Why Lewis Hamilton turned red out of the blue — and what it means for Formula One

Feb 9, 2024


Modern-day sport is as much about off-field activities as it is on-field activities. What happens behind the scenes keeps fans engaged and sustains the game even when it's not being played.

A popular example of this phenomenon is the transfer day deadline day in European football. Palace intrigue over where a player can go and how much to spend spills over into social media and enlivens gatherings, with passionate fans donning their managerial hats.

bomb out of nowhere

The recent mid-season window closed on February 1 and a big news was signed, which shocked the entire sports world. Only, it was not a football move but a transfer to another billion-dollar global sport – Formula One.

Bullshit Lewis Hamilton has announced he will leave the Mercedes F1 team after 12 years at the end of 2024 and join Scuderia Ferrari on a multi-year deal. One of the biggest driver switches ever, it was considered so remarkable that it was discussed on a TV show tracking football transfers that day.

In the past, big-name moves have generated buzz and significantly changed the driver market. But in the coming years, this seismic moment could play out for a few reasons.

For one thing, there were solid reasons behind some notable team changes in the past.

When Michael Schumacher moved from Benetton to Ferrari in 1996 after winning two world titles, his stature had become much bigger than the team and he faced a new challenge: getting Ferrari back to winning ways. Alain Prost left McLaren after being forced out of the team while battling Ayrton Senna. Later, Senna left McLaren to replace Prost at Williams as the competition declined.

However, it seems different as Hamilton just last year signed a deal to keep him at Mercedes until 2025. We have since learned that there was a release option on Hamilton's part to leave the team after 2024, and the seven-time champion decided to activate it, take on a different challenge and fulfill a lifelong dream by moving to Ferrari.

Although at first glance this may not make sense, considering that Ferrari has never been more competitive than it currently is, it could be part of a longer game. At the end of 2012, Hamilton left championship contender McLaren for Mercedes, which had made a head start in the hybrid power unit era that began in 2014. The move has paid off handsomely, with the Briton winning six world titles.

Has Hamilton seen anything from Ferrari that has convinced him the team is ready to deal with the new engine regulations in 2026, or has he seen enough of Mercedes to conclude it is not the right place? Only time will tell whether he has made the right call or not.

already a winner

But what is certain is that even if they win on the track, Hamilton and Ferrari are already winners. Hamilton will get top dollar for his services over the most famous name in F1; Ferrari has significantly weakened arch-rivals Mercedes and created the best driver pairing for next year, with Hamilton joining Charles Leclerc. Not to mention the increase in sponsorship income Ferrari will get with its most successful F1 driver of all time in its car.

New equations: The decision to have two 'Alfas' in the same garage is a philosophical departure for Ferrari, which prefers a clear number 1 and number 2 driver.  It will be interesting to see how the talented Charles Leclerc stacks up against one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport.  ,  Photo Credit: Getty Images

New equations: The decision to have two 'Alfas' in the same garage is a philosophical departure for Ferrari, which prefers a clear number 1 and number 2 driver. It will be interesting to see how the talented Charles Leclerc stacks up against one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport. , Photo Credit: Getty Images

At the same time, this alliance is also fraught with risk. The decision to have two 'Alfas' in the same garage is a philosophical departure for Ferrari, which prefers a clear number 1 and number 2 driver, even if it is not explicitly stated. Although the team may claim that Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have been given similar equipment, it is widely understood that Ferrari is built around the former – or was until last week.

It will be interesting to hear from Leclerc – who signed a multi-year extension just a few weeks ago – when he learned of Hamilton's arrival and how he is preparing to face off against one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport. how are you doing.

In contrast, Mercedes now faces a leap into the unknown with this sudden announcement. Its team boss, Toto Wolff, also admitted that he was surprised by the timing of the decision.

What to say?  Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff admitted the timing of Hamilton's decision surprised him, but said the Briton's departure gives the team 'an opportunity to do something bold'.  ,  Photo Credit: Getty Images

What to say? Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff admitted the timing of Hamilton's decision surprised him, but said the Briton's departure gives the team 'an opportunity to do something bold'. , Photo Credit: Getty Images

Without their North Star and with the likes of Leclerc, Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Lando Norris (McLaren) all gone, the Silver Arrows don't have a lot of options in the driver market.

Granted, Mercedes already has a bona fide star in George Russell who was groomed to take over as team leader when Hamilton departs. But the 2023 season was bad for Russell. Can he establish himself as the future of the team, knowing that the engineers will value his feedback more than the one who will leave at the end of the year?

At the same time, the German team always likes to form the most powerful duo, and except for Fernando Alonso, who will turn 43 this year, there is no real star on the market.

sanj status

Another big loss in this development is current Ferrari driver Sainz, who has no contract for next year. The Spaniard was expected to extend his stay at the Scuderia. Although he may not be in the class of Verstappen, Leclerc, or Hamilton in terms of outright speed on a lap, Sainz is not far off from them and, in the right circumstances, can beat anyone on the grid.

The 29-year-old has a great work ethic and can read the race well. He is also firm, as he has shown in the past, rejecting questionable tactical calls from his team. The two-time race winner could be a perfect fit for Mercedes, who will get a quick driver to gain points in the constructors' standings as well as keep Russell on his toes.

Speaking to the media after Hamilton's announcement, Wolff said, “The timing troubled us a bit. But I always like change because change gives you opportunities. “Maybe this is a chance to do something adventurous.”

One such bold choice could be Mercedes' junior driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli. The 17-year-old Italian is tipped to be the next big thing and will make his Formula 2 debut this year. It is believed that he is so good that he has skipped F3 and will graduate from the Formula Regional Championships directly to the level below F1. However, when Wolff was asked about it, he played down expectations and said he didn't want to distract the young player – but didn't rule it out either.

Although nothing has changed for 2024, the news has put the sport front and center of things, giving a much-needed boost to the new season starting in three weeks after last year's damp squib when Verstappen and Red Bull had defeated the opposition.

What was once thought impossible has happened when people least expected it, and there is palpable excitement about the most decorated driver moving to the grid's most prestigious team. If Hamilton can get a record eighth world title with the Maranello-based team, it would be the perfect bookend to one of the most extraordinary careers in sport.

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