Why will Lewis Hamilton move to Ferrari and who will replace him at Mercedes?

Seven-time world champion is leaving Silver Arrows to join evocative Italian Formula One team

Lewis Hamilton has been with the Mercedes F1 team since 2013. EPA
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One of the most successful partnerships in Formula One history will come to an end in 2025 when Lewis Hamilton leaves Mercedes to drive for rival team Ferrari.

It was announced on Thursday evening that after more than 10 years at Mercedes, the seven-time world champion would be leaving for pastures new.

Hamilton moved from McLaren to Mercedes in 2013 and won six of his seven titles with the Silver Arrows. His 103 race victories are an F1 record, but his last win was in the penultimate race of the 2021 season as Mercedes have struggled to get its new car up to speed against rivals Red Bull.

Why will he join Ferrari?

It is well known that Hamilton, now 39, had long harboured ambitions of driving the Italian team, F1's most famous and evocative outfit.

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.

A move to Ferrari raises eyebrows because Hamilton had signed a two-year contract with Mercedes for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, but that deal contained a clause allowing him to leave after one season.

The team's struggles in recent years have been well documented with Hamilton openly exasperated at his car's lack of competitiveness as his dreams of winning a record eighth title – taking him clear of Ferrari great Michael Schumacher – appeared more and more remote in the face of Red Bull and Max Verstappen's domination.

Cracks in the relationship became larger in 2023 when Hamilton claimed the team did not listen to his complaints about the previous season's car. “Last year, there were things I told them, I said the issues that are with the car,” said Hamilton after finishing a distant fifth in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

“I’ve driven so many cars in my life, I know what a car needs, I know what a car doesn’t need. And I think it’s really about accountability. It’s about owning up and saying, ‘Yeah, you know what, we didn’t listen to you, it’s not where it needs to be’.”

Problems continued throughout 2023 and Hamilton admitted ahead of the Abu Dhabi GP in November, that he could not wait for the season to end. “I don’t have any answers,” he said after qualifying 11th at Yas Marina Circuit. “It is just a very unpredictable car and it has been all year. I wouldn’t say I am relieved, but I am definitely happy it is nearly over.”

And now, the chance of attempting to win Ferrari's first drivers' title since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 and write his name into the team's gilded history books – alongside the likes of Alberto Ascari, Niki Lauda and Schumacher – has clearly tempted Hamilton into a change.

His new teammate will be Charles Leclerc, the 26-year-old Monegasque driver with five Grands Prix wins to his name who finished second to Verstappen in the 2022 campaign but dropped to fifth in the standings last season.

Who will replace Hamilton at Mercedes?

This is where things get particularly complicated for the Silver Arrows. Not only are they going to have to adjust to losing someone who had been the team's heartbeat and driving force for so long, but they are also going to have to find someone to replace him.

The easy part is who becomes lead driver. Hamilton's countryman George Russell has made an impressive start to F1 life despite the hindrance of an unreliable car.

The 25-year-old's qualifying pace has matched his illustrious colleague over their two seasons together with Russell outscoring his colleague by 35 points in 2022, although Hamilton beat Russell by 59 points last season.

But the big question is: Who comes in? Of the other top drivers left on the grid – Verstappen, Fernando Alonso, Leclerc and Llando Norris – only Aston Martin's Alonso is not contractually committed for 2025.

Former F1 champion Jenson Button has nailed his colours to the mast. “I admit I have a kind of crush on my former teammate, but I would love to see Alonso with Russell,” said the Briton, who drove alongside Alonso at McLaren.

“He’s 42 years old, but he’s still so hungry and he drives every day like he’s in a kart. If he arrives, he and Russell will be a good couple and work well together.”

One possibility could be the man who has paid the price for Hamilton's move. Carlos Sainz, 29, will be leaving Ferrari after three seasons at the team that has seen the Spaniard finish fifth, fifth and seventh in the drivers' championship.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo has been linked with a move to Mercedes before and it would not be surprising if the 34-year-old is linked again now that a seat is free. He is currently contracted with Red Bull having been loaned to sister team AlphaTauri (now rebranded as Visa Cash App RB Formula One Team – or RB for short).

Also on the shortlist will be Williams' Alex Albon – the 27-year-old London-born Thai who scored 27 points last season including seven top-10 finishes – and Alpine's French driver Esteban Ocon – also 27, who has one GP win and three podiums to his name, scoring 58 points in 2023.

Updated: February 02, 2024, 10:43 AM