Can Hamilton bring Ferrari back to success? Uncertainty looms for Leone Lewis as Richard Williams discusses.
Enzo Ferrari had a fondness for his English drivers. In 1958, Mike Hawthorn, known for his signature bow-tie, became the team’s third world champion. John Surtees claimed the title in 1964, bringing an end to a time of chaos within the team. Ferrari passed away at the age of 90 in 1988, shortly after signing Nigel Mansell for the upcoming season. He admired Mansell’s fierce determination and competitive nature. It’s likely that he would have also admired Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton noted, amidst the aftermath of Thursday’s surprising news, that he will be joining the Scuderia Ferrari in 2025. He is already familiar with driving cars from Maranello, as he currently has two in his California garage. In the upcoming year, he will take his connection with the team to the next level, fulfilling the aspirations of any aspiring racing driver.
The signs are uncertain. The seven-time champion is joining a team that has a remarkable 243 victories out of 1,076 races. Considering his own impressive record of 103 wins out of 332 starts, Hamilton is likely not to be intimidated by these numbers.
However, Ferrari has faced numerous periods of intense suffering where they were unable to secure a victory, no matter how much they were willing to pay. This was evident in the late 1960s to early 1970s and continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Currently, they are experiencing another extended period without a drivers’ championship since 2007 and a constructors’ title since 2008.
At the moment, Hamilton is experiencing a period of poor performance. Since his debut season in 2007, he had managed to win at least one race every year until 2021. However, he has now gone two years without a win, which is even more disappointing considering his chance for an eighth title was unfairly taken away during the final race in Abu Dhabi.
At age 39, with potentially only a couple of years remaining at the highest level, he appears to have come to the realization that his current team’s cars are unlikely to match the unbeatable performance of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull before the new technical regulations take effect in 2026.
He will feel nostalgic for the strong bonds he has formed during his time at Mercedes. Toto Wolff, the leader of the team, was the one who agreed to change the iconic Silver Arrows to black as a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement – a choice that would be unlikely at Ferrari, where red is considered sacred. However, even Ferrari has made changes to their traditional red to match that of their sponsor, Marlboro cigarettes. He will also miss working with Mercedes’ technical director, James Allison, and his race engineer, Pete Bonnington.
However, the presence of Fred Vasseur, who joined Ferrari as team principal one year ago, could have influenced his choice. They achieved success together in Formula 3 and GP2 with teams led by Vasseur while Hamilton was a part of McLaren’s driver development program. Now, Vasseur aims to replicate the success of Jean Todt, the only other Frenchman to lead the team. Todt’s arrival in 1995 brought Michael Schumacher to Maranello and oversaw a streak of championships that reaffirmed the Scuderia’s position at the top.
Hamilton silenced the doubters by making the switch from McLaren, a top-performing team, to Mercedes, a struggling team, in 2013. It seems that Vasseur has convinced him that Ferrari now has the necessary technical capabilities to compete with Red Bull and that they will not make the same mistakes that have hindered their success in previous seasons.
Hamilton will be competing alongside the talented Charles Leclerc, who is 13 years younger, knowing that while Enzo Ferrari promoted internal competition, the team performed best when Niki Lauda and later Schumacher held the top spot. Hamilton will have to battle for that status against a teammate who is deeply rooted and valued in Maranello.
Despite facing challenges, the red cars continue to stand out as the only team to participate in every world championship since its beginning in 1950. Initially a new team, they quickly achieved their first grand prix win and went on to celebrate the successes of their nine drivers, including Alberto Ascari who was the first to win the world title.
Nine champions from eight different countries were represented: Italy, Argentina, America, Austria, South Africa, Germany, Finland, and two from England. Hawthorn made history as the first British world champion driving a Ferrari named after Enzo’s son Dino, who had passed away at the age of 24 from muscular dystrophy two years prior. Collins, Hawthorn’s teammate and friend, had formed a bond with Dino during his battle with the illness. Unfortunately, Collins was killed in a race at the Nürburgring while he and Hawthorn were both in contention for the championship.
One year after Hawthorn’s championship win, another English driver named Tony Brooks almost became the champion for Ferrari. In 1962, Stirling Moss, considered the best English racer of his time, was close to racing for Ferrari in F1, but his career was cut short by a crash. Two years later, Surtees brought back the team’s glory, but other English drivers such as Cliff Allison, Mike Parkes, Jonathan Williams, and Derek Bell had less impact when they briefly raced for the team in the 1960s.
The company was still grieving over the loss of Enzo when Mansell brought hope by winning the initial race of the 1989 season. He departed after two years due to internal conflicts, but earned the nickname “Il Leone” for embodying the characteristics that had endeared him to Italian supporters.
Hamilton hopes to leave Ferrari with more than just a nickname. Out of the five drivers who, like him, were already world champions before joining Ferrari, only two (Juan Manuel Fangio and Schumacher) were able to win additional titles with the team. The remaining three (Alain Prost, Fernando Alonso, and Sebastian Vettel) had their dreams of further success publicly and sometimes embarrassingly shattered. As Hamilton will soon realize, being a Ferrari driver means living in a world where there is no room for mediocrity.