On Thursday morning, motorsport.com broke the news that Lewis Hamilton is expected to join Ferrari and replace Carlos Sainz Jr. starting in 2025. When the news broke, the collective Formula One world lost their minds, and rightfully so; this may be the biggest driver transfer in Formula One history, and nobody had any idea that it would be coming.
That being said, let's take a look at what this could mean for Formula One, both for the teams and for the drivers that are (or could) be involved.
Hamilton has long hinted that he would like to join Ferrari at some point, and even in May 2023, before he signed a two-year deal at Mercedes (that has an option to get out of the contract after 2024), he told ESPN that he had “thought about ending [his] career [somewhere] else.”
Later in the same interview, he said “I thought about and watched the Ferrari drivers on the screens at the track and of course, you wonder what it would be like to be in red.”
Hamilton has been extremely successful at Mercedes since he moved there in 2013 after six years with McLaren. With the Silver Arrows, he has taken six Driver's Championships and 82 Grand Prix victories. However, since the regulation change in 2022, Mercedes has fallen in the pecking order, and Hamilton has not won a race since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
A move to Ferrari, where he would join Charles Leclerc, would mean that Hamilton would join a team that is steeped in history and one that seemed to have the second-fastest car last year, even if Hamilton was able to finish third in the driver's standings. Sainz was the only driver other than Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez to win a race in 2023. However, replacing him with a seven-time champion and one of the greatest drivers to ever race in Formula One seems like a good move for Ferrari, even if he may only be with the team for a couple of years.
Sainz has long seemed to be the second driver at Ferrari behind Leclerc, and there is little question that Hamilton is a better driver than Sainz is, even though Sainz is a very talented driver himself. For Ferrari to be able to bring Hamilton onto the team means that they feel that they will be able to compete for the Constructor's and Driver's Championships next year (if not, when the regulations change in 2026), and they feel that Hamilton and Leclerc will be a better pairing to get them into title contention.
The one question that needs to be answered is whether the two drivers will be a good fit together. The last time that Ferrari had a car that was able to challenge for the championship and win regularly was in 2019, and that was Leclerc's first season with the Prancing Horses. However, Leclerc was partnered with Sebastian Vettel as his teammate, and the two drivers seemed to come to blows often, with the most memorable moment being their collision in the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Hamilton also has a history of having issues with teammates who either view themselves on equal footing with him or as the number one driver. In 2007, Hamilton's rookie season, he found himself in title contention with McLaren, but he and his teammate, Fernando Alonso, had several moments where they refused to get along, and both drivers ended up losing the championship to Kimi Raikkonen despite having the fastest car. Additionally, when Hamilton had Jenson Button as his teammate, the two had several high-profile collisions, with the best-remembered being at the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix with Button coming back and winning after their collision.
At Mercedes, the same thing seems to have happened, with Hamilton's rivalry with teammate Nico Rosberg having been documented many times over. Rosberg retired after winning the Driver's Championship in 2016, and Mercedes brought in Valtteri Bottas to replace him; Bottas was solidly the number two driver at Mercedes in his five seasons with the team, and Hamilton seemed to do well with him as his teammate. Finally, in the last two seasons, Hamilton has had George Russell as his teammate, and Russell has challenged Hamilton on several occasions, which have tended to not end well for either driver.
If Ferrari can rein in Hamilton and Leclerc, the two drivers could turn into one of the best pairings that Ferrari has had in decades. However, if they can't, it could turn into 2007 McLaren all over again.
Where does Carlos Sainz Jr. go?
Sainz is the odd man out at Ferrari now that Hamilton has taken his seat, and he has several options as to where he could go. In order of what I feel is most likely, he could go to Sauber, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Williams, or Haas.
Sainz has already been linked to Sauber because the team is being taken over by Audi in 2026. He already has a good relationship with Andreas Seidl, the CEO of Sauber, and he could be the face of the Audi project when they enter the grid.
Mercedes could also be looking to pick up Sainz to replace Hamilton, and potentially use him to back up George Russell and drive him to new heights. Additionally, Sainz is a very good driver, and he could beat Russell, but would Mercedes be willing to promote a driver who isn't already part of a Mercedes-powered team?
A move to Aston Martin could only come about in one of two scenarios: either Fernando Alonso retires or is poached by another team, or Lance Stroll decides to leave Formula One. If either scenario happens, Sainz should be on the shortlist for Aston Martin.
Williams is another option for Sainz, but the only way that this could happen is if Alex Albon is promoted by Mercedes or Aston Martin to replace one of their drivers. If Albon is back at Williams next year, don't bet on Sainz to be there.
Finally, Sainz could go to Haas, but the chances of that happening are extremely slim. Haas is not an attractive option, and the only way that Sainz would go there is if they were his only option to stay on the grid.
Who does Mercedes pick up to replace Hamilton?
Hamilton's presence will not be easily replaced, but if any team can do it, it would be Mercedes. Some options they could take to replace him, in order of who I feel is most likely to who is least likely, are Alex Albon, Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz, and Esteban Ocon.
In my opinion, Albon is the most likely driver to replace Hamilton at Mercedes. Albon's journey in Formula One has been well-documented, from his ascent and fall at Red Bull to his current career resurrection at Williams. If Mercedes is smart, the first driver they will contact is Albon.
Fernando Alonso is another option for Mercedes, but they might be wary because of Hamilton's run-ins with George Russell and Alonso's history with teammates who have equal footing. However, if Mercedes can rein in Alonso and Russell, the pairing could be a very good one.
Sainz could also go to Mercedes in what would be a straight swap between Mercedes and Ferrari. If Sainz goes to Mercedes, he could be a very good driver for the Silver Arrows, but the question is whether they would be willing to sign someone outside of their program.
Esteban Ocon is a final option for Mercedes, and, even though he would come from another manufacturer, Ocon already has a relationship with Mercedes and, more importantly, Toto Wolff. Wolff used to be Ocon's agent, and Ocon used to be part of the Mercedes driver program, but he was unceremoniously dropped from Racing Point (now Aston Martin) after 2018 in favor of Lance Stroll.
What happens with Ferrari's driver development program?
The Ferrari Driver Academy currently has one driver who seems like they could be in Formula One next year, and that is Oliver Bearman. If Bearman wins Formula Two this year, he could be forced to step up to Formula One, which wouldn't necessarily be the worst situation for the team, as he would likely join Haas or Sauber, but he wouldn't be able to step up to the main team for quite a while.
If Bearman is unable to step up to Ferrari for a while, he may become restless and try to leave. A situation similar to Alpine's with Oscar Piastri could occur, and that would likely be the worst thing that could happen for all parties involved.
Image courtesy of Planet F1