Formula 1 Focus: Why is Lewis Hamilton joining Ferrari and who will replace him?


Formula 1 Focus: Why is Lewis Hamilton joining Ferrari and who will replace him?

Hamilton is making one of the sport's biggest-ever moves
Hamilton is making one of the sport's biggest-ever movesProfimedia
There's always something happening in the non-stop world of Formula 1, and Flashscore's Finley Crebolder gives his thoughts on some of the biggest stories going around the paddock in this regular column.

It may be the off-season, but it wasn't hard to find something to write about for my first column of 2024. I initially expected it to be about Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris signing new contracts with Ferrari and McLaren, then prepared to instead give my thoughts on Andretti's proposed entry being rejected, and then a story broke that dwarfed them all, with it emerging that Lewis Hamilton will be joining Ferrari after this season. 

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that this will be one of the biggest moves in the history of the sport - arguably the greatest-ever driver moving to the greatest-ever team - so I think we can all agree that it warrants an edition of Formula 1 Focus all to itself. 

So, let's dive in...

Why is Hamilton choosing to join Ferrari?

The first question that came to mind for me and many others I imagine was: why is Hamilton doing this? Sure, Mercedes haven't given him a good enough car for two seasons now, but only once since the German team joined the grid in 2014 have Ferrari built a better one - in 2022 - and they've long been inferior to Hamilton's current employers when it comes to in-race strategy. 

One possibility is that Ferrari have shown Hamilton their plans for the next few years and have convinced him that they're the team with the best chance of closing the gap to Red Bull. However, the Italian team have so often in the last decade or so had grand plans that they've failed to bring to fruition, and the Brit will know that better than anyone - he's too experienced to confidently believe that they can deliver whatever they promise. 

A more likely scenario I think is that, unconvinced by the work the team have done over the winter break, he's come to the conclusion that Mercedes won't be catching Red Bull anytime soon. Granted, Ferrari may not either, but if he's not going to win a title, there's no better place to miss out. 

It's the dream of almost every driver to one day drive for Ferrari, and Hamilton has often spoken in the past of having it. He'd no doubt rather win an eighth World Championship, but if he doesn't see that happening given Red Bull's dominance, fulfilling his childhood dream is probably the next best thing he can do with the last few years of his career.

"Only" fulfilling his childhood dream and not winning another title is of course the worst-case scenario too, and as far as worst-case scenarios go, that's a pretty good one.

Who will Mercedes replace him with?

Future team-mates?
Future team-mates?Profimedia

Mercedes effectively have two options: either they replace Hamilton with one of the few drivers on the grid that can hold a candle to him, or they make George Russell the team leader going forward and bring in a second driver to play a support role similar to the one Valtteri Bottas played for the seven-time World Champion.

If they want to do the former, the options are scarce. Max Verstappen is tied down at Red Bull, Lando Norris at McLaren and Charles Leclerc at Ferrari, which means that, of the very best in the sport, only Fernando Alonso is available. If Toto Wolff and co want a like-for-like replacement, the Spaniard is comfortably the best option, being the only man around with both the experience and the ability of Hamilton.

Should they want someone to play second fiddle to Russell instead, their choices are far more abundant. They could get Nico Hulkenberg, the man they'd initially planned to sign in case Hamilton turned them down in 2013; they could bring academy product and former reserve driver Esteban Ocon back; they could get Alex Albon to secure a longer-term lineup; they could get whichever one of Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull don't give their second 2025 seat to. Or, of course, they could play a game of swapsies with Ferrari and bring Carlos Sainz into the fold, but more on that in a second...

If I were Toto Wolff I'd go all-in for Alonso, but I get the feeling that the Austrian will lean towards making Russell the main man. The Brit is the future of the team, and there's a risk of upsetting him by not making him the lead driver - that's a risk Wolff may not feel is worth taking given that Mercedes may well not be challenging for titles before Alonso retires anyway. 

Russell isn't the finished product though, so Wolff will want a second driver that can be relied upon to step up in case his team-mate is having an off-day, which I'd say makes Hulkenberg the favourite. That could change if Ricciardo has a strong season, but he'll most likely end up at Red Bull if he does impress.

What next for Carlos Sainz?

Sainz needs a new team
Sainz needs a new teamAFP

You can't blame Ferrari for throwing their plans out the window when presented with the chance to sign an all-time great, but it's hard not to feel a little for Sainz, who has done a more than respectable job since joining the Italian team but is being shoved out the door nonetheless. That being said, his impressive performances should have at least secured him a top seat elsewhere. 

That could well be at Mercedes, who will undoubtedly have him high up on their shortlist. He'd bring a lot of experience with him and the race-day consistency that Russell still lacks, making them an ideal pairing on paper. However, the Spaniard may be reluctant to join a team that already have a homegrown golden boy again given it has resulted in him being out of a job at Ferrari.

Instead, he may want to finally be the star man himself, and that desire could lead him to Audi, who have big things planned for when they take over the team currently known as Stake in 2026. He'd have to spend a season in the midfield before that takeover, but it could be worth the wait if he ends up leading one of the strongest teams on the grid. 

His next destination seems most likely to be one of the German giants, but teaming up with or replacing compatriot Alonso at Aston Martin is also a real possibility given they could well lose their main man to Mercedes or run out of patience with Lance Stroll. 

Sainz's time at Ferrari may be coming to an end, but his time fighting at the front of the grid isn't by any means. 



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