What Hamilton can learn from previous champions’ frustrations at Ferrari

Formula 1

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Of the eight Formula 1 drivers who have won a world championship title since the turn of the millennium, half of them – Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen – did not or have not yet raced for Ferrari.

Out of the other four – Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel – only a pair of them managed to win a title with F1’s most famous team: Raikkonen in 2007 and Schumacher five times between 2000 and 2004.

But for Ferrari and its millions of fans, it’s been a painful wait for their next world champion ever since Raikkonen took his only title 16 years ago. For the Tifosi, it’s almost as long a wait as they endured between Jody Scheckter’s title in 1979 and Schumacher’s first triumph in the year 2000.

In that time, Ferrari famously signed three world champions in a bid to try and take motorsport’s biggest prize once again – Alonso in 2010, Raikkonen (a second time) in 2014 and Vettel in 2015. However, despite the many millions of dollars in driver salaries paid out over the 11 seasons in which a world champion raced with Ferrari, not a single one of those campaigns resulted in a world championship title. What went wrong for all three – and what lessons could be learned for when Hamilton joins in 2025?

Fernando Alonso – 2010-2014

GPs: 96 – Wins: 11 – Poles: 4 – Podiums: 44 – Points: 1,190 – Best finish: 2nd (2010, 2012, 2013)

Alonso arrived at Maranello for the start of the 2010 already a firm favourite with the Tifosi. With some major rules changes for that season, including a refuelling ban, and three new teams joining the grid, this felt like a new era for the sport.

His debut in red could not have gone better. Racing around the little-loved endurance layout of the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain, Alonso became the seventh Ferrari driver to win on their grand prix debut for the team, instantly becoming the early favourite to win that year’s title. Through one of the most competitive seasons the sport has seen, Alonso won four more races, all in the second half of the season, to move to the top of the standings heading into the final race at Abu Dhabi.

But what should have been Alonso’s crowning moment as a three-times champion became the most frustrating evening in his Formula 1 career. He led a quartet of championship contenders heading into the finale at Yas Marina, where an opening-lap crash brought out the Safety Car, allowing many in the midfield and further back to make their single planned stops. Alonso pitted two laps after his team mate Felipe Massa on lap 15, emerging behind Renault driver Vitaly Petrov in 12th place.

Over the next 39 excruciating laps, Alonso simply could not find a way by the Renault rookie. With tyres that hardly degraded over a race distance and no DRS, there was seemingly no place for Alonso to pass around the Yas Marina circuit, with only two one-track overtakes occurring all race after Alonso’s pit stop. Alonso came in seventh, still staring at the Renault’s rear wing, while Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel took the win and the championship, denying his Ferrari rival by just four points.

Alonso’s inability to pass Petrov cost him the 2010 title
Alonso’s second season at Ferrari was a disappointment which yielded a single win, at Silverstone, while Vettel dominated. Heading into year three in 2012, Ferrari’s F2012 appeared to be a step behind their rivals again. But while team mate Massa struggled to reach the podium and, at times, points with the car, Alonso finished in the top three more often than he didn’t, taking three wins to put himself in an unlikely showdown with Vettel for that year’s title at Interlagos.

Once again, Alonso came away from a title decider disappointed. In a race that is still the highest rated grand prix by RaceFans readers, the Ferrari driver saw a third championship snatched away from him by Vettel once again following the Red Bull driver’s remarkable come back through the field following a lap one spin.

With two championship contending campaigns in his first three seasons with Ferrari, Alonso could be forgiven for thinking he would get another opportunity to fight for a title for them. Sadly, he never would. Although he won twice early in 2013, the season turned into a repeat of 2011, as Red Bull dominated once again. Alonso took the runner-up spot in the championship for the third time in four years. His home win that year was his last as a Ferrari driver and remains his most recent victory.

When the new V6 turbo power unit formula arrived in 2014, Ferrari were once again on the back foot. This time, Mercedes were the unstoppable force, while Ferrari’s F14T had fundamental handling problems which left them win-less over the season. Team principal Stefano Domenicali resigned three races into the year. By this point, Alonso chose to stake his future on McLaren and Honda, which were joining the championship for 2015, and that fruitless 2014 season proved his final one for the Scuderia.

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Kimi Raikkonen – 2014-2018

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Circuit of the Americas, 2018

GPs: 99 – Wins: 1 – Poles: 2 – Podiums: 26 – Points: 847 – Best finish: 3rd (2018)

In Alonso’s final year at Ferrari, he was joined by Ferrari’s last world champion, Kimi Raikkonen. The 2007 drivers’ title winner had raced with Ferrari for three seasons before taking two years out of the sport and rejoining the grid in 2012, eventually being brought back to Maranello for 2014.

But in his second stint at Ferrari, Raikkonen was seldom the force he had been in his first. Like Alonso he had won his first race for the team, in 2007, but he was thrashed by his new team mate in their sole season together during 2014. That trend continued over the next four season alongside Vettel, who out-scored Raikkonen by a total of 335 points.

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Raikkonen had only one win in his second stint with Ferrari
Raikkonen’s return to Ferrari coincided with the peak of Mercedes’ dominance. While Ferrari never managed to beat them over a course of a season during this period, neither did any of Mercedes’ other rivals. But while Vettel scored plenty of wins and pressure Hamilton for the championship twice over this time, Raikkonen never reached the same level.

There were moments where he would show flashes of the driving skill that had made him one of the most exciting drivers in Formula 1 in the 2000s, but his results were largely unspectacular, going win-less through his first four full seasons back with the team. Eventually, he returned to the top step of the podium at Circuit of the Americas in 2018 with his sole victory of his second spell with Ferrari, finishing third in the championship that season – his best result out of those five years.

Although it did not pan out how he or Ferrari would have hoped for, Raikkonen did improve his results as his time with the team went on, scoring more points with every season. But by the end of 2018, Ferrari had eyes on a young Charles Leclerc and Raikkonen moved to Alfa Romeo, where he saw out the final three years of his career.

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Sebastian Vettel – 2015-2020

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Interlagos, 2018

GPs: 118 – Wins: 14 – Poles: 12 – Podiums: 55 – Points: 1,400 – Best finish: 2nd (2017, 2018)

The most recent world champion to race with Ferrari in Formula 1 is perhaps the one whose tale Hamilton will heed the most caution from. After four consecutive titles between 2010 and 2013, Vettel and Red Bull found themselves well and truly out-classed by Mercedes in 2014 with the introduction of the V6 hybrid turbos – as Vettel himself was beaten by new team mate Daniel Ricciardo.

But Vettel’s decision to sign for Ferrari for 2015 was motivated not by a desire to escape from Red Bull but by his long-held desire to race for the Prancing Horse. After watching his idol and eventual mentor Michael Schumacher turn Ferrari from underachievers in the mid-nineties to the greatest powerhouse in the sport, Vettel arrived at Maranello with a similar goal.

Although Ferrari were not on the level of Mercedes in 2015, Vettel made a strong start to his time with the team, winning just his second race for the Scuderia in Malaysia, as well as two others over his first season on his way to a respectable third in the championship behind the Mercedes drivers.

But after the promise of that first season, 2016 was a complete let down. The championship fight was all about the Mercedes duo, while Ferrari were surpassed by Red Bull with their formidable pairing of Ricciardo and young Max Verstappen.

For 2017, F1 made significant changes to its aerodynamic regulations, and Ferrari were eager to make the most of the opportunities. Vettel ended his win drought in style at the season opener in Melbourne, then topped the championship early on with three wins and three second place finishes over the opening six rounds. For the first time as a Ferrari driver, Vettel was a legitimate championship contender.

He led the standings until – unfortunately – Ferrari’s home grand prix at Monza. But Mercedes and Hamilton’s relentless form after the summer break took all the wind out of Vettel’s sails and he lost significant ground to his rival. By the time Vettel took his fifth win of the season in Brazil, Hamilton was already champion and Vettel would have to look ahead to 2018.

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The next season started in much the same fashion with victory in Australia, followed by a second win in Bahrain in the next round. But while Hamilton caught him far quicker than in 2017, Vettel put up a genuine fight as the pair traded the championship lead over the middle phase of the season. Unfortunately, for a second time, Ferrari just could not keep up in the development race with Mercedes as four straight wins for Hamilton sank Vettel’s title hopes for the second year in a row.

Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2019
Hamilton’s next team mate was Vettel’s undoing at Ferrari
There would be no championship challenge in 2019 as Mercedes were back to being a clear step ahead of everyone else. But Vettel now had a new obstacle to overcome in the form of Charles Leclerc, who had joined him for that season. The much younger Leclerc took two victories and arguably should have had a third in Singapore, where the team’s strategy played out in Vettel’s favour, yielding his final win. The latter was a symptom of the escalating tension between the two which culminated in an embarrassing collision between them at Interlagos.

When the start of the 2020 season was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Ferrari had time to dwell on what they wanted for the future. While waiting for the championship to begin, they decided not to renew Vettel’s contract, meaning he would leave the team at the conclusion of the season – a move which caught many by surprise, including Vettel himself.

When the season eventually kicked off, it was a disaster. During the off-season Ferrari had reached a controversial and clandestine agreement with the FIA following the latter’s investigation into the performance of its power unit. Suddenly their cars were notably less competitive on the straights, and any hope Vettel had of fighting for a championship in his final season with the team evaporated. He was out-classed by Leclerc across the entire year, reaching the podium just once, in Turkey, before being replaced by Carlos Sainz Jnr for 2021.

What can Hamilton learn?

Although Ferrari have not won a world drivers’ championship since Hamilton’s rookie season, it’s not as if they haven’t come close. Had the 2010 and 2012 finales played out differently, Alonso could have twice as many titles as today, and Vettel put up a stronger fight against Hamilton in 2017 and 2018 than he is often given credit for.

Hamilton’s move to Mercedes paid dividends
One aspect Hamilton will be hoping to enjoy from his time at Ferrari is stability in leadership. From Raikkonen and Alonso’s single season together in 2014 to Vettel’s final season in 2020, Ferrari had four team principals over those seven years. Such volatility in the team’s leadership is not the foundation on which to build a solid championship-winning base – especially compared to the longevity of Christian Horner at Red Bull and Toto Wolff at Mercedes.

The second key difference between those before him is how much older Hamilton is as he joins Ferrari. Assuming the 2025 season does not start in early January, Hamilton will be 40 by the time he races for the Scuderia for the first time – much older than Alonso (28), Raikkonen (27) and Vettel (27) were when they did the same. All that extra experience might prove vital to helping sustain a championship campaign over a full season, rather than fading away as the season progresses.

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With talk of Hamilton bringing long-time race engineer Peter Bonnington with him to Maranello, that could well be another important piece of the puzzle. Ferrari’s 2022 season was as much self-sabotaged as it was a case of them being out-classed by Red Bull, with multiple strategy errors and poor communication between drivers and pit wall. Keeping the same interface between him and the rest of the team he enjoys today could prove valuable.

But there is one factor that Hamilton cannot control and it’s the same one that neither Vettel, Raikkonen, nor Alonso could – the performance of their rivals. All three fellow world champions had their efforts to win with Ferrari frustrated by a dominant team and driver. Alonso had to contend with Red Bull and Vettel proving unbeatable, before Raikkonen and Vettel himself regularly had no answer to Hamilton and Mercedes.

Now, Red Bull sit firmly atop Formula 1’s pecking order again. Not even Mercedes have had an answer for them in the ground effect era to date and with two more seasons until the next major rules revolution in 2026, it’s not impossible they will continue to monopolise the championship positions until then – if not beyond.

But then again, Hamilton’s decision to leave McLaren for Mercedes was predicated on their potential to deal with the new power units of 2014 better than their rivals. After getting that call right a decade ago, it’s possible he believes he is making the right decision once again by picking Ferrari. Until then, no one can know whether Hamilton’s move to Ferrari will succeed where Alonso, Raikkonen and Vettel failed, or if he will simply be the next champion who will leave Maranello disappointed.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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22 comments on “What Hamilton can learn from previous champions’ frustrations at Ferrari”

  1. I just think it’s different now. Fred Vasseur is a much better team principal than what Ferrari had in the past fifteen years. It really depends on how various teams handle the 2026 regulations; I see 2025 more as a building year at Ferrari with Hamilton, a lot like 2013 at Mercedes.
    Additionally it also depends on how Lewis Hamilton ages as a driver. He finished last season ahead of George, so he probably still ‘has it’

    1. I still think that best case would be somewhat like 2010 for them. They had stable management, a good car and very good drivers with Alonso and Massa. I’d say on the driver side they will be better with Hamilton and Le Clerc compared to then. On the management part, I really rate Vasseur, but he is still building up stuff and the team lost a lot of that Todt era strength in execution they still lived on in 2010 that is still missing.

      But Red Bull will be ahead of the field, since they are still building on that foundation and could do a lot of work ahead for 2024 in 2023 already and probably will be able to build for 2025 and 26 in 2024 once again. Behind Red Bull though, Ferrari/Hamilton will have competition from McLaren and Mercedes (just like in 2010 there were several teams taking wins).

      1. Im hoping youre right. A 2010 style fight would be amazing.
        What should concern Hamilton, is that for most of the last 14 years, one Ferrari has always thrashed the other (Alonso v Massa and Raikonnen, Vettel v Raikonnen, Leclerc v Vettel). Given Leclerc’s speed, the environment at Maranello this could be Hamilton’s biggest test since Alonso in 2007, or Rosberg in 2016.

    2. Vasseur is B-class team principal, nothing special. I’d consider him an A-class team principal when he can influence F1 to shape rules favorably for Ferrari, akin to the way Toto and Horner do for their teams. It’s worth noting that Binotto has been notably subpar, even by GP2 team principal standards, in his role for Ferrari.

      1. It’s a bit too early to judge Vasseur. There are pros and cons, but lining up Hamilton and Leclerc is a big plus. I’m a bit puzzled why the race engineers have so far been kept in place, but perhaps he feels he can bring them up a level. Something that their operations more generally already did, even if there is still room for improvement.

        The car will be a big moment of truth. The 2023 car was still very much Binotto’s work.

        Politics remains a weak point. The numerous impeding penalties, the ridiculous time penalty for Sainz in Australia, the grid penalty in Las Vegas, the weak Verstappen penalty in the race there… Ferrari is still very much a punching bag. And Vasseur remains untested on some big political moves. Hopefully Elkann has also learned to ve a bit more like Marchionne now that he has settled into his role. The engine freeze needs to be dropped ASAP.

  2. Under Jean todt KR delivered. But thereafter Ferrari mismanaged Raikkonen. In his first stint the politics within the team were unhelpful to him. That was down to Domenicali and Schumacher.
    In his second stint, 2014 to 2018, it was too late. He was just past his prime. The heavy prioritisation of Vettel often ruled out the possibility of wins for Kimi. Some would say fair enough. But Vettel proved himself to be unworthy of that support.
    But at least KR contributed to the development of the car. When he arrived in 2014 it as a jalopy fighting midfield battles. 2016 to 2018 Ferrari were back at the top of the grid and good enough to battle with Mercedes, though not to win very often.

    1. > Under Jean todt KR delivered

      Loved having Raikkonen winning that title but we have to admit it was more down to the feud between Lewis and Alonso than Kimi’s own merit.

      1. Not at all. Kimi did not maroon himself on a little grass island near the pit entry in China, just for one small example of Lewis failings. So yes indeed he delivered.
        He won the most races of anybody. That was down to merit, as Alonso fully acknowledged. The next year it took Lewis every last gasp to beat the mediocre Massa by all of one point.

  3. What can he learn? Im surprised the elephant in the room isnt mentioned.

    He needs to establish himself as number 1. Ferrari are the team order masters. If they’re not telling Leclerc he’s slower then they’ll be telling Hamilton, just like they told Massa, Raikkonen and Vettel at various stages.

    Can’t wait to see how this plays out. It’ll start this year too if they find themselves fighting for position.

    1. That’s unfair towards ferrari, if anything they showed they restrain from using team orders unless absolutely necessary, unlike mercedes and red bull, and sainz for example isn’t being treated as a number 2 despite being significantly slower than leclerc.

      In fact there’s been occasions where they lost points because they didn’t want to upset a driver by giving a team order in favour of the other one.

    2. Tristan,
      Ferrari also has a history of allowing their drivers to race each others. Vettel-Leclerc, Massa-Räikkönen, Alesi-Berger… However, when a world class driver like Lauda, Schumacher, or Alonso is part of the team, full support is the norm. The issue with Hamilton is that he’ll be paired with Leclerc, arguably the fastest F1 driver.

      I would love to see a driver-related issue at Ferrari, which is frankly un problème de riche. The foremost priority, however, remains delivering a championship winning car.

      1. arguably the fastest F1 driver

        Therein lies the rub. Arguable to say the least. I think the 44 brigade will have a lot to say to the Tifosi if they try to say he isn’t.

    3. Isn’t there a danger here, though? Looking at the few squabbles between Sainz and Leclerc, Sainz has been able to press his case and keep his place when he’s been clearly slower and doesn’t have a case at all. Ferrari has been weak on team orders of late when it makes sense to get the guy who is clearly slower to move over and not risk a fight for position. On the other hand, it’s been a bit of a fudge at Mercedes, but I think George has gotten little help from the team the few times he has been faster than Lewis (with them telling him they’re still looking into his request…forever), while he has been asked to move over.

      I was wondering if it would be Leclerc who Ferrari would replace with Hamilton (as bizarre as that might seem), but I don’t think that either current Ferrari driver would be good as a team mate for Lewis. My gut feeling is that he will have the measure of the others, but with Leclerc they have a combination like Piquet and Mansell, where the better driver isn’t that much better, so they might only win the championship in a ridiculously dominant car. They should try to arrange an advantageous swap for Leclerc and hire Perez, Bottas, Barichello, Patrese or Berger!

      1. Hopefully Ferrari has learned from the 2010s that having weak teammates means they are off no help to potential title protagonists. Two strong drivers is much better.

        1. When it comes to the world championship and paying big wages to a superstar driver, it’s important that the team mate will move over when it is important. Piquet claims to have had a verbal agreement about this with Frank Williams because he brought the Honda engine with him (and they paid a lot of his wages). This was not honoured, so he moved on (and took the engine with him to Lotus, who didn’t have a good enough chassis). If this had not happened, both Prost and Senna may not have won as many championships.

          I’m not sure there are too many drivers on the grid today who will do that job, but it’s always possible to tempt a talented but luckless older driver with the prospect of a top team and becoming a race winner, or a younger driver with an understudy role and the hope that they could step up one day.

          Now that Mercedes doesn’t have a driver who can definitely win, they might as well make the boldest move and pay Max silly money to take on the challenge. 100 million? They can afford to do it and should make an offer unless George steps up this year. With the engine change coming, either Mercedes or Honda might be the best bets. I think Ferrari might have made a mistake, unless they talked to Max first and he said no.

          Since the younger drivers can afford to take bets on the engine to have for 2026, it would be nice to see Alonso in Red Bull for 2025 with Perez to cover his back.

  4. arguably some teams invite older champions on to give credit to those they want to see supersede them. And a lot of times this kind of branding, doesn’t really care about real world performance/experience. And this ‘money’ is more about high stakes risk, then actually achieving anything.

    Carlos Sainz beat his teammate last year because hes better than him in a race, and like Russell, Leclerc was only interested in grid position and the favor of his own team. Some times teams reap what they sow, ie Ferrari and Aston Martin.

    1. *would have beaten his teammate had he been allowed to race in Qatar.

  5. Its all about the car and team. Hamilton needs to have enough of a competitive car and team so his magic can make up the difference to the top team /driver combo.

    I dont think the best driver can make up for a car 1 second off the pace. Although they said Schumacher was worth 1.5 seconds in the Jordon….

    1. Schumacher was worth 1.5 seconds

      Compared to Lehto, Diniz and Larini? Probably
      Compared to Hakkinen, Hill, Alesi, Berger, Coulthard, Villeneuve and Frentzen? No. Not in dry conditions at least,

  6. I don’t see Leclerc happily playing #2 to Lewis unless he’s well and truly out of a title fight. Charles got the better of Vettel, could he do the same to an aging Hamilton? Or might we have another Lewis/Nico type battle here? If Ferrari deliver a contender then I think Leclerc could be the biggest obstacle to an 8th title for Lewis.

    1. Agreed. It makes no sense to spend big money on Lewis and not support him 100% If Lewis gets a competitive car and Leclerc ruins his chance at the world championship, then who gets fired? I had said that they should get Perez in, but it would be better to get Hulkenberg if he’ll play ball. Lewis’ race pace is still phenomenal. That, plus his qualifying pace is lethal. He seems to have had a few blips in qualifying of late. Unlike Perez, Hulkenberg is a good qualifier. That’s where you need a number two. Even if he outqualifies Lewis, he should let him through and then help him build a gap. Lewis should have the measure of everyone when it comes to race pace with the exception of Max. Hulkenberg would just have to qualify close to them, start with soft tyres and give Max as much trouble as possible.

  7. If the car is there Leclerc makes too many errors under pressure to take a title from Hamilton. However I think Hamilton has a narrow gap between the tailing off of RBR dominance and Mercedes or Mclaren finding their feet to squeeze in a title.

    The history recounted here is grim. But none of that really points to a Ferrari-specific problem. (We are checking memes aside). They didn’t have the right car at the right time. Even so they did fight for titles with Vettel and Alonso.

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