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Formula 1

Four things Hamilton's revealed about Ferrari switch - and one he hasn't

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
7 min read

Lewis Hamilton's big Formula 1 move to Ferrari has been public knowledge for nearly a month now - but it took until day three of testing for the man at the centre of the F1 sensation to talk about it at length.

That wasn't due to any contractual hush-hush, of course, but just timing. Hamilton acknowledged the move on social media but it was never going to be a central topic of discussion during the Mercedes launch - and it was only the final day of the three-day pre-season test in Bahrain that he faced assembled media for the first time in 2024 and was inevitably quizzed on his post-Mercedes future.

In the end, even in a multi-driver press conference, Hamilton's 2025 move wound up a relatively extensive part of the agenda - and it allowed him to clear up some more things about his decision, even if some other factors were left unsaid.

The change of plans

Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff, when discussing Hamilton's decision to sign with a rival just months after committing to a contract extension, clearly regarded it as a change of heart from the seven-time champion - even if it was one that the possibility of had been acknowledged by both parties.

And though we now know that two-year extension with Mercedes contained the exit clause after one year that makes this Ferrari move possible, Hamilton insists that move really wasn't on the cards at the time of the original agreement. It was only right at the end of 2023 that he was made the offer that turned his head.

"In summer we signed - and at that time I saw my future with Mercedes. But an opportunity came up at the end of the year and I decided to take it," said Hamilton.

"It was obviously the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make - I’ve been with Mercedes for, I think, 26 years now. They’ve supported me and we’ve had an absolutely incredible journey together. We’ve created history within the sport, and it’s something I take a lot of pride in. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved.

"But ultimately, I’m writing my story and I felt like it was time to start a new chapter."

The roots of his Ferrari affinity

The lure of driving for Ferrari one day was always there in the background for Hamilton, as it has been for so many F1 greats.

"For every driver, growing up, watching history, watching Michael Schumacher in his prime, I think all of us probably sit in our garage, you see the screen pop up and you see a driver in the red cockpit and you wonder what it would be like to be surrounded by the red," Hamilton said.

"You go to the Italian Grand Prix and you see the sea of red Ferrari fans, and you can only stand in awe of that.

"Even as a kid I used to play GP2 [Grand Prix 2, the 1996 video game] as Michael [Schumacher] in that car, so it definitely is a dream and I’m really, really excited about it."

The Geoff Crammond-designed GP2 was released as a simulation of the 1994 F1 season - so a little bit before Schumacher's Ferrari switch - but mods for later seasons with him in Ferraris will have been readily available.

But what Hamilton also stressed was that - not unlike when Schumacher joined Ferrari - its current barren spell in F1 is part of the appeal.

Ferrari hasn't won the F1 drivers' title since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, and the constructors' title since 2008.

"It’s a team that’s not had huge success, mostly from Michael’s days but [particularly] since 2007 - and I saw it as a huge challenge."

Diversity push continues

At Mercedes, Hamilton has used his platform and pull to spearhead diversity and inclusion, frequently taking F1 to task for what he's perceived as a lack of staff diversity in the paddock and investing in a better pipeline for roles in STEM industries (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) for those from diverse backgrounds.

Continuing with this was always going to be a predicate of any move away from Mercedes.

"I'm immensely proud of the work we've done within Mercedes, since 2020 we've made some real great strides in improving the diversity within the team.

"For example, within HR [human resources] we've got a diverse HR group and that will continue beyond me, which is something I'm really proud of - and I'm proud of the team for pushing so far ahead, we're ahead of every other team in that respect.

"There's still a huge amount of work within the whole sport, I'm speaking to Stefano [Domenicali, F1 CEO] constantly and looking to work more with Formula 1.

"Of course you look at Ferrari [specifically], they have a lot of work to do.

"I've already made that a priority, in speaking with John [Elkann, Ferrari president], and they're super excited to get on and work on it also."

The Vasseur factor

The presence of Fred Vasseur - a former team boss of Hamilton's in Formula 3 and GP2 - was another thing inevitably picked up on from the get go as a factor in the move.

But Hamilton has gone as far to say the Ferrari move wouldn't have happened without Vasseur - who Ferrari had brought in from Sauber/Alfa Romeo to replace Mattia Binotto in the previous off-season.

"I've got a great relationship with Fred, obviously I raced with him in Formula 3 and we had amazing success in Formula 3 and also in GP2.

"That's really where the foundation of our relationship started. We just always remained in touch [afterwards]. I thought that he was going to be an amazing team manager at some stage and progress to Formula 1 but at the time, he wasn't interested in that."

It took Vasseur until 2016 to take up an F1 management role, with a shortlived stint at Renault followed by five years at Sauber/Alfa Romeo.

"It was really cool to see him step into the Alfa team and when he got the job at Ferrari, I was so happy for him, the stars aligned," Hamilton continued.

"It really wouldn't have happened without him. I'm really grateful and really excited about the work he's doing there."

The elephant in the room

All those reasons are pretty Ferrari-centric - but this is of course a story where it took two to tango. As Wolff has acknowledged, it took Mercedes agreeing to this escape clause - and it took Mercedes not offering Hamilton the longer-term commitment that he wanted.

How does he feel about that? Does it rankle on an emotional level after all this success? Is that also a contributing factor to the decision - not just the terms Ferrari offered (a multi-year deal from 2025 onwards, so covering at least the beginning of the next rules cycle) but the significance of the fact Mercedes didn't offer that, after everything?

Did anything in Mercedes' trajectory or 2024 preparations that emerged between signing that Mercedes deal last summer and committing to Ferrari for 2025 instead specifically trigger a rethink by Hamilton. All the lures of Ferrari that he referenced existed when he initially re-committed to Mercedes, after all.

But it's the kind of discussion that may need better timing anyway - one that maybe isn't entirely appropriate for the start of another long season with your current outfit.

As he said unprompted: "This [Mercedes] chapter is still not finished. I'm still 100% focused on delivering for this team this year and trying to finish on a high.

"That's a big, big goal for me and the team. I have absolute faith in everyone in the team and what we've done so far is great.

"I really hope that we are somehow able to close the gap to the Red Bulls."

At some point in the future, we should know conclusively whether Hamilton feels Mercedes did him right in how it approached that 2024-25 (now 2024-only) contract or if/when he lost faith in its prospects of recovering its old form.

Right now, though, there are another 24 races in Mercedes black and silver, and a chance to add some more iconography to what is already one of F1's most iconic driver-team partnerships ever.

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