F1 success followed Lewis Hamilton across teams before… Can it happen again with Ferrari?
Just when Formula One’s driver market appeared settled for the foreseeable future, the sport has been rocked by the revelation that Lewis Hamilton will join Ferrari from 2025.
Despite speculation concerning a move to Maranello over the previous twelve months, the seven-time World Champion ultimately inked a contract extension with Mercedes, which was set to run until the conclusion of next season.
The news that the Briton will now indeed link up with the Prancing Horse next year is arguably the biggest story since Hamilton himself defected from McLaren to Mercedes in 2013.
It’s been a crazy few days which have been filled with a whole range of emotions.
But as you all now know, after an incredible 11 years at Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team, the time has come for me to start a new chapter in my life and I will be joining Scuderia Ferrari in 2025.
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) February 3, 2024
Charles Leclerc & Lando Norris recently committed their long-term futures to Ferrari & McLaren respectively, raising fears that the silly season would prove anticlimactic.
These have been allayed by Hamilton’s move, which will see him powered by something other than a Mercedes for the first time in his F1 career, and will stretch to two decades on the grid following confirmation of a multi-year contract.
Hamilton will complete a twelfth campaign for Mercedes this season, a record tenure with any team in the sport’s history, before making the switch to his third outfit.
Derided for departing McLaren, who handed Hamilton his debut in 2007 after backing his junior career and with whom he claimed his first title in 2008, the Briton’s gamble on Mercedes proved inspired.
Whilst McLaren didn’t win another race after his exit until 2021, Hamilton went on to six titles between 2014 and 2020, and was only denied another by acrimonious circumstances at the 2021 finale in Abu Dhabi.
With Red Bull’s resurgence as the dominant force over the past couple of seasons, the relationship between Hamilton and Mercedes has appeared strained on several occasions.
The size zero sidepod philosophy in 2022 under the sport’s new regulations led the team down a developmental hole from which they haven’t recovered, and strategic decisions have been questioned by Hamilton.
Alongside his pursuit of a record eighth drivers’ championship, Hamilton, who will turn 40 before his first race with Ferrari, will also be seeking to become the first driver to claim titles with three teams.
Considering Ferrari hasn’t won either crown since 2008 and earned an unenviable reputation for repeated strategic blundering over the past decade, it’s a gamble by Hamilton, yet one which appears no riskier than seeing out his career at Mercedes.
Perhaps Hamilton saw enough at Brackley to convince him that Mercedes will be unable to emulate the success it enjoyed following the 2014 regulation reset. To that end, the 2026 overhaul looms as Hamilton’s final opportunity to enjoy the best car on the grid. At worst, Hamilton’s compensation will be the prestige of having been a Ferrari driver.
The relationship dynamic with Leclerc, who is only just entering his prime, and has been the de-facto number one driver since Sebastian Vettel’s departure in 2020, will be one to watch.
Leclerc, having just re-signed with Ferrari, must be confident that he can handle Hamilton, and the Monegasque would be cognisant how much his reputation would be enhanced if he can beat the Briton.
Hamilton has enjoyed the measure of all of his team-mates, and in entering the final act of his career and joining an operation based around Leclerc, prevailing over him would solidify his legacy irrespective of any championship glory.
All of this leaves Ferrari incumbent, Carlos Sainz, without a drive following this season. Outside of a straight swap replacing Hamilton at Mercedes, the Spaniard has been linked to a Sauber berth, ahead of the Swiss operation becoming Audi, with whom his rallying legend father and namesake shares close ties, from 2026.
Another possibility is a ‘return’ to Red Bull, where Sainz would be reunited with Max Verstappen, whom he partnered at the energy drinks’ giant’s junior outfit, then Toro Rosso, when the pair made their respective debuts in 2015.
Whoever does replace Hamilton at Mercedes has massive shoes to fill, just as Hamilton did when he succeeded Michael Schumacher in 2013.
Despite his chequered history with the manufacturer whilst at McLaren alongside Hamilton in the infamous 2007 season, which culminated in the German manufacturer picking up the tab for a $100 million fine over the ‘Spygate’ espionage scandal, Fernando Alonso joining Mercedes would arguably be as big as Hamilton joining Ferrari.
The Spaniard returned to the sport in 2021, resuming his eternal pursuit of a third title which has eluded him since his last in 2006. Despite turning 43 this year, Alonso remains as fit as he’s ever been and has spoken of wanting to continue beyond his current contract.
If not Alonso, there’s a Mercedes reserve driver named Mick Schumacher. That would be some poetry in motion. Otherwise, could Sebastian Vettel be tempted out of retirement? What’s certain is that many parties will be expressing an interest in the looming vacancy.
Alex Albon will be sending his regards after resurrecting his career at Williams over the past few seasons, whilst Mercedes has prodigy Kimi Antonelli on its’ books, though the opportunity could be deemed too early for the Italian, who turns 18 this year.
That’s all for the coming twelve months to unravel, for now everybody continues to digest Formula One’s most sensational news in years.
Before all of this comes to pass and we’re presented with the once unfathomable image of Lewis Hamilton sitting in a Ferrari, there are still 24 races remaining to witness the statistically greatest driver-team combination the sport has seen.