The world of motorsport experienced a critical narrative shift on Thursday morning, as SkySports reported that seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton will be leaving Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team for Scuderia Ferrari in 2025. This will be Hamilton’s third team residence in Formula One, and he will be joining Charles Leclerc in the iconic red livery.
Teammates or Rivals?
Hamilton and Leclerc have a long history of supporting one another, on and off the track. Both drivers have been on the record revering one another’s skills, even making jokes on Instagram about their dual disqualification from the United States Grand Prix last season.
However, the tendency of teams to structure their season approach around a first-driver/second-driver system raises questions about the already faulty Ferrari strategic history. Many fans wonder that with such a powerhouse pairing, if things go awry on the track, who will be sacrificed for the sake of the team—a decorated world champion or Ferrari’s golden boy? Leclerc recently signed a multi-year extension contract with Ferrari, and it seems unlikely that this will become void with Hamilton’s incumbent habitation. Leclerc has been teammates with world champions before (Sebastian Vettel), but since joining the team, he has received additional accolades that bolster his right to a relatively unquestioned first driver status, which is the very reason Vettel did not continue with Ferrari. It remains unclear how long Hamilton’s contract with Ferrari will persist, but with both drivers hopeful for a WDC, Team Principal Frédéric Vasseur has his work cut out for him in order to balance the wills of two of the strongest drivers in the paddock.
65% of current drivers in the paddock will see their contracts expire in 2024, laying the groundwork for an incredibly chaotic reshuffling that may result in the termination of multiple drivers’ F1 careers. Certain teams seem dedicated to continuing a relationship with their drivers. For example, Daniel Ricciardo is a seemingly permanent presence in Red Bull adjacent paddocks, and Lando Norris, whose success in the 2023 season has made him a consistent podium presence alongside Max Verstappen, has just extended his contract with McLaren, expressing a continuous dedication to the team. Even so, times change: the Mercedes brand’s inextricable link with Hamilton’s success and cult of personality make his departure especially radical, and thus any established team-driver loyalties must be called into question. Norris may or may not come to regret his decision as one of the most coveted seats on the grid unexpectedly gets put on the market.
It is no secret that Williams’ Alexander Albon and Mercedes’ George Russell (whose contract is secured for the 2025 season) are long-time friends. Both have driven for Williams’, and Albon’s success during the 2023 season has put him on the radar of many teams looking for a rare combination of experience and adaptability—something Mercedes desperately needs. Albon’s contract also expires in 2024, and his connections with the remaining Mercedes driver make him a fan favourite to replace Hamilton. The same can be said with another potential candidate, Fernando Alonso, who fits the same criteria and also has a close relationship with Russell.
However, the last time best friends were teammates at Mercedes, internal team politics exploded. Often referred to as “Brocedes,” the nurturing friendship turned icy rivalry characterised by sabotage and disrespect between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg may have irreversibly tainted Mercedes’ teamwork-related reputation. Regardless of who represents the team alongside Russell, even the most experienced drivers will have a monumental legacy to live up to, let alone a possible return from reserve driver Mick Schumacher or debut season from promising junior driver Kimi Antonelli.
What about Sainz?
Last season, rumours circulated that Sainz would be leaving Ferrari for the rumoured Audi team that will be joining the grid in 2026 in place of the Sauber F1 team, but without this confirmation, Sainz’s career hangs in the balance. Even if he were to join the Audi team, there would be a one-year gap between the duration of each potential contract.
It is worth noting that Sainz was the only driver to successfully challenge RedBull’s hegemony last season with his victory in Singapore, demonstrating his tactical ability to deliver results under extraordinary circumstances, aka the existence of the RB19. Although an exchange of sorts seems unlikely, Mercedes’ (and largely Team Principal Toto Wolff’s) desire to dethrone RedBull’s dominance may influence a contract offer to Sainz. Additionally, Sainz’s history as a Toro Rosso driver from 2015 to 2017 is notable, considering Sergio Perez’s contract also ends in 2024. Even though the relationship between RedBull and Sainz ended on shaky ground as RedBull pursued other talent, the same could be said about Ricciardo, whose signing with Renault did not prevent him from becoming a reserve driver for RedBull again in 2023.
Both teams confirmed the transfer on Thursday evening, and Mercedes has issued farewell statements to Hamilton. At the time of this article’s publication, however, Ferrari has still not issued a farewell statement to Sainz, leaving the Spanish driver to make a statement on his Instagram story as confirmation. The ramifications of this contract alteration cannot be overstated, and many of the impacts will most likely remain hidden for many years to come, such as driver reshufflings and fanbase division. The season has not even begun and tension is already at a fever pitch. All eyes are on the car launches in the coming weeks to see how each team will navigate this extraordinary turn of events.
Illustration by Lucy Keegan