It’s been a relatively quiet off-season in F1 land, especially given we’re two weeks away from most of the car launches. And yet in the last 24 hours the news cycle has gone into total meltdown over Formula One’s Management rejecting Andretti’s proposal for a spot on the grid for 2025/6 (More on that on tomorrow’s Podcast), and then last night Formula Uno dropped the hammer. Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari for 2025? WHAT?! Let’s try to make some sense of all of this.
So, all the big hitters have now run the story that Lewis Hamilton is in advanced negotiations with Ferrari and while a contract hasn’t been signed yet, there could be an announcement as early as next week on it. Hell as I type this, Sky Sports News claim its 100% done.
This is startling given Lewis signed a two-year extension with Mercedes five months ago, almost to the day that was going to keep him in black until the end of 2025. Back then, the man himself said:
Strong words. But I do have to wonder. Given how his 2023 season suffered a bit of a minor collapse at the end of the year, did it change his mind?
Qatar, he collides with George Russell and admits it was his fault for doing so. Disqualified in Austin with a car he had a genuine shot at winning with. Eighth in a terrible car in Brazil. Seventh in Vegas after a collision with Oscar Piastri. And then ninth in Abu Dhabi and genuinely off the pace as Russell got on the podium. Hamilton had a great chance at second in the drivers’ standings and ended up 51 points behind Red Bull punching bag Sergio Perez by year’s end. Did Lewis lose faith in Mercedes like so many of his fans have? If that’s the case, I’m almost certain it was sometime during this block of results. Maybe he’s seen what Mercedes has cooked up for 2024 and thought: “Nah, I can’t take two more years of this.”
But Ferrari is Ferrari. For so many drivers, it’s the ultimate dangling carrot. There’s always been a lust, an appeal to win with the prancing horse. They’re a passionate brand with passionate fans and almost everyone worth a damn in F1 history has either driven for them or had heavy talk linking them there at some point. Prost, Mansell, Schumi, Raikkonen, Alonso, Vettel and now Leclerc as their modern-day prodigal son. Hell, even Ayrton Senna, McLaren icon was said to likely join them one day if Luca De Montezemolo got his ultimate wish before leaning on Michael Schumacher to save his brand. When Sebastian Vettel said that everyone is a Ferrari fan, I understood what he meant. The sport is better for it when they’re in the mix.
I can’t lie though… if the goal is for World Title #8, the one major counting record Lewis doesn’t have, this is a bold move but one that I think is ultimately a sidestep. Mercedes ultimately ended up runners-up in 2023 almost by proxy with everyone around them making significant errors. Ferrari’s late-season floor upgrade got the best out of Charles Leclerc again but they still seem a step behind the ultimate goal of beating Red Bull. I think over Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton raises your floor as a team, but when it comes to the ceiling, I still think Leclerc is the wagon to hitch your horse to.
Ferrari’s the big team that’s had no problem going with the equal driver, double-elite model with Vettel in the past, and I’ve always been sceptical about that model. The defacto 1-2 has generally worked better and caused less drama in the years (Perez, Bottas, Raikkonen the second time at Ferrari, etc.) that having two elite drivers take points off each other and cause competitive tension.
Leclerc x Hamilton would give Ferrari the strongest line-up in F1 but after just seemingly making the commitment to Leclerc as a team leader over the off-season, this seems like an even bolder move. I think Fred Vasseur, a man who’s worked with both is the perfect man manager to mitigate the egos, but even then I think this is all kinds of risky from a management and development standpoint. Leclerc’s just signed his “becoming a man” contract and now he has to deal with late-stage Lewis Hamilton. Woof.
So what about the silly season ramifications? If this move is official, and it’s looking like it’s accurate – Who does Mercedes bring in for 2025? They have options. Carlos Sainz would immediately become the #1 driver on the board with a proven track record of being solid in a top team.
If Mercedes and Sir Jim Ratcliffe want to keep the vibes all-British, Alex Albon is coming off an excellent 2023 with Williams and the man himself has made it abundantly clear that he wants to win and thinks he can handle a top team again. A quiet name that I think deserves more mention is Esteban Ocon given Toto Wolff has managed his career in the past and you could argue he has the strongest resume of any midfielder that hasn’t driven for a top team.
Or, and here’s the really ballsy option… Andrea Kimi Antonelli. If he really is the next S-Tier prospect in junior single-seater racing and he has a big F2 season, Mercedes could do what McLaren did with Lewis himself in 2007 – Chuck him in at the deep end and see if he can handle it. He’d be raw as hell and just 18 years of age, and it’s a massive gamble to essentially ignore the driver market, but if he works out, you have your ideal team for years locked in.
If Carlos Sainz is going – Mercedes are an obvious option given they’re the best team on the board with a seat. Red Bull could have an opening if Sergio Perez isn’t extended beyond the end of the season but that would mean making Max Verstappen’s tea. The Audi talk has been there since last year too but that could be a lot of early move pain to see what the Ingolstadt boys could put together in the long run. Sainz is in his prime and would be joining them at 30. Hmm…
In any case, the timing of all of this is wild. Both Mercedes and Ferrari have initially refused to comment on this, but both manufacturers are revealing their latest challengers around Valentine’s Day in just a fortnight. The awkward questions and vibes around their respective launches will be must-watch cringe media at its finest.
Ultimately, I think we’re dealing with the biggest shock driver transfer since… Lewis himself went to Mercedes in 2013. A decade on, it’s easy to laugh at the doubters then (Hell, I was one of them), but it blossomed into the greatest team and driver partnership in F1 history. 82 wins, 78 Pole Positions, six driver’s titles, and more multi-coloured hats sold than anyone else. Lewis’s career has become defined by that boldest of switches. Can he get it right one more time, bring Ferrari their first title in 15 years and kill any last arguments left that we’re dealing with the greatest Formula 1 driver ever?
Well, you know what they say… Life begins at 40…