Lewis Hamilton looks at a Ferrari, 2018

Why Hamilton to Ferrari once looked like the deal which would never happen

Formula 1

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One year on from taking the reins at Ferrari, Frederic Vasseur appears to have delivered an enormous coup for the team.

Signing Lewis Hamilton promises to not only bring his enormous talent and experience to the Scuderia, but simultaneously weaken one of their top rivals.

Ferrari’s driving line-up was hardly a weakness to begin with. But the speed and youth of Charles Leclerc plus the unmatched success and experience of Hamilton gives them a formidable duo.

Hamilton was rumoured to be a target for Ferrari for years. But despite the obvious mutual attraction between F1’s most popular and successful team and Formula 1’s most popular and successful driver, for many years Ferrari never seemed likely to lure Hamilton away from his team.

Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Circuit of the Americas, 2017
Hamilton’s success often came at the expense of Ferrari’s drivers
When he jumped ship from McLaren to Mercedes in 2012, Ferrari’s leading driver was Fernando Alonso. The disastrous consequences of their partnership at McLaren in Hamilton’s first season made that an obvious non-starter.

Mercedes dominated the first years of the V6 hybrid turbo era and Hamilton began amassing titles rapidly, leaving him little incentive to leave. By the late 2010s Ferrari was a much more competitive proposition, but already had two world champions in its line-up in the shape of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.

By the end of the decade, with Vettel starting to look like a spent force, the time might have been right for Ferrari to swoop for Hamilton. But Mercedes were still riding high, Leclerc had emerged as Ferrari’s new star – and Hamilton’s publicly-stated views on the team offered little indication he was considering a move there.

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The Covid-affected 2020 season was also the year Hamilton took up the cause of pushing F1 to increase its diversity and inclusion. Mercedes repainted its car black and launched its Accelerate 25 programme.

While Hamilton praised Mercedes’ “amazing” efforts to draw more staff from under-represented backgrounds, he took aim at Ferrari. “Formula 1 has come forward and said that they are supporting ‘end racism’ and it’s amazing to see Mercedes doing the same thing,” he said. “If you look at Ferrari who have thousands of people working with them, I’ve heard no word of Ferrari saying that they hold themselves accountable and this is what they’re going to do for their future.”

Ferrari chairman John Elkann weighed his words with telling care in reaction, defending the team’s record while heaping praise on “an exceptional driver” who he clearly wanted to hire one day.

“He has been able to work with concentration and intelligence,” said Elkann. “His move from McLaren to Mercedes was not an easy one. It was not obvious and it was a winning choice.”

If leaving McLaren, which guided Hamilton from karting to F1 to the world championship, was not easy, leaving behind the team which made him the sport’s most successful driver ever would be harder still.

But later that year Hamilton indicated he was open to it, when the time was right. “We talked on occasion but we didn’t go beyond understanding what options were on the table and they weren’t the right ones,” he said.

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“Our positions have never aligned,” he explained. “I think timing matters and things happen in the end for a reason.

Frederic Vasseur, Lewis Hamilton, 2023
Vasseur and Hamilton have a long history
“In recent seasons my contract always expired in years different from that of all the other riders. In the end it went like this.”

Four years later, it looks like those competing factors have finally aligned. Mercedes have ceased to provide the winning machine Hamilton enjoyed for so many years. When or if they might get on terms with Red Bull, much less return to their all-conquering peak, isn’t clear.

Meanwhile Hamilton is determined to race on, seeking the record eighth title he was controversially denied in 2021. He once said he wouldn’t still be racing after his 40th birthday, yet he is poised to begin his forties as a Ferrari driver.

One other significant change at Ferrari no doubt had a bearing: The arrival of Vasseur, at whose teams Hamilton won the 2004 Formula 3 Euro Series and 2005 GP2 championship. The team has gone through a succession of team principals during Hamilton’s time at Mercedes, but now seems to have settled on one which gave him the confidence to commit what will likely be the final years of his F1 career to the sport’s most famous team.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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15 comments on “Why Hamilton to Ferrari once looked like the deal which would never happen”

  1. Assuming the deal comes off, which seems highly likely at this point, then it will be one of those driver moves that always seemed impossible right up until the point that it happened, but with hindsight will be seen as having been inevitable. Like Alonso joining the team 15 years previously, which was often talked about, but rarely seriously, until the moment it was confirmed.

    1. I’m not sure that’s the example I’d use. Alonso to Ferrari was rumoured from the moment he fell out with McLaren and then seriously suggested after round 2 in 2008 when Massa had 2 retirements, admittedly one of which wasn’t his fault. Furthermore, there were very few teams expected to topple the Ferrari McLaren stranglehold of the previous decade as Williams and Honda underperformed. With Raikkonen struggling in 09 and Massa’s accident, along with Hamilton’s close McLaren links, the only option for Alonso and Ferrari was each other. I think the McLaren return in 2015 was truly implausible, but as you say makes sense in hindsight.

      As for Hamilton this time, he’s got a great gig where he is and Ferrari don’t really need a 40yo – indeed they could have replaced Vettel with Alonso in 2021 and went for a long term solution which proved to be short term. So this one caught me by surprise considerably more than Alonso moving to the Scuderia.

  2. Formula 1 is all about aligning the top drivers with the big teams and/or best cars (not always the same). The last season or so have been static and stale. worsened by Red Bull and Verstappen dominating, but really a lot down to the drivers staying in the same teams. Which means no big narratives. Hamilton to Ferrari simply blows that out of the water. Lots of team lineups will be shaken up by this. It’s also culturally healthy – seeing Hamilton drive for Ferrari at Monza, cheered by an Italian crowd, simply can’t wait.

  3. It’ll be fun this year too, seeing him cheered on at Monza as a future Ferrari driver while he’s still in a Mercedes.

    1. I wouldn’t bet on that.
      I expect Ferrari to take a lot of flack from the Tifosi if they sign him.
      They have always despised Hamilton and seeing how LeClerc is “the man” this could backfire big time.

      1. Well that’s not what the Ferrari stock prices are saying. Monster increases there suggest Hamilton as 7 times world champion is just the figurehead they need. His presence also ends speculation on what Ferrari do with Sainz out of the picture.

  4. If this goes through, surely Vasseur has to be the man who gets most of the credit. This guy is no dummy. He has a very strong record, and it’d be great to see it work out at Ferrari.

    As someone partial to Ferrari, I wasn’t too disappointed that Hamilton didn’t get his 8th title but kept the record alongside Schumacher, but if Hamilton gets a shot at that 8th title in red… that’d be fine too.

    1. I consider this move as Hamilton heaping praise on Vasseur

  5. José Lopes da Silva
    1st February 2024, 17:33

    Funny if Hamilton leaves Mercedes one year early, with a full season for saying goodbye with the team working with him, while Nico Rosberg left Mercedes completely without notice.

    1. Tommy Scragend
      1st February 2024, 18:26

      Yeah, that’s hilarious.


  6. Shame, Leclerc and Sainz are a great pair

    1. You have now wonder if the decision to have Hamiton replace Sainz was made back then.

  7. Remember Schuey in Mercedes and what Nico Rosberg did? Or Alonso when Kimi came back to race for Ferrari? Charles Leclerc is going to top it. You heard it here first.

    1. Going to be quite interesting to see who comes out on top!

  8. I am sorry, but Hamilton is going to Ferrari to retire. He just wants to be a driver who drove for all 3 big dogs. From financial point of view it would have been better to retire with mercedes and continue being an ambassador, but I guess he does not care about that.

    Anyways, leclerc would eat him completely. Hamilton is not physically on par anymore.

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