Posted on February 5, 2024.
As posted on bbc.co.uk
Lewis Hamilton will be 40 years old at the start of his first season with Ferrari, following his seismic decision to move to Maranello at the end of this year.
Not long ago, Hamilton was saying he could not imagine himself racing in F1 past that age. Then again, until very recently, whenever asked about his future, he would say he would be with Mercedes for the rest of his racing life.
As Hamilton himself told BBC Sport in an interview at the end of last season: “I think what you’ve got to learn is you should never say never.”
Hamilton’s move to Ferrari has happened quickly. Three weeks ago, the Italian team were in negotiations with Carlos Sainz to extend his contract to continue after this season alongside Charles Leclerc.
But then Ferrari president John Elkann was made aware Hamilton could be available – which, given the seven-time champion had only signed a new two-year Mercedes contract a few months earlier, was news to Elkann.
Talks began soon afterwards and have concluded quickly, leaving Hamilton in the undeniably tricky position of heading into the new season with the world – and his current employers – knowing his heart is now elsewhere.
Mercedes have only known about the situation for the past 36 hours or so, and staff were told on Thursday afternoon – a few hours before the official announcement, and after the news had broken worldwide. They were called to a meeting with team principal Toto Wolff and technical director James Allison.
Hamilton’s decision has echoes of Fernando Alonso’s choice to join McLaren the first time. That contract was signed in late 2005, for a move in 2007 – Alonso still had a year on his Renault contract to run.
It did not seem to bother either him or his team, with Alonso winning his second consecutive title for the French outfit in 2006 before his departure.
Why has the move happened?
What has happened at Mercedes and with Hamilton to change his mind so soon after apparently committing his future to his current employers, with whom he formed the most successful partnership in F1 history from 2014-20?
Hamilton has spoken in the Mercedes statement announcing the decision of seeking “a new challenge”, and the lure of the Ferrari legend will have been a part of it.
Few drivers can resist when the Prancing Horse, F1’s most famous and evocative team, comes calling.
Money may be a part of the decision – doubtless Hamilton’s Ferrari retainer will be stratospheric. He had lost his status as F1’s best-paid driver following the new deal that secured Max Verstappen to Red Bull until 2027, which is said to be worth somewhere between 50m and 70m euros (£42.7m to £59.7m) a year.
Perhaps longevity, too. Hamilton’s new Mercedes deal was a compromise between the longer-term commitment he was seeking and the shorter one the team wanted to offer. In the end, it is Hamilton who has chosen to exercise his option to exit early. One imagines Ferrari have promised him more time.
But Hamilton already has far more money than he could possibly ever need, and he would command a seat in a top team for as long as he continues to deliver at the highest level and wants to stay in F1.
What he really wants is an eighth world title. He must have concluded Ferrari can help him avenge what he considers the injustice of Abu Dhabi 2021 – when he lost out following the race director’s decision not to follow the rules correctly during a late safety car period – more successfully than Mercedes.
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