Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes launch, 2013

Will Hamilton’s second change of F1 teams prove as inspired as his first?

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Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari at the end of this year will be only the second time in a 19-year career that he has made a change. By the standards of most drivers, he’s been remarkably faithful to his teams.

On the only previous occasion when he chose to move, many expressed doubts over the wisdom of his decision or scepticism over his motives. But Hamilton’s switch to Mercedes proved an inspired call which enabled him to become the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time.

Looking back beyond Hamilton’s 11-year stint at Mercedes, past all those wins and championships, it’s easy to forget how big a gamble he appeared to be taking when he committed to them in September 2012.

Hamilton began that month by winning the Italian Grand Prix. It was McLaren’s third win in a row and it propelled him to second in the championship, 27 points off leader Fernando Alonso. In contrast Mercedes had only won once in their three seasons since returning to F1 as a full constructor.

Start, Singapore, 2012
Hamilton confirmed McLaren exit after retiring in Singapore
Fans, pundits and racers alike questioned whether Hamilton had done the right thing. “McLaren have the resources, the money, the long-term commitment and huge experience,” said three-times world champion Jackie Stewart. “If I were Lewis I would have stayed with them.”

The timing of Hamilton’s announcement, coming soon after he retired from the lead of the Singapore Grand Prix, led some to claim it was an impulsive decision. Some even suggested Hamilton had allowed himself to be lured away to a less competitive team by the promise of a lucrative payday. They were soon proved quite wrong.

In his first year at Mercedes the team won three times while McLaren endured a win-less campaign. Only one of Mercedes’ wins came Hamilton’s way – a home win at Silverstone escaped him due to a puncture – nonetheless it was an encouraging start.

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But what convinced Hamilton to join Mercedes was the extent of their preparations for the 2014 season, when an entirely new set of technical regulations was due for introduction, including V6 hybrid turbo power units. Mercedes nailed the new rules and in 2014 they began a run of eight consecutive constructors’ championships. During that spell Hamilton won six titles: Rosberg pipped him to one by just five points, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen claimed the other in controversial circumstances in 2021.

Lewis Hamilton looks at a Ferrari, 2018
Analysis: Why Hamilton to Ferrari once looked like the deal which would never happen
Seldom in F1 history has scepticism over a driver’s choice of team been so comprehensively dispelled by the reality of the move. As the trophies piled up around him at Mercedes, Hamilton has delighted in occasionally reminding everyone how many people told his he’d made a mistake by joining them.

Now, 12 years on, there are parallels between the two moves. The most significant is that, once again, Hamilton has made his move a year ahead of a complete overhaul in the technical regulations – not just chassis but power unit as well. That gives him time to bed into a new environment and be prepared to seize on whatever opportunities arise in 2026.

No doubt some sceptics will say much the same as they did when Hamilton last changed teams – that he’s seeking a big-money move, in this case, potentially a final whopping payday before retirement. Of course he won’t come cheap, but his last move showed it would be unwise not to take his decision at face value.

It’s hard to imagine any change of team would result in the kind of unprecedented success Hamilton has enjoyed in his Mercedes career. But a single title, avenging his lost crown of 2021, delivered for the passionate tifosi, would rank as a unique achievement in a career already replete with success.

It’s not hard to see why, when presented with the opportunity, Hamilton took another brave and exciting decision which has stunned the F1 world.

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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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16 comments on “Will Hamilton’s second change of F1 teams prove as inspired as his first?”

  1. José Lopes da Silva
    1st February 2024, 19:15

    It is definitely the challenge he could use to avoid a mellow end to his career. Instead of ending with 2 or 3 winless seasons after 15 years winning at least one race per year, it is a multi-champion duty to take a risk and go for a little more.
    Especially given that he appears to be on the hunt for Alonso’s eternal youth secret.

  2. Probably not, because things like the Mercedes 2014 situation are (thankfully) extremely rare.

    But he can hopefully still have a good couple of years. If nothing else, racing for Ferrari is its own reward. The guy has nothing left to prove to anyone.

    1. Don’t be surprised if it’s Ferrari’s turn to win a few championships, especially after the formula turn around.

      1. Agree. But I think whats being missed is what Merc employees he’s taking with him (if any), and what personnel changes Ferrari are making. The race engineer is usually the first to change. When he moved to Merc, Paddy Lowe and a few others came with him. That could make this move even more critical, as they would bring Merc’s winning ways with them.

  3. Excellent timing for 2026 indeed. Can’t wait to see Hamilton handling a Ferrari with the different suspension, brakes, engine etc. Then on top of that all the ‘Maranello culture,’ how he deals with that change will be vital, though I guess Monaco isn’t too far away, geographically at least. Vasseur is going to have a lot of work too ensuring his drivers keep within acceptable limits – two lead drivers into one team is a big ask. But whatever happens, Formula 1 just got interesting again – including the repercussions this will have on driving pairings up and down the grid and what this means for the Mercedes team and drivers this year. Seems unlikely but imagine if the new 2023 Mercedes is actually competitive with the Red Bull. Russell versus Hamilton in a car that’s a championship contender was always going to be a spicy prospect. With Hamilton leaving? It would have an Alonso 2007 vibe to it.

    1. 2̶0̶2̶3̶ 2024

    2. two lead drivers into one team is a big ask

      This is often said, but it’s actually quite a ridiculous claim to make as a team principal being paid millions that you can’t manage two men.

      This business of effectively handing the best car to only one guy is such a … I guess betrayal of the F1 fanbase. Bottas and Pérez, who are good drivers and I’m sure are nice guys, nevertheless have no business sitting in the best cars on the grid since 2017. They don’t belong there; they’re just not quite good enough.

      Back in the 80s and 90s there were Piquet and Mansell at Williams, Senna and Prost at McLaren, Lauda and Prost at McLaren, Mansell and Prost at Ferrari. This is the good stuff.

      1. Agree totally, just pointing out that Vasseur will probably have plenty of man management work to do.
        Difficult to recall when this kind of configuration happened last in Formula 1.

        1. Yeah, I guess Ferrari tried with Alonso and Räikkönen in 2014. The latter looked solid at Lotus, but was a big disappointment at Ferrari… pretty much until he was belatedly replaced after 2018.

          Button and Hamilton was a solid, double champion, combination, and Montoya and Räikkönen was another high potential pairing, both at McLaren.

          Leclerc and Vettel was good in 2019, but then in 2020 Vettel had a weird and very bad season which always seemed a bit odd.

    3. signing on Lewis to help them develop the new hungry sumo formula is probably a good business strategy.

  4. I like this move a lot. Breaking up the ‘dream team’ feels like the right thing for building longer-term interest in F1.

    So – who will win a race first: Hamilton in a Ferrari or a Hamilton-less Mercedes? At this moment, I’d be inclined to say the former, but it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.

    Can we fast forward through 2024 and get straight to the good stuff? I feel like we all know how this year is going to turn out anyway.

    1. Hamilton in front of Alonso who just signed for Mercedes. That would be super ironic. Although I would like to see Alonso beat Verstappen at Red Bull. But that will never happen given the good ole boy network that runs over there.

  5. To me, this sounds like a driver who has realised the dream of another championship is dead and he knows he’s at the end of his career. Move to the next dream: driving for the most prestigious name in F1. I suspect he’ll do a few seasons and call it a day. He’s seen how dysfunctional Ferrari has been. I don’t think he’ll realistically expect to be any more competitive than Leclerc has been over the last few years. I hope I’m wrong though!

  6. Good on Hamilton for making a change. It would be interesting to know his motivations. He obviously has an insider’s view of Mercedes and their prospects, yet he has chosen to walk. By going to Ferrari he is still racing for one of the “Big Three” teams, but he has chosen the one most prone to self-immolation. If anything, the next three years of Hamilton’s career will be intriguing – his last year at Mercedes, his first at Ferrari, then the new regulations.

  7. Doesn’t make any difference to Max!

  8. Sounds to me like someone downsizing to a still-very-nice retirement home.

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