THE FORMULA ONE grid could look very different in 2025 with a number of drivers potentially on the move.
Racing fans are gearing up for another season of speed and excitement.
But the opener in Bahrain on March 2 has already been overshadowed by a major development.
That’s because Lewis Hamilton will leave Mercedes at the end of the year for rivals Ferrari.
The shock switch is certainly going to have a knock-on effect, as it means there will be a seat free at Mercedes.
Hamilton’s move to Ferrari is also set to spell the end of Carlos Sainz’s time with the Italians.
His contract is up at the end of the campaign, while teammate Charles Leclerc’s runs into 2025.
Meanwhile, Alex Albon looks destined for a big move.
He has been linked with replacing Hamilton at Mercedes.
But Albon has also been tipped to join champion Max Verstappen at Red Bull.
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That would put Sergio Perez back on the market, while there are numerous other drivers out of contract later this year.
Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu, Kevin Magnussen, Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Yuki Tsunoda and Logan Sargeant face uncertain futures in F1 next year.
But all eyes will be on Hamilton when he lines up for Mercedes in his final campaign with the Germans.
After signing his Ferrari deal, the seven-time champion said: “I have had an amazing 11 years with this team and I’m so proud of what we have achieved together.
“Mercedes has been part of my life since I was 13 years old.
“It’s a place where I have grown up, so making the decision to leave was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make.
“But the time is right for me to take this step and I’m excited to be taking on a new challenge.
“I will be forever grateful for the incredible support of my Mercedes family, especially Toto for his friendship and leadership and I want to finish on a high together.
“I am 100 per cent committed to delivering the best performance I can this season and making my last year with the Silver Arrows, one to remember.”
WHO COULD REPLACE HAMILTON AT MERCEDES?
Mercedes will have a vacant seat for 2025.
Here, SunSport’s F1 correspondent Ben Hunt looks at FIVE potential candidates who could replace him and partner George Russell in the Silver Arrows.
Oscar Piastri – McLaren have sewn up Lando Norris to a new long-term contract that should (in theory) put him out of Mercedes’ reach. However, they are yet to tie down his teammate Piastri, 22. The Aussie has an excellent record and won the Formula 3 and Formula 2 titles before spending a year on the sidelines with Alpine and getting his chance in F1 with McLaren. He impressed on his debut season last year and has the potential to be a world champion.
Daniel Ricciardo – The experienced driver’s future remains in doubt as he bides his time at Red Bull’s B-team. Ricciardo would be low-hassle and offer some stability but by that time he would be 35. It seems unlikely that they would opt for him at this point in his career, but if he has a good season this year, he could come into the reckoning.
Kimi Antonelli – You may not have heard of the Italian, but he is mustard. Still only 17, he has won at all the junior categories and has been part of the Mercedes young driver programme since 2019. This season he has been promoted from F4 to F2, where he has been tipped to shine. A good debut season in F2 could sway Mercedes into taking a risk on him for 2025. Antonelli and his family are close to Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.
Mick Schumacher – Wolff has always been so incredibly supportive of Schumacher and spoken highly of him, that you’d at least expect him to come into consideration. He knows the team from his role as reserve driver and consequently would get up to speed. But speed is also the problem. He was shocking at Haas and if he really was THAT good, he’d still be driving in F1.
Alex Albon – A more-sensible choice would be the London-born Albon. A great guy who is also very quick. He has a fantastic relationship with Russell and would be the low-maintenance quick partnership similar to Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas that swept to successive titles. Albon would take little convincing to join from Williams and Mercedes would not need to pay him half of the £50million they were dishing out to Hamilton.