It’s the end of an era and the biggest move by a driver in Formula One history.
After 12 seasons, six world championships and 82 victories, Lewis Hamilton leaves Mercedes for Ferrari.
It is a day that most thought would never come. Hamilton himself said last year that he hoped to remain with Mercedes “until my last days” and that “there was nowhere he would rather be.”
But the lure of a shock move to Ferrari, announced for 2025 on Thursday, proved too strong for the seven-time champion seeking a record eighth world title.
It’s the kind of shock that F1 fans (and figures at the top of the sport itself) could only have dreamed would ever happen. Associating Hamilton, the most famous and successful driver in F1, with Ferrari, the most famous and successful team in F1, is something box office.
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Ferrari is likely to enter the 2025 season with F1’s strongest lineup, with Hamilton racing alongside Charles Leclerc, its young star. As ‘superteam’ lineups go, barring the unlikely prospect of Hamilton teaming up with Max Verstappen, it’s hard to think of anything bigger.
Regardless of the outcome, this will be one of the defining stories in F1 for years to come, as Hamilton, 39, attempts to write the final (and potentially final) chapter of his brilliant F1 career behind the wheel of the famous red cars. of Ferrari. .
But why leave Mercedes on the eve of the new season for a team that hasn’t won a championship in 15 years?
A loss of faith in Mercedes?
Hamilton and Mercedes formed one of the greatest teams the sport has ever seen.
Six of Hamilton’s seven world titles came between 2014 and 2020, with his only loss in that stretch coming to teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016. Together, Hamilton and Mercedes dominated F1, eliminating the threat of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, once defeated as the combination that could end years of success in silver until 2017-20.
Hamilton was one correct race control decision in the 2021 final in Abu Dhabi away from breaking Michael Schumacher’s record and winning an eighth world title, only for Verstappen to pass him on the final lap restart and deny him the crown .
The controversy put Hamilton on a redemption arc. Fueled by that heartbreak, 2022 became the season for him to take back what should have been his, only for Mercedes to build a car that simply wasn’t up to the job. Hamilton knew from the moment he first drove the W13 that he was not good enough to win a title. He wasn’t even good enough to win a race, resigning him to the first season of his F1 career without a single victory.
The fighting continued throughout the past year. Hamilton was often frustrated by the limitations of his car, causing him to endure another winless season as Verstappen and Red Bull dominated proceedings. After the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton summed up his mood as “not very good” and cast doubt on anyone catching Red Bull in 2024: “You can guess where they will be next year.”
Mercedes had already set out to overhaul its car by 2024, having abandoned its radical ‘zeropod’ concept in the middle of last year. Expectations were being kept in check, but the team had greater confidence that the car coming out of Brackley this year would not have the same “spiteful” traits, in the words of technical director James Allison, and would give Hamilton a better chance of success. .
Hamilton will not have an extended run in the Mercedes car until pre-season testing begins in Bahrain later this month. The first test will occur at a shakedown at Silverstone when the car is launched on February 1. 14, and Hamilton will have driven a model in the simulator that may give an indication of what to expect. But there won’t be a true understanding of the potential of the W15 car until he actually drives it.
The decision to abandon ship now suggests doubts about Mercedes’ ability to change course and return to the top from which it once looked down on the F1 competition. If Hamilton were fully confident that Mercedes was the right place to win the eighth title he craves, he wouldn’t consider going elsewhere, especially given the emotional ties he has to the team.
It will give Hamilton and Mercedes a “long goodbye” until 2024, a final year together to try to succeed. But there will also be the awkwardness of the team planning for the post-Hamilton era without his involvement, gradually removing him from high-level meetings.
What Ferrari can offer
This is the big question about the measure. Mercedes has shown few signs of being able to seriously compete for a championship in the last two years, but neither has Ferrari.
The team started F1’s new set of regulations strongly in 2022, going head-to-head with Red Bull before falling back in race distances. While it was the only team other than Red Bull to win a race last year, courtesy of Carlos Sainz in Singapore, Ferrari’s main battle was with Mercedes. In the end he lost the race for second place in the championship by three points.
Like Mercedes, Ferrari has promised an overhaul of its car this year, which will feature 95 percent new components. It will lay the groundwork for Hamilton’s first Ferrari F1 in 2025, the last under the current rule set before the design rules change significantly again for 2026. That is the year most considered to offer the best chance of ending the dominance of Verstappen and Red Bull.
Hamilton’s age must also be taken into account. He will be 40 years old when he joins Ferrari, and although he remains in peak physical condition and has expressed no doubts about his long-term future, he is not in a position to invest in a long-term project like many of his younger colleagues. homologs.
It means there should be immediate success once Hamilton joins in 2025, but his pending arrival will only help build momentum at Maranello. The team is on a recruiting drive, and the lure of working with Hamilton can only help it attract top-level technical talent that could help in its bid to win another championship.
We have a pure competitive level, going from Mercedes to Ferrari seems like a lateral move. But there’s one thing Ferrari offered Hamilton that Mercedes (and, frankly, no other team) can’t.
The romance behind the move
Ferrari has always enjoyed a mythical air in F1. It is rooted in the history of the sport. You think of F1 and you think of Ferrari.
No team has so much prestige and skill. Even in non-championship fall periods, such as the current one dating back to 2008, it remains a team that most drivers dream of racing with for a day. Toto Wolff, Mercedes team principal, even acknowledged in 2019 that “it is probably in every driver’s head to drive for Ferrari one day.”
However, as Vettel once said: “Everyone is a Ferrari fan. Even if they say they are not, they are Ferrari fans.”
There is a certain degree of romance behind the move. Hamilton has owned Ferrari road cars and has a close friendship with John Elkann, president of Ferrari. He will also see Hamilton meet with Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur. Hamilton raced for Vasseur’s ART Grand Prix team when he was in the ranks leading up to F1, and they have remained in close contact ever since.
Hamilton has always had great respect for the history of F1. He is passionate about his roots and his history, which means that the weight of Ferrari will not go unnoticed by him. It is a team that many of the biggest names in F1 have driven for at some stage in their careers.
Winning with Ferrari is, in many ways, the definitive F1 story and could be huge for Hamilton’s legacy. For his final F1 race, being with Ferrari, potentially winning a record eighth world championship would surely be the best way to end his historic career.
The alternative? Ferrari fails to deliver a car good enough to return Hamilton to the top. The strategic errors and blunders that have occurred too frequently in recent years are a source of frustration. There is no eighth world championship.
Even in this scenario, Hamilton still manages to fulfill the dream that so many F1 drivers have, and that very few actually realize, of racing for Ferrari. Seeing him in that famous red jumpsuit will take some getting used to, but now it will become a reality.
It’s worth remembering when Hamilton left McLaren for Mercedes in 2013, when he had only won one race since returning to F1, the decision was widely questioned. It turned out to be a masterstroke. She will hope that his judgment has proven correct once again.
(Featured image of Lewis Hamilton: Dan Istitene, Bryn Lennon/Getty Images; Design: John bradford/El Atlético)