drivers, if any’.
Single-handedly replacing what Hamilton’s given Mercedes is not possible. The best move is to either find the closest possible approximation or slot in the most appropriate team-mate for George Russell if Mercedes believes that Russell is capable of being the team’s north star long-term.
Russell had a weak 2023 season by his own admission but the pace was still strong and in 2022 he showed how much Mercedes can rely on him. That at least gives Mercedes a good foundation, assuming he raises his game this year, and can thrive as the clear team leader in Hamilton’s absence.
But what to do for 2025?
THE ALPHA: FERNANDO ALONSO
Mercedes has shown itself open to having two alpha drivers. But several of the very best drivers are under contract, like Lando Norris at McLaren. And Mercedes is probably going to be shopping among the free agents.
Fernando Alonso is almost certainly the most competitive prospect who could be available for 2025. It is unclear what his exact arrangement at Aston Martin is as he was thought to have signed more than just a two-year deal but if that is the case it could be with an option on Alonso's side.
Whether he would consider Aston Martin to Mercedes a sideways move or not, or be willing to roll the dice one more time than we all thought possible, is impossible to guess. But the appeal to Mercedes would be obvious.
Alonso would be the closest thing to a like-for-like alternative to Hamilton given his experience, determination and ability. He’s also the only option who could be considered a plug in and play championship challenger should the 2025 Mercedes be good enough.
But he could also be divisive, given his track record, and is only a short-term option given he (like Hamilton) cannot keep defying his age forever.
A ‘BOTTAS’ EQUIVALENT
So what about finding Russell’s version of Valtteri Bottas - AKA a great wingman who would aid team harmony?
Assuming that bringing back Bottas himself is out of the question, given there are genuinely better options on the table, then the man Hamilton is replacing at Ferrari, Carlos Sainz, would be a great contender for this.
He is experienced, but still has many years on his side, has won races for Ferrari and is an intelligent and hard-working individual.
A similar option could be Russell’s long-time friend Alex Albon, who is looking for a step up from Williams, and while he is yet to win races in F1 he has at least proven himself ready for a bigger opportunity again after rebuilding his reputation post-Red Bull.
Albon's still got room to improve but at the same time has developed to a very effective peak (so far). He has grown and matured as a driver technically and intellectually and is a great person to work with because he's a good person outside of the car and an incredibly hard and diligent worker.
At Williams he has risen to the occasion as a team leader, and has rarely if ever wilted under pressure (the Melbourne 2023 crash is the only obvious mistake that comes to mind and that was just slightly careless if anything).
Albon looks ready for an opportunity in a bigger team again. And something as unexpected as Hamilton's seismic move is the kind of thing that could turn a step to an upper-midfield team into a much bigger opportunity.
A STAND-OUT MERCEDES PROTEGE
Mercedes has its own pool of F1 talents to consider as well. And a promotion from within (or from nearby) shouldn't be discounted.
It is worth factoring in Mercedes-managed Esteban Ocon into the equation here. He could be a good support act to Russell, although he has a reputation for clashing way too much with his team-mates.
But he is not the kind of driver Mercedes would ideally pick because it has overlooked him previously. Mercedes was happy finding him a seat somewhere else when Ocon was effectively usurped by Russell as Hamilton heir apparent, and seen more in the Bottas mould rather than a number one driver.
Another driver in the Mercedes fold is reserve Mick Schumacher, who has been talked up by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff previously. But he’s not someone we think has a realistic shot of getting back on the grid at a less competitive team, let alone Mercedes.
The stand-out Mercedes prospect is only a contender if Mercedes wants to be really bold and set itself up longer-term. Then an immediate promotion for Formula 2 rookie Andrea Kimi Antonelli would be the leftfield, exciting choice.
Antonelli is only 17 years old and the F2 step is already huge but if he excels, maybe a Hamilton/McLaren 2007 style graduation could be on the cards.
It would certainly inject some excitement and positivity into Mercedes to know that one outgoing megastar is being replaced by a modern prodigy.