ANALYSIS: Why Hamilton decided now was the time to jump from Mercedes to Ferrari
It’s a move that has changed everything – and is easily the biggest news story F1 has seen for more than a decade. Lewis Hamilton is leaving Mercedes at the end of the season and is joining Ferrari for 2025.
This isn’t the first time Ferrari have come calling, so why now? What has convinced Hamilton to take the leap of faith?
Hamilton is not afraid of making a big call. Back in 2012, he decided to leave McLaren – the team that brought him into Formula 1 and helped him win his first world title in only his second season – and join Mercedes, an outfit who were a midfield outfit on their return to the series, for the following campaign on a three-year deal. At the time, it was seen as a massive risk.
He has since spent the last 11 seasons with them, securing six drivers’ world championships and 82 Grand Prix victories. Risk? What risk?
During that decade, Ferrari came calling multiple times but, each time, Hamilton batted them away with aplomb.
It seemed that he had decided that Mercedes would be his final team in F1, the 39-year-old expected to continue the relationship with the German brand long after hanging up his helmet.
Hamilton and Mercedes-Benz have been a thing since he started racing and all the way through his time in F1 (as they supplied McLaren with engines during Hamilton’s time there). They have got even closer in recent years, partnering up to boost diversity in STEM and motorsport and transforming the lives of young people from underserved backgrounds.
But the last couple of years have been brutally difficult for Hamilton to deal with. He lost the world championship – one which would have been a record eighth – in 2021 in agonising circumstances.
As he’s moved to rebound, he found himself with a car that was no match for the mighty Red Bull team and for the first time in his F1 career, he failed to win at least once in either 2022 or 2023.
Initially, he believed Mercedes had the people, the resources and the right development to get back to the front. But that belief has steadily waned as their struggles continued.
Ferrari's masterplan – and the importance of trust
Hamilton knew that time wasn’t on his side and it seems that when he saw what Mercedes had planned for 2024 and beyond, it wasn’t enough to convince him things would definitely improve quickly.
Ferrari laid out their masterplan, showed him their development direction and what they had in store for 2026, when sweeping new aerodynamic and power unit regulations are introduced, and Hamilton was swayed.
Mercedes and Ferrari were evenly matched last year, and while both were some way off runaway champions Red Bull, Ferrari seemed to be more in the ascendency than Mercedes.
Hamilton will have looked at Mercedes’ development path over the last couple of years, how they struggled to add performance – and he would have compared that to what he saw from the outside at Ferrari and what they told him they had achieved and what they could achieve.
He will of course be wary of Ferrari’s consistent failure to deliver the holy grail since their constructors’ championship win in 2008. But he will also have a lot of trust in Ferrari Team Principal Fred Vasseur, who was Hamilton’s boss in junior formulae.
The two have remained close ever since and talk every race weekend as well as between races, as friends tend to do.
Hamilton is someone who needs to trust in the leadership – and he trusts in Vasseur. After only a year in the hardest job in motorsport, Vasseur has made Ferrari better. There remains some way to go, but he’s done in one year what many have failed to in multiple years.
The Briton will know that, while Ferrari have been up and down with their aerodynamic packages over the last couple of decades, their power unit has either been the class-leader or very close to it. With the PU set to be a key factor in 2026 – and with rivals Red Bull set to debut their first in-house designed PU in partnership with Ford that same year – Hamilton will fancy his chances of taking the fight from a PU perspective. And he will likely be convinced by their future aero pathway, too.
The romantic factor
There’s also the romantic element to all of this. Hamilton’s childhood hero Ayrton Senna had intended to race for Ferrari at some point in his career before he died in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.
Hamilton had always had it in his mind that he too would join Ferrari. But, as he continued to win at Mercedes, such a move was never on the cards.
Things are different now and it’s not a given that Mercedes will climb back to the forefront of the sport. Success is cyclical in F1 and it tends to take decades rather than years to move back to the front once you’re knocked off your perch.
What’s more, everyone loves to be loved. It was a tough negotiation with Mercedes for his last deal. Sources say Hamilton wanted three years, Mercedes wanted to offer him just one year. A compromise was a one-year deal with an option to extend. So when Ferrari came calling with a multi-year contract with more commitment than Mercedes delivered, that was very attractive.
Hamilton will have weighed all this up and decided that now was the time to jump. Sure, it might not work – but was it likely to be different if he stayed at Mercedes? Evidently, he believes not.
Mercedes will have known there was very little they could do to stop Hamilton leaving his contract a year early to join their rivals. If a driver wants to go, they want to go. There’s too much respect between boss Toto Wolff and Hamilton for there to be a tug of war.
Now, at 39, he has one final roll of the dice. Achieve a world championship with Ferrari – giving them their first title in nearly two decades in the process – and his legend will be cemented as the greatest of all time. Fail to do so – and he leaves with his head held high and no regrets having given it everything to win that eighth world title.
His gamble to leave McLaren and join Mercedes paid off, the Briton spearheading them back to world champions. He’ll back himself to be able to do the same at Ferrari, fully believing he’s driving at the peak of his powers right now. Given his track record, it’s hard to bet against him.