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Lewis Hamilton shocks F1 with surprise Ferrari move

WHETHER Formula 1 (F1) chooses to acknowledge this or not, a historic moment happened on February 1, 2024, when Mercedes AMG F1 Petronas team driver Sir Lewis Hamilton was announced to become a Scuderia Ferrari driver from the 2025 F1 season. 

Social media across all platforms all but shook when British broadcaster Sky Sports F1 News dropped the bombshell reports of Hamilton’s unexpected exit from the Brackley-based team following the 2024 season. The announcement trended higher than the global football deadline day and had football social media accounts reposting the news as well.

It was initially considered a rumour leaked to the F1 media outlets until both Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG posted statements on their official accounts, originally reported by Sky Sports F1, yet some still considered just reporting to psych up the 2024 F1 season that had no shocking driver market news until Sir Hamilton released a statement through his current team. 

It reads: “I have had an amazing 11 years with this team and I’m so proud of what we have achieved together. Mercedes has been part of my life since I was 13 years old. It’s a place where I have grown up, so making the decision to leave was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. 

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“But the time is right for me to take this step and I’m excited to be taking on a new challenge. I will be forever grateful for the incredible support of my Mercedes family, especially Toto, for his friendship and leadership and I want to finish on a high together. 

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“I am 100% committed to delivering the best performance I can this season and making my last year with the Silver Arrows, one to remember,” Hamilton said. 

This means that from 2025 on, Hamilton will take the spot next to current Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, in place of the team’s second driver, Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr. Leclerc renewed his contract just days before the Hamilton announcement.

Sainz Jr later confirmed his exit from the Maranello-based team at the end of 2024 via an Instagram post, with no confirmed drives for the following year, despite being linked to an incoming engine manufacturer, Audi, which has been linked to current team Stake F1 (formerly Alfa Romeo F1). 

Hamilton’s boss, team principal Toto Wolff, said that the team has accepted the driver’s decision and that he, along with the team, knew that their partnership would reach its “natural end.” 

“In terms of a team-driver pairing, our relationship with Lewis has become the most successful the sport has seen, and that’s something we can look back on with pride; Lewis will always be an important part of Mercedes motorsport history,” Wolff said.

“We accept Lewis’s decision to seek a fresh challenge, and our opportunities for the future are exciting to contemplate. But for now, we still have one season to go, and we are focused on going racing to deliver a strong 2024.” 

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Principal Toto Wolff at the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix, Thursday – LAT Images

The Mercedes AMG outfit had a disappointing end to its 2023 challenge for the F1 World Championship title, successfully defended by Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, with Hamilton taking six podiums throughout the 22-race calendar season. 

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His teammate, George Russell, had less than stellar results with his two podiums and ended eighth in the driver standings behind Hamilton. 

However, what is interesting about this shocking development is not the timing of the announcement or the future team for Hamilton, but rather the circumstances surrounding the driver’s sudden exit. 

It is publicly known that Hamilton has committed himself to both the F1 team and the Mercedes brand, having driven for them for 11 years and been backed by them for the entirety of his driving career. 

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He has been quoted as having said that he wished to end his career at Mercedes, just like fellow British F1 great Sir Stirling Moss did.

Even after the tumultuous partnership with former teammate Nico Rosberg between 2016 and 2017, Hamilton remained steadfast and committed to giving Mercedes AMG its’ ninth F1 constructor’s title. 

Hamilton had renewed his Mercedes deal with an apparent two-year deal to take him to the end of 2025, but exercised an option in his contract to leave after just a single season in order to make the jump to Ferrari.

Reports from various European media outlets said that some of the influence came from the Ferrari-bound ex-Mercedes performance director Loïc Serra and the contract decisions.

France’s SportUne reported that Scuderia Ferrari John Elkann proposed a $400 million investment in Hamilton’s projects, such as Mission 44, offered technical guarantees for the future, and proposed to transform him into an ambassador for Ferrari. 

Elkann’s influence and determination played a crucial role in securing this agreement, which will bring in over $100 million annually for the British World Champion. 

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Elkann said he wanted to bring the seven-time World Champion to Italy, and everything was born of his will, including the retention of Leclerc and the appointment of Frederic Vasseur as team principal. 

According to PlanetF1.com, Wolff addressed the media on Friday after the announcement and clarified the events that led to Hamilton’s announcement of his departure from the team.

“When we re-signed the contract with Lewis, we opted for shorter term,” Wolff said.

“So the events are not a surprise, [but] maybe the timing. So what happened is that we got together for coffee in my place in Oxford, and him returning to the factory, and he said to me he’d decided to race for Ferrari in 2025.

“That was basically it; we had a good hour of conversation, and…this is where we are.”

Wolff answered the critical question of Hamilton’s reason for his exit, saying that he wasn’t quite sure what had tempted Hamilton away so soon after signing a new contract deal.

“You need to ask Lewis why he changed his mind. How he framed it to me is perfectly understandable—he needed a new challenge, that he was looking for a different environment, and that it was maybe the last possibility to do something else,” Wolff said.

“We’re big boys. We knew that, by signing a short-term contract, it could be beneficial for both sides.

“We couldn’t commit for a longer period and he’s taken the option to exit. So we totally respect that you can change your mind with different circumstances. Switching to Ferrari, maybe for the last peak in his career, [he’s] maybe rolling the dice a bit. I can follow that decision,” he said. 

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Hamilton and Mercedes have a record-breaking partnership in Formula 1, with Hamilton winning six of his seven World Championships with the team during their streak of eight constructors’ titles in a row between 2014-21.

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By MPHO RANTAO

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