The major silly season rumor that seemingly comes up at least twice every year since the mid 2010s has finally come to fruition, as seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton is set to leave Mercedes at the end of the 2024 season and join Ferrari.
Hamilton had signed a contract extension with the Silver Arrows to remain with the team through the 2025 season, but it is believed that the second year was an option year, thus giving him the opportunity to join the sport's most iconic team alongside Charles Leclerc.
The news comes just a week after Ferrari and Charles Leclerc reached a multi-year contract extension that is believed to keep the five-time Grand Prix winner with the Maranello-based outfit through at least the 2029 season.
Carlos Sainz Jr. out at Ferrari
That news prompted speculation about the future of Carlos Sainz Jr., who was set to enter the 2024 season without a contract to compete beyond its conclusion. While an extension was always viewed as possible, the 29-year-old Spaniard had been linked to a number of other teams for 2025.
Sainz has long been viewed as a top candidate for Audi, which are set to begin competing in 2026 following their takeover of Sauber. However, it was assumed that in order to get the driver (or drivers) they wanted, Audi would need to ensure that Sauber make the move for 2025 and not wait until 2026, given just how many drivers have contracts that are set to expire after 2024.
Then there is Red Bull, where Sainz had once aimed to drive before ultimately leaving sister team Toro Rosso for Renault in 2017. He remained under contract with Red Bull through 2018, but that relationship ended when he joined McLaren in 2019.
Sergio Perez's contract with Red Bull is set to expire after the 2024 season, and it has long been viewed as a foregone conclusion that the Milton Keynes-based team will be looking for a replacement. A Sainz reunion with former teammate Max Verstappen is certainly an option.
But with Mercedes now in need of a driver to pair alongside George Russell following Hamilton's departure, is Sainz an option there as well?
While it's certainly on the table, Hamilton's move doesn't exactly move the needle as far as its likelihood, in that Audi and Red Bull are still far more likely destinations for the two-time Grand Prix winner.
Additionally, if this whole Hamilton-to-Ferrari situation ultimately amounts to a straight-up driver swap, it would almost certainly limit any potential net upside for both drivers in the other's former car.
The real new possibility here is Williams, given not only that Alexander Albon is seen as a potential Hamilton replacement, but the fact that Logan Sargeant may be let go of if he cannot make major improvements during the 2024 season.
Williams are a team on the rise after their best season since 2017, despite only getting a single point out of Sargeant, and may be considered a more attractive option to Sainz than some of the other possibilities, given what Albon was able to accomplish there in 2023.
There is still a lot that needs to be sorted regarding the 2025 Formula 1 grid, and given that it's only the first day of February 2024, it's highly unlikely that everything else will happen as quickly as Hamilton joining Ferrari. The largest domino just happened to be the first to fall.