It wasn’t the big move any of us expected on football's transfer deadline day. Lewis Hamilton is set to join Ferrari for the start of the 2025 Formula One season, ending an association with Mercedes that has lasted over a decade.
It’s news that has taken centre stage in the sporting world, and rightly so. Hamilton has been the key figure in F1 over the past 15 years and many thought the two-year deal he signed with Mercedes last summer would carry him until the end of his career. However, it is now a reality that the world’s most famous driver will join up with the world’s most famous racing team at the end of the 2024 season.
Ferrari have been desperate to get back to the top, having not won a Drivers’ Championship since Kimi Raikkonen’s success in 2007. After 16 years of playing second fiddle, with Mercedes and Red Bull enjoying periods of dominance, and ahead of a season which starts with their drivers, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, priced at 22/1 and 40/1 respectively by Betfred for world title glory, Ferrari are desperate to keep hold of their title as the most decorated team in the sport’s history.
This move will clearly send shockwaves around the paddock, not least within Ferrari itself. It appears Hamilton will partner the popular Charles Leclerc at the Prancing Horse, meaning Carlos Sainz will be let go. There had been reports this week that Sainz was keen to secure a contract extension but talks were not progressing in the right way, with Alex Albon also considered for Ferrari’s second seat.
Instead, they have now seemingly blown any sensible plans by convincing Hamilton to join them. His wage is likely to be gargantuan, while he will be 40 years old by the time the 2025 season gets underway. If he wins the title in his first season at Ferrari, he will become the third-oldest F1 world champion, behind Juan Manuel Fangio and Giuseppe Farina.
Ferrari may have also given themselves an issue. For the last couple of seasons, Leclerc has clearly been their number-one driver. He’s been left frustrated by strategic errors time and time again, but he has put in impressive performances despite that. At the start of the 2022 season, it truly looked like he could earn the title as he won two of the first three races and had some wonderful battles with Max Verstappen.
Ultimately, Verstappen came out on top, as he did in 2023, but perhaps it was the end of that campaign that made Ferrari’s mind up. Leclerc finished with back-to-back second-place finishes, and three podiums his final three starts of the season. Meanwhile, Sainz could only manage two sixth-place finishes while a horror show in Abu Dhabi saw him come 18th.
The Spaniard ultimately finished in seventh place in the Drivers’ Championship, ahead of George Russell and only six points behind his teammate, so the decision to get rid does seem harsh on the surface. What also makes this story even more intriguing, of course, is that these changes won’t take place until next winter - we still have a whole season to get through with drivers well aware of the shake-up that is on the horizon.
Ferrari will be well aware of the chaos this will cause, but ultimately Hamilton’s credentials speak for themselves. If such an opportunity comes up for any team, then even at 40, you simply have to take it. This is a man with 103 Grand Prix wins - the most in F1 history, 12 more than Michael Schumacher managed - the joint-most F1 world titles (seven), and the most pole positions (104 - ahead of Schumacher’s 68).
Perhaps the greatest way for him to go out of the sport is with the most iconic team. A man who has given so much to motor racing might just write the perfect ending, bringing the Formula One title back to Ferrari after all this time.
But what does this mean for Mercedes, and where does it leave them? The first reaction is one of negativity, in more ways than one. Hamilton’s decision to leave at the end of his contract suggests he does not believe the German giants are making enough progress in their bid to close the gap on Red Bull.
The start of the season is now less than a month away, and so the majority of the winter work on the new car will have already been completed. Testing will get underway in Bahrain on February 21, and we will be able to gauge the pace of the cars then. For me, this decision spells trouble for Mercedes this season in terms of challenging for the title.
Practice and race one will teach us a lot. If Mercedes are competing with Red Bull then it will become clear this was more of a financial decision for Hamilton. The final giant payday of his career. In truth, that feels unlikely given the amount of money he has already earned to date, so perhaps it does signify that Mercedes are falling further behind.
In terms of race strategy, we are likely to see Russell become Mercedes’ number one driver as the season progresses. They would never admit that, but pit stops and tyre choices are likely to fall in his favour, given Hamilton is now in his final season with them. It could help the young Brit too, as he has done well under the guidance of his teammate, but now looks ready to lead a team on his own.
Mercedes had a lot of problems in 2023, yet Russell has been consistent with his performances for a couple of years now. He’s a trusted pair of hands behind the wheel and although his current contract also runs out in 2025, I now expect him to sign a longer-term deal on improved terms.
They’ll also need to fill Hamilton’s seat, of course. With McLaren’s continued improvement, especially towards the back end of last season, it all points to one man: Lando Norris. Mercedes have taken a liking to British drivers in recent years and so Norris, given he out-performed Russell last term, could be the perfect fit for the long term.
There’s also the option of a straight swap, in which Carlos Sainz joins up with Mercedes, but it feels like the German manufacturers would be getting the raw end of the deal there. Going straight for Sainz feels like a bit of an easy way out that would leave them weaker than they were before.
There’s also a name that has been circulating on social media that would be almost as big of a surprise as Hamilton to Ferrari: Sebastien Vettel. The man who retired in 2022 is still only 36, German, and a four-time world champion. If Mercedes fancy bringing an experienced name back into the frame, Vettel would surely be the number-one choice.
This is the biggest news to have come out of Formula One in quite some time. Fernando Alonso and Vettel have, in the past, unsuccessfully vowed to return Ferrari to their former glory. Now the sport’s most successful driver hopes to find the ultimate ending to round off his career in 2025. Restoring Ferrari to their former glory would be nothing short of sensational.