Lewis Hamilton's move to Ferrari should come as a shock to no one

Seven-time world champion will drive his final season for Mercedes in 2024 before moving to rival team

Lewis Hamilton on the podium after winning the 2021 Brazilian Grand Prix for Mercedes. AFP
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Lewis Hamilton shook the motorsport world on Thursday by announcing he will leave Mercedes, the team with which he has won six of his seven Formula One world titles, at the end of the 2024 season to join Ferrari on a multi-year deal.

While some will find it hard to digest seeing the Briton swap the colours of the Silver Arrows for Ferrari red, few should be surprised.

Hamilton is only a few months into a new two-year contract with Mercedes, the team who have backed him since boyhood and who he joined in 2013 to embark on a near decade of unparalleled success in motorsports' premier series.

But there is logic to the switch. Hamilton's lifelong fascination with Ferrari is an open secret and speculation about a potential dream-come-true move to Maranello has punctuated his career.

He has owned the Italian sports cars and, over the years, acknowledged the allure of the most historic and glamorous of marques.

“It's definitely going to be crazy to think that I never drove for Ferrari,” he said in 2021. “Because for everyone that's a dream position to be in.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff recognised the attraction in 2019 when he spoke of conversations with his driver about a possible move.

“You have to simply acknowledge that probably it’s in every driver’s head to drive at Ferrari one day,” the Austrian told reporters then.

“It’s the most iconic, historic Formula One brand out there and I totally respect if a driver has the desire to drive at Ferrari.”

Money is no doubt a factor, though whether Hamilton, who will be 40 by the time he does line up on the grid for Ferrari, can improve on his current deal with Mercedes worth £100 million ($128m) over two years, will not be the main motivator.

The burning ambition to bow out of F1 on a high, something he is unlikely to achieve with Mercedes again, will be. The German manufacturer have won only one race in the past two years, after eight successive constructors' titles, whereas Ferrari were the only team to beat Red Bull last year.

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes career – in pictures

In terms of race wins, Hamilton is the most successful driver in the sport’s history with 103, 12 ahead of Michael Schumacher, with whom he shares the record for the most world titles.

Until now, it had been felt that the bond with Mercedes was unbreakable, but Hamilton could not resist the allure of the only team to have competed in every season of the championship since 1950.

In his statement announcing his decision, Hamilton said “the time is right” for him to make the move to Ferrari while affirming his commitment to “delivering the best performance I can this season” to his current employers.

The announcement is unlikely to harm the relationship between Hamilton and Mercedes for the forthcoming season, with the team already signalling, at least implicitly, that they view Hamilton's teammate George Russell as their pony to back for the long term.

It's a practice not uncommon in F1. In 2005, Fernando Alonso announced he would join McLaren the first time in the 2007 season. The Spaniard still had a year on his Renault contract to run and would go on to clinch a second consecutive title with the French team in 2006 before his departure.

The chances of that happening for Hamilton this year at Mercedes are remote. Max Verstappen looks unstoppable and his Red Bull team are by far the dominant force in F1 today – a position almost exclusively held by Hamilton and Mercedes from 2014 to 2020 – and it is hard to look past them making it a three-peat of driver and constructors' titles in 2024.

Ralf Schumacher, whose brother Michael won five of his seven titles in a golden era of Ferrari from 2000-2004, saw the appeal as the icing on the cake of Hamilton's stellar career.

“I think Ferrari is one of the places to be in the history of Formula One,” he told Sky Sports television.

“Especially for a driver like Lewis that achieved almost everything and was very unlucky not to be eight-time world champion, to be honest.

“For him, it is just the dot on the i to make it perfect.”

Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion, suspected Hamilton would have stayed at Mercedes if he thought there was a real chance of winning a record eighth title there.

“He's got to the point where he's probably heard the music coming out of Mercedes maybe a few too many seasons and started to think 'well, I need to invigorate my final years in Formula One, what better way to do it than to drive for Ferrari'?”

“At least I've got a chance. If it goes wrong, at least I've tried.”

Published: February 02, 2024, 8:15 AM