Tom Coronel believes that Mercedes have an “insurance policy” in place if Lewis Hamilton decides to leave Formula 1 after the 2022 season.
Last summer, seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton signed a two-year contract extension with Mercedes to continue driving for the team through at least the 2023 season.
However, given the struggles of the eight-time reigning constructor champions — and Hamilton in particular — to open up the 2022 season, there has been some speculation that Hamilton could make the decision to step away from the sport after 2022.
In fact, there was even doubt that he would be back for the 2022 season, given the manner in which he was denied the world championship at the end of the 2021 season.
It wasn’t confirmed until close to the end of the offseason that he would indeed be back for a 10th season with the Silver Arrows and a 16th season in the sport.
But could he really consider stepping away after the 2022 season?
If so, Mercedes could have a clear go-to option to serve as his replacement, and that is Dutch driver Nyck de Vries.
Here is what fellow Dutch racing driver Tom Coronel had to say recently on the RacingNews365nl podcast.
"“If Lewis Hamilton stops, Nyck de Vries will get the seat. Do you know why? As I’ve been saying for a year, Nyck is Toto Wolff’s insurance policy.”"
De Vries, who won the 2019 Formula 2 championship with ART Grand Prix and finished 17 positions ahead of teammate Nikita Mazepin, now a former Formula 1 driver himself, is a test and reserve driver for the Mercedes Formula 1 team.
The 27-year-old Dutchman recently made his Formula 1 debut in a practice session ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Driving for Williams, he was able to outpace teammate and full-time competitor Nicholas Latifi.
He is also in his third season competing for the Mercedes Formula E team, and he is the reigning series champion after winning the 2020-2021 world championship. His future beyond the 2021-2022 season is uncertain, and McLaren are set to acquire the Mercedes team.
For the last few seasons, De Vries has been seen as a potential candidate to land a Formula 1 drive, but it hasn’t happened.
Given what he has accomplished elsewhere, would Mercedes consider signing him to replace Hamilton at the factory outfit with no prior Formula 1 experience?
Coronel mentioned the fact that Mercedes dealt with the abrupt and unexpected retirement of a world champion just a few seasons ago, when Nico Rosberg announced that he was done competing just days after winning the 2016 title.
"“Of course, he has already experienced it once with Rosberg. I don’t want to say he ‘uses’ Nyck, but that’s why he keeps him close to him. This is a boy who is doing everything he should have done. He has won all the championships he should have won.”"
In this instance, Mercedes signed veteran Valtteri Bottas, who had been slated to return to Williams for a fifth season in 2017. Bottas ended up competing for Mercedes for five seasons, five successful seasons in which the team secured every constructor title.
George Russell replaced Bottas ahead of the 2022 season, and Russell has beaten Hamilton in the last six races.
Of course, it is worth mentioning that Hamilton has an interesting history of “almost” quitting Formula 1, and that history pretty much features some sort of development from each of the last several offseasons.
So take any and all “Hamilton quitting Formula 1?” headlines with a grain of salt, especially with 15 races left in a season that isn’t even a contract year for the sport’s all-time winningest driver.
But even if we assume Hamilton returns in 2023 and fulfills the remainder of his contract, what’s to stop Mercedes from calling upon De Vries to replace him after the 2023 season? It doesn’t necessarily have to happen after 2022. De Vries could very well land a 2023 seat, possibly with Williams, to allow him to gain the experience he currently lacks, and that could lead to a promotion to Mercedes as Hamilton’s replacement in 2024.