Lewis Hamilton and his good friend Toto Wolff, the head of the Mercedes team, have a tradition of having a casual conversation in the kitchen of Wolff’s home in Oxford before the start of the season. This has been an opportunity for them to catch up in person and discuss their excitement for the upcoming season. However, on Wednesday, this setting became the unexpected stage for the most surprising split in Formula One.
In previous instances, the coffee meetings between Wolff and Hamilton have been highly productive, often leading to the discussion and agreement of a new contract. However, this time, the meeting had an unexpected turn as Hamilton revealed his plan to leave Mercedes and join Ferrari in 2025. This news came as a shock to Wolff and the rest of the F1 community, as it is considered one of the most significant driver moves in recent history.
On Friday, Wolff publicly addressed the announcement for the first time. He acknowledged hearing rumors beforehand, but was still taken aback when Hamilton told him of his decision. This is not surprising given how quickly the situation unfolded.
Formula 1 is utilized for lengthy, drawn-out, and oftentimes tiresome discussions of contracts that can span over several months. With his usual flair, Hamilton seems to have successfully achieved this task with great speed and in complete secrecy.
The rumors of talks between him and Ferrari in May of last year have been denied by both the driver and those close to him. On Friday, Wolff stated that as late as December, he was confident that they were moving forward as planned with the two-year contract they had signed in August.
“We were in agreement during the Christmas season,” he stated. “You’ll have to ask Lewis why he had a change of heart.”
That crucial detail will have to wait as Hamilton has yet to expand on the decision but what is clear is that it caught Wolff and Mercedes completely off guard. Not least because Ferrari, once involved, were willing to move very quickly and very generously to ensure they secured the seven-time champion, whom they have long wanted to persuade to come to Maranello.
According to The Guardian, the negotiations proceeded very quickly and smoothly, with one lawyer even commenting that it was the fastest contract they had ever dealt with in Formula 1. Ferrari was reportedly enthusiastic about the talks from the start and did not hesitate to make a commitment. It is estimated that Hamilton’s current salary is approximately £40m.
The same amount has been mentioned for the new agreement with Mercedes, but sources say the Ferrari package is much higher than this. This indicates that the deal may have been finalized after Christmas.
The choice to depart from the team he has been a part of since 2013, where he achieved six drivers’ championships, was undoubtedly a tough one for Hamilton. It was a bold and courageous decision to venture out to a new team and face a new challenge with no assurance of victory. However, once he made the decision, both Hamilton’s dedication and the Scuderia’s enthusiasm made the transition smoother.
According to a source, once they began communicating, it was a smooth process. This statement may seem modest for something that had such a huge impact on the sport.
According to sources, there is a disagreement about whether or not Lewis Hamilton desired a longer contract with Mercedes, as team principal Toto Wolff has suggested. However, other insiders have denied this claim and stated that it played no role in the final decision.
It seems that Hamilton was aware of the risk he was taking, but he has expressed his desire for a new challenge and believes in Ferrari’s potential. He is determined to win his eighth championship, and achieving it with Ferrari would be the ultimate achievement.
Wolff suggested it was a gamble too. “Switching to Ferrari, maybe rolling the dice a bit, I can follow that decision,” he said. Which is doubtless true to an extent yet Hamilton was similarly bold in leaving McLaren for Mercedes in 2013, a decision questioned as a reckless gamble at the time.
As a teenager, he made the deliberate decision to break away from the familiar surroundings of McLaren, where he had been since he was 13. Today, he is highly skilled in navigating the world of F1, with a keen understanding of the strategies at play and the consequences of his choices.
However, even though there is a significant amount of time between the two events and Hamilton has developed as a character during that time, his approach and reasons for his actions remain surprisingly similar. Both McLaren and Mercedes were caught off guard by his departure to a team he saw potential in and viewed as an exciting new challenge. The situation with Ferrari is reminiscent of this, but now with the added pressure of time passing by.
It appears evident that once Hamilton has come to a decision, the process is just as decisive as any of his moves on the race track. It’s not surprising then that Wolff and Mercedes were shocked when the shocking news was revealed during breakfast on Wednesday.