It’s the end of an era — and the biggest driver move in Formula One history.
After 12 seasons, six world championships and 82 race wins, Lewis Hamilton is leaving Mercedes for Ferrari.
It’s a day most thought would never come. Hamilton himself said last year he expected to remain with Mercedes “til my last days”, and there was “no place I would rather be.”
But the appeal of a shock move to Ferrari, announced for 2025 on Thursday, proved too strong for the seven-time champion seeking a record-breaking eighth world title.
It’s the kind of move F1 fans — and the figures at the top of the sport itself — could have only dreamed of ever happening. Partnering Hamilton, F1’s most famous and successful driver, with Ferrari, F1’s most famous and successful team, is box office stuff.
How Lewis Hamilton transcended Formula One stardom
Ferrari will likely enter the 2025 season with the strongest lineup in F1 as Hamilton races alongside Charles Leclerc, its young star. As ‘superteam’ lineups go, short of the implausible prospect of Hamilton teaming up with Max Verstappen, it’s hard to think of any bigger.
Regardless of the outcome, this will be one of the defining stories in F1 for the next couple of years as the 39-year-old Hamilton bids to write the latest — and potentially final — chapter of his glittering F1 career in Ferrari’s famous red cars.
But why quit 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 arrived between 2014 and 2020, his only defeat in that stretch coming to teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016. Together Hamilton and Mercedes dominated F1, seeing off the threat of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, once vaunted as the combination that could put an end to years of silver success through 2017-20.
Hamilton came within one correct decision by race control at the 2021 finale in Abu Dhabi 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. Fuelled by that heartache, 2022 became the season he was due to reclaim what should’ve 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 it wasn’t good enough to win a title. It wasn’t even good enough to win a race, resigning him to the first season of his F1 career without a single victory.
The struggles continued through last year. Hamilton was often frustrated by the limitations of his car, leaving him to endure another winless season as Verstappen and Red Bull dominated proceedings. After the last race of the year in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton summed up his mood as “not great” and cast doubt on anyone catching Red Bull in 2024: “You can pretty much guess where they’re going to be next year.”
Mercedes had already set about overhauling its car for 2024, having ditched its radical ‘zeropod’ concept midway through last year. Expectations were being managed, but there was greater confidence from the team that the car coming out of Brackley this year would not carry the same “spiteful” traits, to quote technical director James Allison, and that it would give Hamilton a better chance of success.
Hamilton won’t get an extended run in the Mercedes car until preseason testing begins in Bahrain later this month. A first taste will come in a shakedown at Silverstone when the car is launched on Feb. 14, and Hamilton will have driven a model in the simulator which can give an indication of what to expect. But there won’t be a true understanding of the W15 car’s potential until he drives it for real.
The decision to jump ship now suggests doubt in Mercedes’ ability to change course and get back to the summit from which it once looked down on the F1 competition. Were Hamilton fully confident Mercedes was the place to be to win the eighth title he craves, he wouldn’t consider going elsewhere, particularly given the emotional ties he has with the team.
It will give Hamilton and Mercedes a ‘long goodbye’ through 2024, one final year together to try and succeed. But there will also be the awkwardness of the team planning for the post-Hamilton era without his involvement, gradually phasing him out of top-level meetings.
What Ferrari can offer
This is the big question mark over the move. Mercedes has shown few signs of being able to seriously challenge for a championship in the past two years — yet neither has Ferrari.
The team started the new set of F1 regulations strongly in 2022, going toe-to-toe with Red Bull before regressing over the race distances. While it was the only team besides Red Bull to win a race last year, courtesy of Carlos Sainz in Singapore, Ferrari’s main battle lay with Mercedes. It ultimately lost the race for second in the championship by three points.
Like Mercedes, Ferrari has promised an overhaul of its car for this year, which will feature 95 percent new components. It will lay the foundations for Hamilton’s first Ferrari F1 car in 2025, the last under the current rule set before the design rules change significantly again for 2026. That is the year most regard to offer the best chance of ending Verstappen and Red Bull’s dominance.
Hamilton’s age also needs to be considered. He’ll be 40 by the time he joins Ferrari, and although he remains in peak physical condition and has expressed zero doubts over his long-term future, he’s not in the position to invest in a long-term project like many of his younger counterparts.
It means there needs to be immediate success once Hamilton joins in 2025, but his pending arrival will only help build momentum at Maranello. The team is on a recruitment drive, and the lure of working with Hamilton can only help it attract top technical talent who could aid its bid to win another championship.
On a pure competitive level, going from Mercedes to Ferrari looks like a sideways move. But there is one thing Ferrari offered Hamilton that Mercedes — and, frankly, no other team — cannot.
The romance behind the move
Ferrari has always enjoyed a mythical air in F1. It is ingrained in the sport’s history. You think of F1, and you think of Ferrari.
No team carries such prestige and prowess. Even in the fallow periods without a championship, like the current one stretching back to 2008, it has remained a team the majority of drivers dream of racing for one day. Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ team principal, even acknowledged in 2019 that “probably it’s in every driver’s head to drive at Ferrari one day.”
Or, as Vettel once put it: “Everyone is a Ferrari fan. Even if they say they’re not, they are Ferrari fans.”
There is a degree of romance behind the move. Hamilton has owned Ferrari road cars, and has a close friendship with John Elkann, Ferrari’s president. It will also see Hamilton reunite with Fred Vasseur, Ferrari’s team principal. Hamilton raced for Vasseur’s ART Grand Prix team when he was on the ranks leading to F1, and they have remained in close contact ever since.
Hamilton has always held great respect for the history of F1. He’s passionate about its roots and its history, meaning the weight of Ferrari will not be lost on him. It’s a team that so many of F1’s greatest names have driven for at one stage of their careers.
To succeed with Ferrari is, in many ways, the ultimate story in F1 — and could be huge for Hamilton’s own legacy. For his final hurrah in F1 to be with Ferrari, potentially winning the record-breaking eighth world championship, would surely be the ultimate way to end his storied career.
The alternative? Ferrari fails to deliver a car good enough for Hamilton to return to the top. The strategic miscues and mistakes that happened all too often in recent years are a source of frustration. There is no eighth world championship.
Even in that scenario, Hamilton still gets to fulfill the dream so many F1 drivers hold, and very few actually realize, of racing for Ferrari. Seeing him in those famous red overalls will take some getting used to, but it’s now going to become a reality.
It’s worth remembering when Hamilton left McLaren for Mercedes in 2013, when it had just a single race win to its name since returning to F1, the decision was widely doubted. It proved to be a masterstroke. He’ll hope his judgment has proven correct once again.
(Lead image of Lewis Hamilton: Dan Istitene, Bryn Lennon / Getty Images; Design: John Bradford/The Athletic)