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Sir Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari - The shock Driver Switch of the Decade

Hamilton to Ferrari

"Maranello (Italy), February 1, 2024 – Ferrari N.V. (“Ferrari” or the “Company”) is pleased to announce that Lewis Hamilton will be joining Scuderia Ferrari in 2025, on a multi-year contract".

Announcements from the Ferrari Press Office don't come anymore low key. Yet 24 hrs later, the signing of Sir Lewis Hamilton had added over a billion dollars to the company's value. As a Mercedes fan, Ken Pearson ponders the switch and what it means for F1.

I've come to terms with it now. This is the move that none of us thought would ever happen anywhere other than an alternate universe. Sir Lewis Hamilton, the most successful Formula One driver of all time who has completed every single lap in the series with a three-pointed star ahead of him, will leave the team that delivered him six of his seven Drivers Championships...but not until this season is over.

If you are a follower of the F1-heavy accounts on Instagram you will see bogus F1 driver/team announcement posts all the time. Most of them can simply be batted away with a swipe and treated like the jokes that they are. However, around 8 am on Thursday February 1st, the F1 world exploded into action and anticipation with reports that Sir Lewis was poised to sign for Ferrari.

I read some of the early reports and quickly spotted the words "could" and "expected" and quickly disregarded them as clickbait commentary to drum up some interest and page views prior to the season getting started. That said, this was all happening far earlier than the usual reports - usually being credited to The Italian Media in some way - of drivers being "on the radar" of a team or "potentially negotiating a new contract" which tend to swirl around during the official Silly Season of the summer break.

Hamilton to Ferrari

Hamilton to Ferrari - Hamilton and Totto Wolfe

It became the topic of conversation in my office and I foolishly described it as speculative nonsense and told my colleague that Hamilton would retire with his current team. However, this time both Sky Sports and were running multiple stories and live update pages about what I had just termed as rumour mill overdrive. This had to be genuine.

If it was then it would surely be the shock move of the decade...perhaps the most surprising driver move since a young, one-time world champion driver would leave the team that he had been associated with since his karting days in favour of a team that hadn't been setting the world or the championship table on fire for the last few years. His name was, and still is albeit prefaced with a Knighthood, Lewis Hamilton.

The rumours kept on swirling, becoming more ridiculous, people noticed a certain two-digit number on a Peroni image to commemorate their signing as a sponsor of the Ferrari F1 team and came to their own conclusions and there was still no denial from either party - had the story been bogus then two teams, one driver and a gaggle of seething PR staff would've denied it by 9 am.

By 7pm it was official and confirmed by a statement from the Mercedes-AMG F1 team which is less than half the length of the post-race press release following the United States Grand Prix where George Russell finished fifth and Hamilton was disqualified. 

The shock of the breakup triggered by a release clause in the contract extension that was only signed last summer is understandable; for the last 11 years, Hamilton has been part of the team and absolutely instrumental in returning the cars and engines from Brixworth and Brackley to the top of the podium.

222 starts, six drivers' titles, 82 wins, 148 podiums, 78 pole positions, 127 front rows and 53 fastest laps. If you look at the stats of how the Mercedes-AMG F1 team has performed since 2010, the majority of points and silverware have all come from Sir Lewis.

Hamilton to Ferrari

It was no surprise that almost everyone expected him to return to winning ways with the team and see out his F1 career with a few more wins and hopefully another championship under his belt before completing his off-track wishes and desires like music production, acting and fashion design whilst being a lifelong brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz. However, the pre-planned ending to the career of an all-time great which has been written by others is not what the main character of the story had in mind.

Hamilton himself has gone on record before as stating that he'd love to drive for Ferrari - who wouldn't? Ferrari and Formula One are mutually synonymous and it seems to be a dream job for any racing driver to have the chance to race and win for the most famous racing name in the fastest racing car on the planet. And this is why I think that he has absolutely made the right decision. He took a risk leaving McLaren to join Mercedes in 2013 and everyone thought he was crazy.

That turned out to be a masterstroke of a move which came at the end of a period of frustration with his previous employers; four wins in 2012 is nothing to be sniffed at but six retirements and one classified non-finish meant that although every race he finished that year was within the points, he would finish fourth in the championship and 91 points adrift of champion Sebastian Vettel.

At the start of 2024, Hamilton is entering his third season since his last win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2021 and his third since being world champion and will once again be taking a risk once this yet-to-start season concludes with moving to a team where there are no existing relationships, different methods and facilities, sky high expectations from the fans and media alike...I could go on for a while about all the things that might be different or could be factors that take time to adjust to or something else that would pad out the next few paragraphs without really saying anything at all.

But I won't. In my opinion, it's not just Fernando Alonso, George Russell and Alex Albon who should be praised for "outperforming the car" over the last few years in F1. Lewis Hamilton has never finished lower than sixth in the drivers' championship - and even then that was just once in 2022.

Even with the challenging 2009 McLaren car carrying the number 1 from winning his first title, he returned points, podiums and a pair of wins whilst his teammate Heikki Kovalainen had a highest finish of fourth that year; he has the proven ability to win in almost everything he has driven and I don't believe that this will change with a change of manufacturer.

Hamilton is a talent that I don't believe we will see the likes of in Formula 1 for a very long time as he has just got better and better with age, remaining as competitive and, perhaps most critically, determined to win as ever. This all feeds in to the first public acknowledgement that his time at the pinnacle of single seater racing is not eternal and that the chance to make a change is now or never.

Hamilton to Ferrari

Hamilton to Ferrari

He goes to Ferrari with one year remaining of the current car generation before the ruleset reset of 2026 when he will be 41 years old. It can't last forever but for a driver who has taken advantage of being at the right team at the right time for two new-regulation cars, I think he will be well placed to see out his time on the grid as the most successful F1 driver in history with the most famous name in F1 history too.

Some outlets have called the move from Mercedes-AMG to Ferrari a "vote of no confidence in Mercedes" which I don't totally agree with. Others have said it's the move that we've all been waiting for. Will Buxton has described it as "the biggest driver transfer in the history of the sport" and I describe it as a surprise but one that I now understand.

To imagine that a racing driver is perpetually patient - especially one with over 100 wins to his name and a long winless streak - is to not understand the desire to win above all else that racing drivers have. To think that a racing driver will prioritise their legacy and their past over their chances of adding to their trophy cabinet is misguided. So yes, Sir Lewis Hamilton has won six of his seven titles and 82 of his 103 wins with Mercedes but he clearly feels like he has more to give and wants to use the one shot he has left at driving for Ferrari to go out with a bang.

Everyone has a bucket list, even those who have seemingly completed and won everything there is to win multiple times. I think that he has made the right choice to leave at the right time to preserve his legacy as a driver for Mercedes-AMG during their most successful era and, provided he wins for Ferrari, further solidify his legacy as the most successful driver of all time, driving for three of the most successful teams of all time. Who can blame him? I can't.


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