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Signing Lewis Hamilton Puts the Pressure on Ferrari to End Its Long Wait for F1 Title
11:43 JST, February 3, 2024
Lewis Hamilton’s decision to leave Mercedes for Ferrari in 2025 is a gamble for the seven-time Formula One champion. It’s also a gamble for Ferrari.
No driver, however talented, has won the F1 title with Ferrari since Kimi Räikkönen beat then-rookie Hamilton by a single point in 2007.
The list of Ferrari drivers since then includes modern greats like two-time champion Fernando Alonso and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, as well as Hamilton’s highly rated future teammate Charles Leclerc.
Some of the fastest drivers in F1 were lumbered with uncompetitive Ferrari cars and the Italian team, once a leader in race strategy, made some notable blunders in recent years. It’s been hard for Ferrari to live up to its rich history and some in Italy are skeptical that Hamilton’s arrival could change that.
I don’t know if I’m in favor of it. First of all they have to sort the car out, former Benetton and Renault team boss Flavio Briatore told Italian agency LaPresse on Thursday. “You can even have Batman on your team but if the car isn’t competitive then the driver doesn’t really change anything. The most important thing is that the car works.”
So can Hamilton bring success back to Ferrari next year?
There were already signs of a turnaround in 2023 after Fred Vasseur took over as team principal. It was a season of near-total domination for Red Bull and Max Verstappen, but Ferrari was the only non-Red Bull team to take a race win all season when Carlos Sainz Jr. won in Singapore. Mercedes, though, still narrowly finished above Ferrari on points over the course of the season in the constructors’ championship, won by Red Bull.
Vasseur and Hamilton go back a long way — back to even before Hamilton was an F1 driver. The French engineer was in charge of the ART team in 2006 when Hamilton, then a 21-year-old with eyes on moving up to F1, drove to the title in the GP2 series.
Fred understands racing drivers’ minds and he does things very differently to me, but they are very successful, like his track record shows, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said Friday.
Signing Hamilton under Mercedes’ nose — Wolff says he didn’t know until Hamilton told him Wednesday morning — happened even though Wolff and Vasseur are old friends.
It’s “a little bit like rugby, where you punch each other in the nose” but still have “a respectful relationship” after the game, Wolff said.
Hamilton brings vast racing experience to Ferrari — which could help the team adapt to new rules coming in 2026 — and his global celebrity status could bring a boost for Ferrari’s wider business.
Ferrari had an immediate financial upside to signing Hamilton with its stock surging almost 10% after the news Thursday.
Hamilton will become Ferrari’s first British driver since Eddie Irvine narrowly missed out on the title in 1999. If Hamilton can win his eighth title with Ferrari, he’d be the third British driver to do so with the team, but the first since John Surtees back in 1964.
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