Lewis Hamilton’s shock move away from Mercedes is the biggest driver switch since Lewis Hamilton’s shock move to Mercedes, and it caught everyone by surprise.
While 2025 looked like it could be a big year in terms of the Formula 1 driver market, Hamilton was supposed to be one of those not involved after having signed a multi-year contract extension with Mercedes late last year.
But that deal had break clauses, and the potential for other moves meant questions were always being asked. While Carlos Sainz did have serious talks to remain at Ferrari, there was always a feeling he wasn’t getting the full commitment from the Scuderia, and before an agreement was signed, Ferrari chairman John Elkann was made aware there was a real possibility of getting the most successful driver in F1 history.
Team principal Fred Vasseur has a positive history with Hamilton, as it was his ART Grand Prix teams that took the Briton to Formula 3 Euro Series and GP2 Series titles in 2005 and 2006 respectively before he made the sensational step up to F1 as a rookie with McLaren. But it was Elkann who really pushed for the biggest names in the most historic cars, and Hamilton had a decision to make.
The Mercedes partnership has been immensely successful, and Hamilton has been involved with so many projects off-track too that it felt like he was staying put until the end of his career. But Ferrari has a romantic pull that no other team on the F1 grid can match, and much like Michael Schumacher went to Maranello to try and bring an end to the team’s drivers’ championship drought, Hamilton now follows in the footsteps of the man he’s level on seven titles with.
Hamilton will be 40 at the time of the move, and will join Ferrari heading into the final year of the current regulations. Perhaps Mercedes will have righted the ship and produced a car capable of challenging Red Bull this year, but if so then Hamilton still gets to drive it for the next 24 races. And if not, the chances of it doing so in 2025 after three underwhelming years would be lower, with focus likely to switch to the new regulations in 2026.
Ferrari is in a very similar position, having fought Mercedes for the runner-up spot to Red Bull — once successfully and once unsuccessfully — in each of the past two seasons. But it’s a team that looked more settled and stable towards the end of 2023, and came very close to overturning a significant deficit compared to Mercedes in the battle for second place.
There was clearly raw pace in last year’s car out of Maranello, too, with seven pole positions (five for Charles Leclerc and two for Sainz) compared to the solitary qualifying success for Mercedes courtesy of Hamilton in Hungary. And of course it was Sainz who won from pole in Singapore to prevent Red Bull securing a clean sweep of the season.
That all adds to the move not actually posing that much of a risk to Hamilton. If he’s going to drive for Ferrari at any stage, it has to be now as he enters the final phase of his career, and he’s picking between two teams with huge resources and histories but that are still likely to be a step behind Red Bull.
So the gamble is for 2026 and which team might get it right then. The only recent indicator is Mercedes got it very wrong at the start of the last set of regulations and Ferrari initially had a car to race Red Bull with. Given that, and no chance of a seat at Red Bull, why not experience what it’s like to be a Ferrari driver and take what is expected to be an even bigger payday to go with it?
With all the records Hamilton has, he has nothing left to prove in F1. But he could write the finest final chapter to his career with a Ferrari title, especially if it meant getting the better of Leclerc in what is a blockbuster pairing.
Charles Leclerc (left) and Lewis Hamilton will have a lot to talk about over the next few years.
Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images
In some ways, Mercedes only has itself to blame in not providing Hamilton with a car that he couldn’t walk away from in the past two years, but sometimes a change of scenery is refreshing for all concerned. And given the recent success and potential within the team — not to mention the huge number of drivers out of contract in 12 months — there will be no shortage of suitors for the vacancy in 2025.
Sainz’s availability might well be of interest, and Alex Albon’s stock has been rising at Williams, while Fernando Alonso will almost certainly keep himself available just in case the car is particularly competitive this season. In George Russell the team has its future — even if he endured a tough spell last year — so it could go for a more experienced teammate, but also has an exciting talent rapidly rising through the ranks in Kimi Antonelli.
The Italian will race in Formula 2 for the first time this year, and although it would be a huge ask for him to put himself in the frame for an F1 seat that quickly, stranger things have happened. Just imagine Lewis Hamilton in a Ferrari.