Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: Toto’s Choice

It seems like the year just started, but it’s already mid-April.

This has already been a crazy Formula 1 silly season, but there are still so many seats to fill on the 2025 grid. None of which as notable as the Mercedes seat that Lewis Hamilton is leaving open in his move over to Ferrari at the end of the year.

There seem to be three main contenders for the ride, with a number of others clawing for the seat. With Fernando Alonso now closing up Aston Martin Aramco’s silly season offerings, the Mercedes seat is only more important.

Underpinning this decision by Mercedes will be their young superstar Andrea Kimi Antonelli. Antonelli is in his first season in Formula 2 and has shown speed so far after having skipped over Formula 3. It’s clear that Mercedes believes they have something special in the Italian driver. The issue with Antonelli, however, is that he’s only 17 years old. And although he has shown promise so far in F2, he also hasn’t gotten a podium and he isn’t all conquering like a lot of F2 drivers that do get that call-up.

Which would suggest the best option for Mercedes would be to get a veteran driver for that seat for now.

The most obvious on the surface would be Carlos Sainz. He’s the only driver to win a Formula 1 race in the last 22 Grand Prix not named Max Verstappen.

But here’s the issue with him. Team principal Toto Wolff also has the issue of George Russell. He likes Russell and wants to get him a car that can reliably win races. Signing Sainz would be a sign that Mercedes wants him to challenge Russell.

Due to that, Mercedes wouldn’t want to commit themselves long-term to Sainz. They haven’t with Russell yet, with him also on a reported one-year plus one-option-year deal like Hamilton was.

If they bring Sainz in on a 1+1, then 2025 will become a dogfight between him and Russell, with Antonelli joining whoever is left standing.

Mercedes might not even be the best landing spot for Sainz anyway. Christian Horner has implied Sainz is a candidate for the second seat at Red Bull. Going up against Max sounds like a tough task, but Sainz has done well going up against Leclerc at Ferrari for years now. And if something happens to Max or he retires, Sainz will instantly be a championship favorite, which sounds interesting.

This is also not to mention that Sainz has been linked to KICK Sauber through Audi connections and would be the undisputed number one driver there regardless of who’s in that second seat.

There are a number of smaller options Mercedes could look at. Let’s speedrun through them:

Frederik Vesti is an option as a Mercedes Junior Team driver and as last year’s Formula 2 runner-up. Poor Vesti has been overlooked his entire career so far and will likely be so again in this decision.

Had Mick Schumacher been called into action at some point in the last year and had impressed, no doubt he’d be considered a heavy favorite. Alas, the son of Michael Schumacher hasn’t gotten his second chance at F1 and likely never will.

Maybe the ultimate troll choice in all of this would be Valtteri Bottas. Wolff nurtured Bottas throughout his career while Bottas responded as one of the best number two drivers in F1 history. Bottas could serve the role again for Russell, but Russell doesn’t really need that in this stage of his career and neither does Bottas.

Then there’s the surprise option.

Sebastian Vettel has thrown his hat into the ring as far as being open to discussing a return to Formula 1. The four-time champion tested a Porsche Penske Hypercar last month in his first publicly known action in a contemporary race car since retiring from F1 in 2022.

This is probably the best option for Russell outside of Antonelli. Vettel has struggled at times in his last few years; the German came very close to a fifth championship in 2018, and that seemed to break him mentally. Charles Leclerc was able to pretty decisively beat him out of Ferrari, and then Vettel was able to beat Lance Stroll at Aston Martin, but not to the extent Alonso has.

Vettel would be a challenge to Russell, but at the same time, he’d also be a positive for Britain. Russell should beat him and learn a lot from doing it, not to mention as well that Vettel is only going to be a positive for the team in many different aspects. He’d be a big name Mercedes could market to, especially as a German champion for the German automaker.

Vettel would be a good measuring stick to judge Russell without turning things into an outright competitive environment like it would be with Sainz.

One good thing about the limited amount of seats in F1 is that, without the benefit of hindsight, there are no terrible choices here with the deep pool of candidates. Wolff will need to make this call soon, however; more and more drivers will slowly leave the market like Alonso just did if he isn’t careful.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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