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Ferrari's odd handling of the Hamilton-shaped shadow at its launch

7 min read

Whatever its state of competitiveness, Ferrari unveiling its new car is always going to be one of the most attention-grabbing moments of a Formula 1 pre-season.

But in 2024, Ferrari inadvertently overshadowed itself with what it had unveiled 12 days before the SF-24’s launch: the signing of Lewis Hamilton to replace Carlos Sainz alongside Charles Leclerc for 2025.


It was no surprise that the ‘H-word’ didn’t appear in any of the in-house interviews Ferrari released alongside its launch. But for media including The Race there was still the promise of a whole afternoon of open calls with a line-up featuring team principal Fred Vasseur, Leclerc and Sainz.

And yes, finding out more about Ferrari’s winter progress and design changes was a priority, but there was no way the chance to get Vasseur’s take on the pursuit of Hamilton, Leclerc’s take on the potential change in team dynamic, or Sainz’s take on his surprise exit was going to be wasted.

Ferrari wasn’t too keen on that, though, initially requesting that journalists focused their questions on 2024 and the new car. But then they relented and allowed a ‘limited’ number of Hamilton questions.

“‘Please focus on the 2024 car… ah OK you can ask one or two 2025 questions,’” is how Scott Mitchell-Malm described Ferrari’s tactic on The Race F1 Podcast.

“I do understand the logic to a point, because it could have become a Hamilton question free-for-all and all focused on 2025 and with Carlos Sainz sat there it would have been unfair and awkward.

“They’re preaching focus on 2024. And it would’ve just been - in their view - a bit inappropriate and a bit of a distraction to focus on something that’s happening in 12 months’ time when they’ve got a job to do this year and they’ve got another driver as the incumbent of that seat. I totally get that.

“But it ended up an example of F1 being secretive and paranoid about something but not really knowing why, and then it just creates more of an issue.

“I don’t think it needed to be handled in this way - and what they did say in the questions they answered was basically nothing anyway!”

Indeed, having acquiesced to answering a Hamilton question, Vasseur limited himself to “regarding Lewis it’s a huge opportunity for the team, we are sure he will bring us a decent step for the future and it will be a good challenge for everybody” - which formed about 30% of a response that was otherwise different ways of reiterating how fully focused on 2024 he was and how he didn’t want distractions from that.

“The funny thing was Fred Vasseur said, ‘We wanted to announce it before the season to get it out of the way’,” added Edd Straw.

“But all this means is these questions will go on to Bahrain testing.

“Personally I wouldn’t have wanted it to overshadow the launch completely, as I’m interested in the questions about the car and development. So it’s not that we’re purely obsessed with the Hamilton story.

“But it is a big story. I know it’s difficult for them, but it ended up being a little bit of a halfway house.”

As Ben Anderson put it: “They always seem to be a bit needlessly wary. You can’t drop a bombshell like that on F1 and the driver market and then just go, ‘That’s it, we’re not talking about it anymore, we’ve got a season ahead of us and need to focus on that’. It’s not going to wash.”

For an example of what Ferrari didn’t want to happen, though, you only had to rewind a day and a half to the Aston Martin media calls ahead of its launch, when Fernando Alonso was asked so many questions about Hamilton and Ferrari that he had to fairly bluntly demand they stopped. And that was a team launch that didn’t involve any of Hamilton’s current or future employers. That said, Alonso did also spend quite a bit of his pre-Aston Martin launch media call advertising himself to possible alternative future employers - or one in particular: Hamilton’s current team Mercedes.

So what do we think Ferrari should have done? Scott Mitchell-Malm referenced how Red Bull handled the outcome of its cost cap rules breach case in 2022, when it put Christian Horner up for a press conference on that topic early in the next grand prix weekend and let it run until “everyone was just out of questions - and he didn’t really get asked about it for the rest of the weekend because there wasn’t anything else to say. That was actually quite a good strategy”.

Had Ferrari had a separate session to talk about the Hamilton news at some point between the announcement and its launch, “then the elephant’s not in the room”.


The current Ferrari drivers opened up a little bit more than their boss did.

Amid some generally pleasant comments about Hamilton and what a driver of his standing could bring to Ferrari, Leclerc revealed that he’d known the news was coming before he signed his contract extension with the team and that “especially when everything was announced and official, we texted each other” - intimating that they might’ve done a little messaging about the prospect before it was official too.

But Sainz was the person whose take was of most interest on Tuesday. The driver who’d seemed strangely at loggerheads with Ferrari in late-2023 over a new deal that the outside world felt should be a formality based on his performances, and now knew why that deal had never come.

“There was a bit of a surprise like everyone in the Formula 1 world with the news. Everyone was surprised in a way, no? With what happened,” Sainz said.

“From my side you can understand I knew the news a bit earlier than anyone else.

“But I then had some weeks to reflect, to prepare, and some weeks to also get ready for the car launch, for the first race of the season.

“It gives you a bit of a chance to digest, take your own conclusions and focus on the 2024 season that's ahead.”

And as for where he might go next, Sainz knows he might face a dilemma.

“I have ahead of me probably my most important three or four years of my career where I want to make sure I'm in the right place at the right time,” he said.

“I want to make sure I pick the right next destination for me so I'm going to take my time to think about it, listen to all the options, look at all the options and feel confident that when I take the decision I've given myself enough time, with enough information.”


Unsurprisingly, Sainz very strongly pushed the fact that he wanted to be fully focused on his 2024 Ferrari campaign for now. But can he be, knowing he’s on his way out of the team and needs to sort his F1 future?

Mitchell-Malm thinks Ferrari getting the news out so early and so clearly will actually help all parties and doesn’t think Sainz’s situation is as damaging for his 2024 as it might appear.

“If it’s not confirmed or it’s not announced, then you have an equally destructive situation where drivers in your team don’t know their future,” he said.

“Every scenario has ways you can paint it as destabilising.

“I agree with the ‘get it out there, don’t let it distract’ approach. By getting the news out there, you can deal with all the stuff around that.

“You can make sure that Sainz feels as loved as you can when you’re the one heading for the exit door. You can make sure you pick your time to talk about certain projects. You can be on top of narratives like, ‘When will you start working with Lewis?’ or, ‘When will you stop Carlos driving the 2025 car in the sim?’.

“But to not let it be a distraction, you need to confront it early. And that’s what they haven’t done at their launch.”

And Straw was more emphatic still on how little difference the 2025 moves will make to the protagonists’ 2024 seasons.

“The whole thing about ‘distraction’ can be overstated because drivers and teams are professional and it’s in their interests to perform at their best,” he argued.

“It’s only if things get really fractious that it’s problematic or if a team’s really struggling, then a driver might check out a bit as the season winds down.

“But I think people have this sort of ‘soap opera-ish’ view of it, like everyone at Mercedes will be going, ‘Argh, Hamilton’s off to Ferrari’ or Sainz is going to be really surly this year.

“That’s not how these people work. They’re really professional.

“Unless there’s some monstrous explosion over it, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”

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