Home » F1 2024: Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton & Fernando Alonso to define new season

F1 2024: Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton & Fernando Alonso to define new season

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F1 2024: Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton & Fernando Alonso to define new season

The Horner saga broke just days after the other massive story of the close season, Hamilton’s switch to Ferrari for 2025.

The move caught almost everyone by surprise – even Mercedes. Hamilton told Wolff about his decision over breakfast just a day before it emerged in the media.

It was all the more unexpected for the fact that Hamilton had signed a new contract with Mercedes only last summer, which was announced at the time as a two-year deal.

It turns out that negotiations had not been happy, that Hamilton had an exit clause after one season, and it seems he was less than impressed by what he perceived to be Mercedes’ lack of commitment to him when he had been seeking a longer contract.

Add in the fact that relations had already been strained when the team ignored his pleas to abandon their controversial – and now discredited – design philosophy during a difficult 2022 season, and Hamilton was receptive when Ferrari came calling.

“An opportunity came up at the end of the year and I decided to take it,” he said during testing last week, adding that “it really wouldn’t have happened” without Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur.

That remark must have hurt Wolff, who has worked with Hamilton for a decade and is one of Vasseur’s closest friends.

For all that Hamilton and Mercedes are professionals, and will want to perform as strongly as possible, inevitably this will lead to an awkward atmosphere at times.

It also means that there is now a seat at Mercedes open for 2024. Sergio Perez is also out of contract at Red Bull, who have told the Mexican he must improve over his lacklustre 2023 showings or risk being dropped.

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And guess whose contract also runs out this season? Alonso. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz is also looking for a drive after losing his seat to Hamilton.

A few years ago, Mercedes would have laughed out of town the idea of Alonso driving for them, because of their shared history.

Mercedes was McLaren’s works engine partner and co-owner when Alonso fell out with the team during the spy-gate saga of 2007, which led to them footing 40% of the $100m fine levied on the team by governing body the FIA.

But out of the current F1 drivers available, the two-time world champion is undoubtedly the strongest candidate, and the noises from Mercedes about Alonso have softened considerably in the wake of Hamilton’s decision. He is definitely under consideration.

Mercedes, though, are also pondering taking a chance on the rising star Andrea Kimi Antonelli, a 17-year-old Italian who has been on their driver development programme for some years.

Antonelli is starting his first season in Formula 2 this season, having skipped Formula 3, and he has been earning rave reviews.

Word in motorsport circles is that this winter he conducted a test in an F3 car at a wet Silverstone alongside two other highly rated F2/F3 drivers. Antonelli had never seen the circuit before, but was four seconds a lap faster than the others. Yes, you read that right – four seconds.

It’s no surprise, then, that Antonelli is being talked about as the next Verstappen.

But the question is, would Mercedes take the risk of putting him straight into their car after just one season of F2? If not, Alonso might make a very appealing stop-gap, although whether the Spanish veteran would see himself in that light is another matter.

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For his part, Alonso has emphasised his credentials. “I am probably attractive to other teams,” he said this month, “the performance they saw last year, the commitment. There are three world champions on the grid and I am the only one available.”

But he has also said that he first needs to decide whether he wants to “commit a few more years of my life to the sport which I love” or “maybe have more time for my private life, which is also very important at this age”.

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