Ferrari gets its $10bn man, what next for Lewis Hamilton and F1?
Lewis Hamilton signs for Ferrari in bid to win eighth Formula 1 world driver’s title
The timing was delicious. As Ferrari’s board was presenting its stellar 2023 earnings with profits reaching $1.3bn for the year and an outlook for 2024 that’s rosier still, the unofficial confirmation that the Scuderia had signed Lewis Hamilton had been in full swing since Europe woke for breakfast.
That it would take until the early evening for both AMG-Mercedes and Ferrari to confirm the news – the Italian team via a very Ferrari single-sentence statement – didn’t matter. Ferrari Chairman, John Elkam, had his man, Ferrari had signed a global superstar and, combined with its continued success at extracting vast sums of money from the customers of its road cars, saw a near-$10bn increase to its market valuation thanks to a combination of both. Hamilton’s rumoured $75-100m a year deal looks like a bargain.
24 hours earlier and F1 was in a hole. It had just turned down Andretti and Cadillac’s application to become the 11th team on the grid. The reasons given were laughable, the fallout from fans and many in the sport seismic. By the time the Andrettis woke the following morning their story had, unfortunately for them, been sidelined. F1 had been handed a get out of jail free card, and Toto Wolff a sucker punch to rival the one Andretti received the day before.
There had been stories, nothing feverish, but stories nonetheless that Hamilton would like to drive for Ferrari at some point in his career. And Ferrari have admired the seven-times world champion, not only for his race craft but for what he can add to the brand beyond the confines of a race circuit. Ferrari will launch its first fully electric car by the end of 2025; with Hamilton to hand, any nervousness from the sales and marketing team can be banished. Lewis brings an audience from beyond automotive, one that has little interest in the firing order of a Colombo V12. Expect Ferrari’s waiting lists to grow longer.
Chairman John Elkann confirmed to Italian media in 2019 that he had spoken to Lewis Hamilton twice that year to discuss the potential of a deal for the then-five-time, soon-to-be-six-time world champion to replace Sebastian Vettel at Maranello. Nothing came to fruition, Hamilton stayed at Mercedes to win his final two titles. In 2023 the stories gained a few more column inches as Mercedes and Hamilton dragged out their contract negotiations, before the two announced a two-year deal that would see Hamilton stay at the Brackley-based team until the end of the 2025 season.
The reason for the drawn-out contract negotiations is now believed to be down to Hamilton and his team insisting on a get-out clause that would allow him to leave after one year. Mercedes agreed to it, and he activated it before he’d even turned a wheel in the W15.
So why leave a team that has delivered you six world drivers titles? Clearly the last two years have been unacceptable for someone who sets the bar so high. Even the people at Brackley would admit that. But changes are coming for this year’s car and plodding around the midfield might be a thing of the past. Might be.
It’s not about 2024 or ’25 though. The 2026 season is key to F1, when new technical regulations come into force. When power units, chassis, aero rules and pretty much everything else is new. The field is levelled (as level as it can be while Adrian Newey is still gainfully employed in the sport, that is), the goal posts reset. Everyone gets back in the game. Crucially, the FIA also slipped in a new regulation that prevents any team working on its 2026 car before the 2025 season begins, meaning Hamilton will be in place when the new Ferrari is born rather than turning up after its birth and left holding someone else’s baby.
Which all sounds plausible, but, let’s be honest, Ferrari has been a bit of a laughing stock when it comes to running its cars of late. Bungled pit stops, comedy strategy calls and a team that considers it an achievement that it has arrived at the correct circuit on the right day.
Team principle Fred Vasseur has been brought in to bring an end to the chaos. For 2024 only five per cent of last year’s car has been carried over, a car that will only race for two seasons. That’s some commitment. Personnel have been brought in, too, from both Red Bull and Hamilton’s current team. And Frenchman Vasseur and Hamilton have a previous relationship, the former running the ART team that delivered the young Brit his Formula 3 and GP2 titles in consecutive years. The two have remained close friends ever since. Lewis puts a great deal of his and Mercedes’ success down to the close relationship he has with Toto Wolff, and the Frenchman’s presence at Ferrari would have been a considerable factor in the seven-time champion making what he has described as one of the toughest decisions of his life.
Hamilton’s departure from a team he has raced for since 2013 is not one that will be forgotten by the time tomorrow’s breakfast is served. Even though the strong bond between Wolff and Hamilton would have come to an end at some point, either in 2025 when Lewis’ contract expired, or the following year when Wolff’s recently signed three-year contract does. The send-off will last the season, Netflix could dedicate an entire Drive to Survive series to it. As it could Lewis’ first with Ferrari.
All good things have to come to an end eventually. Perhaps Lewis didn’t like what he saw coming down the road. Will Ineos increase its 25 percent stake on Wolff’s departure and build the team around younger, fresher talent rather than Hamilton, who will celebrate his 40th birthday next January? Perhaps Mercedes is planning its exit as a team preferring to concentrate on powertrain development and supply, therefore preventing Hamilton ending his career in a Mercedes, a wish he has previously discussed. Or perhaps Lewis wants to end his career with Ferrari, the most famous team in the sport. One of the most famous in team sports in general.
Before we see Hamilton in red there will be one last dance with Mercedes as they try to regain the form that saw the pair dominate for so long before Red Bull and Max Verstappen stole it all from them. And then there’s the side orders. Where does Carlos Sainz go? Straight to Sauber (or whatever they call themselves today) ahead of them becoming Audi in 2026? Or sit out the year? Who gets Hamilton’s seat in 2025? Will there be another shot for Mick Schumacher? Will Mercedes need to find another new driver in 2026 after George Russell’s contract expires at the end of 2025? Will Mercedes still be on the grid as a team beyond 2026, or will lneos join the pack?
And when Lewis Hamilton does step over the threshold at Maranello will he secure his eighth world title and surpass the achievements of Michael Schumacher? Don’t bet against it.