🔴 F1'24: Four-ever in Ferrari red

Hamilton moves to Ferrari, and really, the signs were there all along...

So it finally happened. Months after signing a contract extension with Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton exercised a break clause allowing him to leave the team he called home since 2013 for Ferrari. This era’s most iconic driver suiting up in the sport’s most iconic car. There’s just this pesky 2024-sized obstacle to get out of the way first. 

Upon signing that contract, announced at the end of August 2024, no-one could have predicted that within months, the 2025 season would be dramatically different as Hamilton has one of the most public and drawn out notice periods any employee could have.

I have previously speculated that the seven-time World Champion was the cork in the bottle towards the true final boss of Formula 1’s silly season, and I had thought he was going to retire. Hamilton and I are the same age, and with seven world titles between us, I sometimes just want to have a lie down, so lord knows how he must feel. But his impending departure to Italy gives a new spin to 2025’s driver market, and there is the added storyline of one of the sport’s most coveted seats available and not many drivers with the pedigree to fill the most illustrious of shoes at Mercedes.

Plenty more on that to come in future editions of this silly little F1 blog, with the likes of Carlos Sainz, Alex Albon, Kimi Antonelli and Frederik Vestin all in contention and maybe other names. Spare a thought for Mick Schumacher, who no one seems to be talking about as a potential contender for the seat despite already being in-house.

But I think there are four big people with some influence on Lewis Hamilton’s decision and I wanted to go through this wild speculation in turn, starting with a man who is no longer alive.

THE IDOL - AYRTON SENNA

You probably already know this, but Lewis Hamilton is an honorary Brazilian citizen. His brilliant weekend there in 2021 further cemented a mutual love with the country, the site of his first world title in 2008 - cruelly snatching the accolade from actual Brazilian Felipe Massa, who had already crossed the line.

And Hamilton has talked a lot about Ayrton Senna. The legendary Brazilian was Hamilton’s idol, and would have been around nine years old when his idol died after a crash in Imola. 

At the time, unknown to the rest of the grid, the then-Williams driver had approached Ferrari and asked for a move to the team. They had both Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger under contract making a move… legally difficult, but when one of the best in the world approaches you, how do you say no?

There might be something of this in Hamilton’s (surely) final F1 move, fulfilling his idol’s destiny by turning out for Ferrari. However, it might not be the only person from his past who inspires him.

THE MENTOR - FREDERIC VASSEUR

Everyone within the staff of Formula 1 teams knows everyone at Formula 1 teams. Unlike most other sports, the whole sport seems to decamp together at race tracks and so you hear stories of teams - rivals on the track - lending each other a screwdriver, or a seat on a bus to the airport or some other measure of support that would appear unthinkable to fans in other sports, the hidden bonds in F1 are deep, especially when established early in a career.

Take Frederic Vasseur and Lewis Hamilton, working together at ART GP in GP2 in 2006, when Paddock insiders were whispering about the lightning quick Brit coming up the ranks.

The Frenchman revealed - days before Hamilton re-signed with Mercedes in August ‘23 - that they were still close and they talked every weekend. 

Ferrari have unfinished business in F1. This incredible legacy of a bright red machine streaking down the race tracks of the world, cheered on by flag-waving Tifosi is the sport’s truly iconic image. But something is unfulfilled. The last Ferrari F1 World Champion was Kimi Raikkonen, way back in 2007. This was Hamilton’s first year in the sport, and he and teammate Fernando Alonso pushed the Finn all the way.

Since that title, Ferrari have imported champions to their team, all of them beaten by someone else. Alonso moved there, and was beaten by Sebastian Vettel. Vettel later moved there and was beaten by Hamilton. Since the start of the century, Ferrari have won six Drivers’ titles, and had drivers with six titles between them parachuted into the team.

This is Ferrari going all in for a title, not necessarily in 2025 and the last season of the current regulations, but the reboot in 2026.

THE BOSS - TOTO WOLFF

One of the funnier things you can do on Twitter, X or whatever it's called this week, is to find the BBC Sport Tweet about Hamilton announcing his move from McLaren to Mercedes.

It was in September 2012 that the move was announced ahead of the 2013 season, and Toto Wolff followed in the new year, overseeing eight Constructors’ Championships in a row, with Hamilton winning six titles, and Nico Rosberg claiming one in 2016 to break up the dominance as Mercedes got to the top and stayed there.

However, in the last couple of years, Wolff has had to intervene directly on the radio with Hamilton. With the bouncing being an issue and Mercedes not able to challenge, Hamilton hasn’t won a race since 2021, and he has never had two winless seasons in a row - let alone one. 

In that time, Hamilton has had to ask whether he gets a point for 10th, had Wolff tell him to stop complaining and just drive the car, had Wolff apologise for how bad the car is and every small step forward has been something of a false dawn.

Yes, it’s a very different job, but Hamilton has been used to being at the top for years, and a decade in the same job has left the company’s star employee looking elsewhere. Mercedes sort of foreshadowed it in a very strange social post showing Hamilton staring into the distance while sitting in the W15. 

As for Wolff, he now has a few fun problems that will run at the same time. One is working out how much information to share with Hamilton as he plays out the season - with the red door opening more and more, Wolff has to decide which doors to close along the way.

Second, is George Russell ready to be the number one driver? Does he have the temperament and the character needed to be a World Champion? And if he doesn’t have it yet, then how does Wolff guide him to being the star. 

And third, regardless of Russell, who fills the seat? Do you take a chance on a rookie, perhaps with a year at a junior team in between - especially with Kimi Antonellii in Formula 2. Do you have a stopgap veteran to mentor Russell and if so, who? Or do you aim at a known quantity, or a star from another team and the commotion that all causes. Wolff’s year has gone from completing a recovery to overseeing a transition.

THE RIVAL - FERNANDO ALONSO

Lewis Hamilton was one half of a new driver lineup when he joined Formula 1, being paired with Fernando Alonso. The pair did not get on clashing as they both went afte the title, and Alsonso famously blocked Hamilton in the pits at Hungary. After leaving his contract early and returned to Renault, Alonso joined Ferrari, falling short in his quest for a third World title.

A few miserable years followed on his return to McLaren during the team’s darkest days, but being part of the team allowed him to take on the Indy 500. Alonso never won it, but remains one of just a few drivers to have won two legs of the Triple Crown of Motorsport.

Graham Hill is still the only person to do it, but there’s another reason why Lewis Hamilton might have gone across to Ferrari - the chance to take on the Triple Crown. Hamilton has won Monaco three times, so that has been crossed off. Ferrari re-entered the world of endurance racing in the 2023 season, taking the Hypercar win at Le Mans. The Italian team broke the dominance of Toyota in the endurance race, which Alonso won twice. 

With Hamilton signed on a “multi-year” contract, why couldn’t he take a shot at Le Mans? And having won that, with the Indy500 left, there is not a motor racing team around that wouldn’t want Hamilton in their car as he aims to match Graham Hill’s achievement.

Ferrari have made clear that this is more than a transactional relationship, using the signing of Hamilton to advance the social aims of both parties, but I strongly believe that this signing is about much more than trying to win that famous eighth Formula 1 title.

As for who fills the seat? That feels like the next blog idea sorted. Whatever happens in the two weeks of car launches and Sakhir testing, nothing in Formula 1 - or potentially sport in general - is going to overshadow Hamilton joining Ferrari.

The new era officially starts in 2026, but Hamilton is going to shake the sport up one year early.

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