Formula 1

Winners and losers from Hamilton's Mercedes-to-Ferrari switch

8 min read

Lewis Hamilton's impending move to Ferrari is without doubt the most astounding Formula 1 driver market news of the 21st century - and a change that has huge implications not just for all parties involved but the wider F1 driver market too.

Those ramifications inevitably mean there are plenty who stand to gain from such a seismic change - and one particularly obvious loser from it all, too.

Winners

Ferrari

A statement of intent and a spectacular outfoxing of a major long-term rival, yes. But also a confirmation of that increasingly iconic Sebastian Vettel adage - that everyone is a Ferrari fan.

Ferrari was outscored by Mercedes last year, hasn't taken a title challenge down to the wire since 2012, hasn't won a title since 2008. But it's still Ferrari - and still capable of making the greats feel like gearing up in Scuderia red is a box they must tick.

There was no pressing need at all to move on from Carlos Sainz - but being able and willing to do it like this, to change F1's driver market landscape again, to create the closest F1 has had to a true 'dream team' pairing in a long time is frankly, everything else aside, quite the flex. - Valentin Khorounzhiy

George Russell

This is not to say Russell and Hamilton were clearly a bad match or not getting along - I think the evidence to that effect is flimsy - but despite Russell's promotion to Mercedes and two years of very solid service alongside Hamilton, there was very little chance for him to escape 'heir apparent' status while Hamilton was still there.

Now, he's the guy, the proven winner Mercedes can trust to steer the ship now that it's been stunned by Hamilton's sudden impending departure. And he's also the driver whose preferences and demands now must take precedence when it comes to in-season developments of this year's car and certainly the car that follows in 2025.

Mercedes could angle for a star replacement for Hamilton, but short of the very fanciful - say, an impossible-to-imagine-but-weirder-things-have-happened-as-recently-as-today move for Fernando Alonso - whoever fills the void for now will not have Russell's CV and reputation, much less the same level of integration into Mercedes.

He joined in 2022, but the George Russell era at Mercedes begins now... - VK

Andrea Kimi Antonelli

... For a little while, anyway.

It is widely acknowledged that Andrea Kimi Antonelli, the 17-year-old hotshot from Italy, is the clear-cut best prospect on the ladder to F1.

And it has been indirectly acknowledged by Mercedes, in a way. It's had him on the books since karting and is now rushing him up the ladder, with 2024 bringing a Formula 2 move that came sooner than many expected.

Everyone is raving about Antonelli, and it seems almost a foregone conclusion that he'll be in F1 sooner rather than later. But as to his path to the main Mercedes team, that looked less obvious as long as both Hamilton and Russell continued.

Now, Mercedes will not have to think about balancing the extension of Hamilton's F1 career and the rise of Antonelli. And you'd imagine that Mercedes will very much have Antonelli in mind in whatever deal it offers to Hamilton's short-term replacement. - VK

F1

F1's highest-profile driver, joining F1's most iconic team, is obviously a massive win for F1 itself.

This is the move of the boom era F1 currently finds itself in. It blows every other driver market move of the past decade out of the water - yes, including Sebastian Vettel's to Ferrari - and for F1's new audience is the modern-day equivalent of the Prost-to-Ferrari, Senna-to-Williams, even Alonso-to-McLaren moves all three made in their pomp.

It also quashes any fears of a static driver market that might have grown. F1 needs to and surely will make a big deal out of this.

Oh - and there's the small matter, too, of this offering a much-needed buzz not long after F1's Andretti PR nightmare one day earlier. Happy days (if you're F1). - Jack Cozens

Fred Vasseur

On paper, Fred Vasseur's Ferrari hasn't performed meaningfully better than Mattia Binotto's Ferrari so far. You could caveat that with arguments as to the trend line and as to how much the team principal can actually impact car performance, but for now the numbers are what they are.

But on the driver side, this is big win number two for Vasseur - and again it has surely come with the aid of long-term ties with top talent, from before F1.

Just as Leclerc's continued faith in Vasseur, clearly key to his Ferrari commitment, has its roots in the GP3 title he won with Vasseur's ART team, so too Hamilton has an even more successful history with Vasseur.

It's been a while - but Hamilton won Formula 3 Euro Series with Vasseur in 2005 and GP2 in 2006. That will have helped.

But also, it really just seems that top racing drivers like and believe in Fred Vasseur. Simple as. - VK

Audi

Hamilton's decision doesn't really change the list of drivers potentially available to Audi's incoming F1 programme - but it does shift the maths in its favour.

Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg have been floated as potential recruits, and they're good options, but Sainz is better than both. Audi was surely going to make a play for him anyway but now it does not have to bid against Ferrari.

OK, Mercedes may well rival it for Sainz's attentions instead but it surely can't offer Sainz the combination of number-one status and contract longevity that Audi would/should. - VK

Losers

Carlos Sainz

Sainz will have his suitors. He'll be fine.

Audi, Aston Martin, maybe now Mercedes will all surely fax some kind of initial offer to a driver who has proven he is just half a step or so off the highly-regarded Leclerc over a very decent sample size of race weekends.

Maybe even Red Bull may make a play, given Sainz is now easily the most credible Sergio Perez replacement on the market?

Before any of that, though, Sainz will have to go through a full season in which every single day will be imbued with the knowledge that the team he is racing for, a team he has done a lot for (a controversial claim in some corners of social media for some reason), does not want him.

Twenty-four races, gruelling travel, endless sim work and debriefs, with a team that he has no future with.

Sainz's predecessor Vettel, faced with that same scenario in 2020, absolutely collapsed against Leclerc. For the sake of his own market value, Sainz must keep his focus - even if nothing will change the fact his Ferrari chapter is closing. - VK

Charles Leclerc

Leclerc will fancy himself to have Hamilton's number. Age-wise, F1 age-wise anyway, he is entering his prime, while Hamilton is commendably staving off an inevitable competitive decline.

But Ferrari hasn't signed Hamilton to back him up, and the seven-time champion is guaranteed to have a lot more pull within Ferrari than either Sainz or any other driver Ferrari could've realistically replaced Sainz with.

Depending on how Leclerc and Hamilton work together, and depending on how good the car actually is, it could either be a total non-issue or a real headache for a driver who, armed with a new multi-year deal, probably does expect to be 'the face of the franchise' in the coming years. - VK

Mercedes the team

It’s hard to look at this and see anything other than a really difficult period of transition for Mercedes.

There aren’t a host of obvious like-for-like driver replacements out there, especially with the gravitas and commitment to hands-on leadership that Hamilton has displayed, and there’s no guarantee any of its juniors like Antonelli - who is just 17 currently - will be ready for the first team.

Immediate favourites Sainz and Alex Albon might well be stellar replacements, but there are doubts they can come in and do everything Hamilton does - immediately, anyway.

Mercedes is likely to lose out on the driver performance side and on the leadership side, and replacing arguably the best grand prix driver, at least of his generation, is going to be a tough task.

If you were to take a glass-half-full look at it, Mercedes is already in a period of transition where it risks a long-term struggle to return to its heady heights, and maybe the input of a refreshing new driver might actually be a net positive in inspiring a new period of renaissance.

But that’s fairytale thinking. He wasn’t going to race forever but Mercedes wasn’t yet expecting to lose such a pivotal cog in so many ways that aren’t replaceable. - Jack Benyon

Mercedes the brand

Any driver turning their back on a team in favour of another with part of their contract still to run is a vote of no confidence.

For a seven-time world champion - who's won six of those titles, taken 82 race wins, and been an ever-present for more than a decade with his team - to do so is nothing short of catastrophic for Mercedes' image. Not least because Hamilton's not yet had the chance to drive the W15.

So much of Mercedes being the behemoth it is in F1 is down to Hamilton - be that as a result of his achievements or his influence. His exit leaves Mercedes with some reputational damage to repair. - JC

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