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Lewis Hamilton's Ferrari Switch Has Opened Up Everything in F1

fia prize giving 2023
Hamilton's Ferrari Switch Opens Up the F1 GridAziz Karimov - Formula 1 - Getty Images

It looked like Formula 1's so-called silly season had gone quiet. As recently as this past Monday, the extensions of Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc signaled what should have been a quiet F1 free agency period with no leading seats available at any top-level program. Lewis Hamilton then exercised a previously-unknown out in his Mercedes contract originally thought to last until 2025, moving to Ferrari in what was at the time believed to be a second driver seat next next to Leclerc. Now, a coveted seat at Mercedes is open and everything else is up in the air.

Hamilton, Norris, and Leclerc were the three biggest names that had any chance of moving, and two were already under contract for 2025. Just about everyone below their line is a free agent, and just about every seat below their ride is open. The headliners are the open second seat at Red Bull next to Max Verstappen and the open seat at Mercedes next to George Russell.

The next most valuable seats are at Sauber and Aston Martin, where new engine partners should mean major new ambitions in 2026. Sauber currently fields the poorly-named Stake F1 team, but that program will be Audi's factory operation when the brand's engine program comes online in two seasons. Aston Martin will remain Aston Martin in 2026, but it will gain engines and support from a returning Honda.

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The two drivers that will be most in demand are current Williams ace Alex Albon and soon-to-be former Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. Albon struggled in his short stint at Red Bull, but he has since proven his talents at a Williams team that counts each points-paying finish as a successful race weekend. Sainz is a race winner at Ferrari, just one that could not reasonably be picked over Leclerc or Hamilton when the program can only enter two cars. Both are likely candidates for a future job at Mercedes, although they have some interesting competition in 17-year-old upcoming Formula 2 rookie and current Mercedes junior driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli. With so few proven options under 40 available, Sainz and Albon should also be on the short lists for Aston Martin and Audi.

Next on the list is Fernando Alonso, who will turn 44 during the 2025 season. Alonso is much older than the average Formula 1 free agent, but he is the only former champion not under contract that is expected to be looking for a ride in 2025 and proved his pace in an Aston Martin last season. Alonso makes the most sense next to a younger driver, although popular rumors last year placed him in a second seat at Red Bull for one last shot at race wins as soon as this season. That move never happened, and a move to Red Bull in 2025 would be similarly unlikely.

Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, and Alpine's Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly are the only other former race winners on the market. They collectively make up a clear third tier, all reasonable hires and none exciting choices to lead a team into the future. Everyone else on the grid is available for every other seat not mentioned, although Lance Stroll is unlikely to leave his father's Aston Martin team any time soon.

These changes are coming in 2025, making 2024 an awkward lame duck year for a large portion of the grid. Oddly, every single driver who ended the 2023 season with a team will continue 2024 with that same team. Free agent discussions will cast a cloud over F1 until every seat on the 2025 grid is set. It seems that 2024 could be a year of politicking like no other.

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