Lewis Hamilton signing a one-year deal means that Mercedes finds itself at something of a crossroads over its future driver direction.

Monday’s announcement leaves Mercedes with no drivers contracted for 2022, adding further intrigue into what already promised to be a fascinating silly season ahead. 

Once more, Valtteri Bottas faces a critical year to stake his claim in the team’s 2022 line-up amid George Russell’s impressive rise, and now Hamilton has thrown added uncertainty into the mix - though he appears to remain in control of his own destiny. 

Indeed, Mercedes’ driver dilemma for 2022 and beyond is something team principal Toto Wolff acknowledged when he faced the media to discuss Hamilton’s new deal on Monday.

"The team needs to decide long-term what we are going to do about drivers,” said Wolff. "Valtteri and Lewis have our 100% commitment and loyalty for 2021. We will support them with everything we have.

"We will then look beyond this year and say what is the line-up that we imagine in 2022 and onwards. Our first discussions are going to be with Valtteri and Lewis, in respecting our values of loyalty and integrity.

"But on the other side, the young drivers are the future, and therefore we need to consider how we want to set ourselves up for the years beyond."

With Mercedes’ options for 2022 now more open than ever before, we’ve taken a look at some possible driver combinations the German manufacturer could field for F1’s new era…

The safest bet - Hamilton and Bottas 

Mercedes priority will be to continue with Hamilton in 2022 should the seven-time world champion be set on staying in F1, and if that was to be the case, it would make sense for the team to keep in place its ultra-successful partnership that has swept both world championships for the past four seasons since Bottas arrived. 

Hamilton and Bottas would provide the team with stability heading into the major regulation change of 2022 and Mercedes would know it has the guarantee of a settled and drama-free partnership. Although it would undoubtedly be the least exciting choice from the neutral’s perspective, why change a proven winning combination? 

Master and apprentice - Hamilton and Russell

Should Bottas fail to deliver convincing performances in 2021 and Russell continue to impress in the final year of his contract with Williams, then Mercedes may well be convinced that it is finally time to promote its rising star. 

Russell’s brilliant display at the Sakhir GP on his Mercedes debut last season proved to Mercedes that his potential is real, and another strong campaign at Williams will only confirm that further. Mercedes cannot afford to let Russell slip through its fingers and potentially be snapped up by a rival, so it could be forced to take action.

This decision would be made easier - and all the more likely - in a world where Hamilton commits to a new multi-year deal, providing Mercedes with assurance that it would not be needing to find yet another replacement for 2023 having just booted out a more than capable candidate in Bottas.

A Hamilton-Russell line up would be a hugely exciting partnership to watch unfold and provide the 22-year-old with the ultimate benchmark as he continues his development. 

Hamilton’s ready-made replacement - Bottas and Russell

If it wasn’t already, Mercedes, while remaining loyal to Hamilton, must now be starting to consider what life after Hamilton will look like - a reality it could be faced with as early as next year if Hamilton were to call time on his career at the end of 2021.

Providing Bottas turns in a strong enough season and helps the team achieve the remarkable goal of clinching an eighth successive world championship before Hamilton subsequently retires, then it would naturally make sense for the Finn to be retained. 

This outcome would also solve the headache of what to do with Russell and ward off  other interested parties by placing him into a Mercedes seat and handing him a deserved opportunity to realise his potential by fighting for wins and potentially world championships at the front of the grid. 

Solid and spectacular - Bottas and Verstappen

In an F1 world post-Hamilton, Max Verstappen must be at the very top of Mercedes’ wish list as it looks to build for the future. Mercedes was after all interested in signing Verstappen to its junior programme back in 2014 until he eventually opted to favour Red Bull’s guaranteed roadmap to an F1 drive.

Tipped as the most likely driver to succeed Hamilton as F1’s king, Verstappen has a contract with Red Bull running until the end of 2023, but as has been seen in the past, it is not impossible for a driver to trigger a get out clause and leave early. 

If Mercedes decided it was too soon to promote Russell and wanted to continue with Bottas, it could turn its efforts to lure Verstappen away from Red Bull. It is unlikely the Dutchman would wish to let such an opportunity pass him by, particularly if Red Bull once again fails in its bid to challenge Mercedes in 2021 and his frustration and impatience grows. 

This line-up would see Mercedes find a worthy replacement for Hamilton to gain some spectacular flair to combine alongside Bottas’ efficiency. However, it would also open the door to the possibility of losing Russell to another team…

A bold gamble - Verstappen and Russell

The best way Mercedes can ensure it holds onto Russell is to put him in one of its cars. And with Russell being a cheaper alternative to Bottas, there would be more financial bargaining power available to use on making an early swoop for Verstappen. 

A complete driver shake up in signing Verstappen and Russell is the biggest risk Mercedes could take but is one that would give the team arguably the most exciting line-up on the grid, as well as shoring up the future by putting its faith firmly in youth.

It would be a gamble that could go one of two ways. There is a risk that it would destabilise Mercedes if an intense intra-team rivalry brewed, particularly amid a major regulation change. On the other hand, if well-managed, it might turn out to be a masterstroke, with the combination of outright speed and raw talent only further cementing Mercedes as the dominant force in F1. 

The ultimate showdown - Hamilton and Verstappen

A move that is seemingly never going to happen, but we can dream for a minute can’t we? 

A Hamilton-Verstappen line-up would unquestionably form the best pairing on the current grid, and result in a swashbuckling battle for supremacy that would likely go down in history as one of the all-time classic rivalries. 

A mega Mercedes combo of Hamilton and Verstappen has been mooted in recent years, but is highly unlikely to become a reality and has been played down by Wolff. 

That is understandable, considering the troubles Mercedes experienced trying to manage the fractious and, at times, volatile relationship between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as the two drivers dominated the sport and went head-to-head for the world title between 2014-2016. It is almost certainly a route the team does not wish to go down again.

The best F1 fans can realistically hope for is that this megastar showdown properly plays out while both drivers are at opposing teams before Hamilton eventually retires.