Toto Wolff could see his Lewis Hamilton ‘insurance policy’ destroyed by Sebastian Vettel if Mercedes reserve driver Nyck de Vries takes the place of Germany’s Aston Martin at the end of the season. Some believe De Vries could be in line to replace Hamilton at the Silver Arrows if the seven-time world champion decides to follow Vettel’s lead and call it a day.
Vettel is coming to the end of a long and illustrious F1 career, winning four consecutive world titles between 2010 and 2013. His 53 Grand Prix victories put him third on the all-time list, ahead of greats like Alain Prost and Ayrton. Senna.
But after struggling towards the back of the pack since joining Aston Martin in 2021 and raising concerns about the environmental impact of the sport, the 35-year-old revealed this week that he plans to move away to the end of the season.
“The decision to retire was a difficult one for me and I spent a lot of time thinking about it,” he said. “At the end of the year I want to take a little more time to think about what I’m going to focus on next; it’s very clear to me that as a father I want to spend more time with my family.”
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Naturally, with F1 seats so scarce, talk quickly turned to who could take his place at Aston Martin in 2023. Former driver-turned-Sky Sports pundit Martin Brundle believes De Vries would be in an excellent position to step in, assuming Alex Albon and Daniel Ricciardo remain at Williams and McLaren respectively.
The Dutchman, 27, has a varied experience in motorsport with a Formula E triumph in 2021 and a Formula 2 title in 2019. World Touring Car star Tom Coronel believes he would be the ‘police of Wolff’s ‘insurance’ if Hamilton decides his race is over at the end of the year, but the team principal has already admitted he cannot keep the De Vries locked up forever.
“I think if we are not able to offer him an interesting project in Formula 1, we have to kind of let him go,” he admitted. “He is looking at various options, sports cars, maybe Formula E, but you must never give up the opportunity that one day a door to Formula 1 may open.”
De Vries is held in high regard by Wolff, and he entered FP1 in place of Hamilton at the French Grand Prix last weekend due to an unusual rule which requires teams to give reserve drivers a chance to prove their worth twice a season. It remains to be seen if he gets an F1 seat from Aston Martin, or if he holds out long enough to see if the claims he is Hamilton’s back-up plan are accurate.
The Briton sparked retirement theories when he retired from the public eye at the start of the year after agonizingly losing the world title to Max Verstappen. Hamilton was less than a lap away from leading the all-time standings with eight world titles before the Dutchman, on fresh tyres, sped by.
Mercedes have found themselves far behind Ferrari and Red Bull this year as the teams move into the new era of ‘ground effect’. Whether that prompts Hamilton to cut his losses or come back for more should become clear once the season is over.