Giles Richards explains that Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari is similar to his previous daring choices.
Lewis Hamilton’s highly unexpected switch to Ferrari has ensured that, on transfer deadline day, the biggest deal of all was done in Formula One not football. Never one to shy away from a challenge, the seven-time world champion is making his boldest ever move in the last roll of the dice in his career.
This is a breathtaking and exhilarating deal. In opting to leave Mercedes for Ferrari in 2025 Hamilton has made the most significant team switch of the century. Having signed a new deal with Mercedes in August last year, and after years of repeatedly denying rumours of a move to Ferrari, the 39-year-old has declared his intent to finish his career with the most famous, most storied and most successful team in F1 history.
It was definitely surprising, considering that just last season Hamilton had stated he was content and self-assured with Mercedes, the team he has earned six out of his seven titles with, and had planned to stay with them for the rest of his career. While his choice may seem unusual, there are similarities to his previous decisions that cannot be overlooked.
In late 2012, after achieving his first championship with McLaren in 2008, he declared his departure from the team to join Mercedes in 2013. This choice sparked similar concerns and received criticism. McLaren had a history of winning championships while Mercedes, as a newer team, were not yet established as top contenders.
Some believed it was a fatal move for his career, but just one year later, Hamilton won the title and went on to secure five more as his team dominated eight consecutive constructors’ championships. Hamilton made the decision to join based on the potential shown by team principal Ross Brawn and former world champion Niki Lauda, particularly for the new 2014 regulations. He had a good feeling about it and decided to go for it, following his instincts.
Their reasoning has been proven to be highly effective, and it’s difficult not to believe that similar thinking is what drove this decision. It’s clear that there is a touch of romanticism in his choice. Who wouldn’t want to be a driver for the prestigious Scuderia team? To have the opportunity to drive the iconic red cars of the prancing horse is to become a part of Formula One history, as Ferrari has competed in every world championship since its inception in 1950. It’s a chance to be at the center of the intense and enchanting world of Ferrari, a brand known worldwide for its excellence.
However, it is probable that Hamilton’s motivation was fueled primarily by the belief that Ferrari, not Mercedes, offers the greatest opportunity for him to secure an eighth championship title. He has a strong relationship with team principal Fred Vasseur, having previously raced for him in GP3 and F2. It is likely that Ferrari provided Hamilton with sufficient evidence to convince him that they have the capability to provide him with the desired car, whether it be in 2025 or with the upcoming regulation change in 2026.
Reworded: Hamilton’s desire to add Ferrari to his resume before leaving is not the only factor at play. He must also have confidence in his ability to win a championship with the team. This lack of confidence in Mercedes has become evident in the past two seasons when they provided an uncompetitive car. Despite claiming otherwise, he does not believe they are the strongest team to challenge Max Verstappen and Red Bull.
This is a responsibility he understands should not be taken lightly. Ferrari has not achieved a drivers’ championship since Kimi Räikkönen claimed the title in 2007, barely edging out Hamilton in his thrilling first season.
The Scuderia has faced its longest period without success, which has proven to be a formidable obstacle. Over the last 15 years, two world champions, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, joined Ferrari with hopes of achieving greatness in their careers. However, both left disappointed and without a championship title.
Similar to his teammates, Hamilton will need to adjust to a different team after being in the comfort of Mercedes for 12 years. This will be a challenging task that he must tackle quickly. The team has consistently struggled in recent times, having been defeated by Mercedes in the previous season. They have been lacking in their operations and tactics, often struggling under pressure. However, there has been some improvement since Vasseur took over last season.
The pressure is a key aspect that he must take into account and accept. Hamilton is familiar with being closely observed, as he enters his 17th season in the sport, but this time it will be at a whole new level. The demands from Ferrari fans, known as the tifosi, are always high, but with a driver of his talent and expertise, they will be even greater.
He understands the significance of victory to them and how they hold drivers dear. Despite only winning three races for Ferrari in two years, Nigel Mansell earned their admiration for his unwavering drive and persistence, earning him the nickname Il Leone – The Lion. One can only imagine their reaction if Hamilton were to finally secure the championship.
It is a significant achievement for Ferrari. Accomplishing this shows their strong determination. They will have the top two drivers on the racing grid, with Charles Leclerc, a talented young driver, and Hamilton, who brings valuable experience. If their goal is to prepare for 2026, no other driver can contribute as much to the team.
Unfortunately, Mercedes will greatly miss his presence. Toto Wolff, the team leader, has developed a strong friendship with Hamilton and their bond has always been considered a key factor in his commitment to the team. Wolff will understandably feel hurt and his team now faces the difficult challenge of finding a replacement for a driver who is nearly impossible to replace. There are currently no contenders who possess Hamilton’s level of talent and status, leaving a void in the team’s core.
Now Hamilton must forge a similar relationship at Maranello after an audacious, invigorating decision that has to be admired. Hamilton has nothing left to prove, already standing as the most successful F1 driver of all time. But if he delivers championship success at Ferrari, the deal done on transfer deadline day in 2024 will be remembered as the moment he opened the final chapter of what will stand as the greatest legacy in F1.