Following the shock news from Mercedes that Lewis Hamilton has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the F1 world is wondering who will partner Valtteri Bottas on Sunday. With a seat in the best team on the grid at stake, Mercedes have the pick of nearly anyone as their replacement driver.
Although we’re sure the likes of Vettel and Verstappen would love to drive the W11, watertight contracts will get in the way of those sorts of possibilities. But below are the serious contenders who could see their number replace the iconic #44 this weekend.
Stoffel Vandoorne appears to be the most likely candidate. He is the Mercedes reserve driver, after all. The Formula E driver raced for McLaren at their lowest ebb, in 2017 and 2018. Vandoorne is testing in Valencia for the all-electric racing series currently.
However, Mercedes will be flying him out to Bahrain but have yet to confirm that he will race over the weekend.
Vandoorne shares the reserve driver title with Esteban Gutierrez. However, the Mexican driver does not hold a superlicence currently. To be eligible to race in F1, Gutierrez would need to participate in 300km of driving a current, or recent-gen F1 car.
Although Gutierrez showed he still has speed during the e-Sports racing ahead of the 2020 season, Mercedes may find time too tight to side with Esteban on such short notice.
Super-sub, Nico Hulkenberg, is a distinct possibility. Hulkenberg stepped in at late notice for Silverstone, and then at mega-late notice at the Nurburgring for Racing Point. Nico would find the three days heads up a luxury by comparison. He does not have any ties to the Mercedes team, however.
But what Hulkenberg does have that Vandoorne does not is 2020 F1 experience. The German driver qualified third for the 70th Anniversary GP, showing how little speed he has lost in his brief time out the sport. If Hulkenberg were to return in a Mercedes, the opportunity for that sought after podium would be there for the taking.
The final option is that of George Russell. The Williams driver remains part of the Mercedes Junior Team, despite nearly completing two seasons in F1. The highly-rated Brit would be many fans top choice but is contracted to Williams for this season and next. Although not impossible, it is certainly unlikely.
Mercedes would need to make Williams an offer to relinquish their star driver, be it financial or otherwise. If the World Constructors’ Championship was at stake, then choosing Russell would be worth whatever price Williams demanded. Mercedes have the championship wrapped up with a 259-point lead, though.
The most likely Lewis Hamilton replacement?
The “easy” choice for Mercedes is Vandoorne who will be flying out to Bahrain soon. Russell or Hulkenberg are both romantic choices, but with the former unaffiliated and the latter pre-engaged, they’re less likely. Gutierrez will need to find a current or recent F1 car and track PDQ so is essentially out the running. So it’s Belgium’s Stoffel Vandoorne seemingly with have the advantage on paper. Let’s see if that transfers to the tarmac.