Formula 1 Racing

Allure of Ferrari was too much for Hamilton after two win-less years at Mercedes · RaceFans

Lewis Hamilton looks at a Ferrari, 2018

Lewis Hamilton’s decision to leave Mercedes no doubt came as a profound disappointment to team principal and co-owner Toto Wolff. But it was perhaps not a great surprise.

Until the end of the 2021 season, Hamilton had seldom gone a few months without winning a grand prix. Since then he’s endured two years without a victory.

It would be wrong to pin that entirely on Mercedes – after all, the team has taken one victory in that time, courtesy of George Russell in Brazil. But it has also failed to produce a consistently competitive car over the last two seasons.

Wolff understood the implications of this for a driver as used to winning as Hamilton was between 2014 and 2020. In that time he went from being a one-time champion to the most successful driver the sport has ever seen.

Analysis: Why Hamilton to Ferrari once looked like the deal which would never happen

In March last year, as Mercedes came to terms with the stark fact its second car for the new ground effect regulations was no more competitive than its predecessor, Wolff gave this assessment of whether Hamilton was likely to extend his contract beyond the end of the season:

“If he wants to win another championship, he needs to make sure that he has the car,” said Wolff. “And if we cannot demonstrate that we are able to give him a car in the next couple of years, then he needs to look everywhere.

“I don’t think he’s doing it at that stage, but I will have no grudge if that happens in a year or two.”

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Sure enough, Hamilton did extend his contract to drive for Mercedes. In September last year the team proclaimed “Lewis will drive for the team in the 2024 and 2025 seasons.” However, as it admitted today, that glossed over the fact he had an option to leave after one more year: “Lewis has activated a release option in the contract announced last August.”

James Allison, Mercedes, 2022
Mercedes charged Allison with sorting out its design direction

So just four months after re-committing to Mercedes, Hamilton has chosen to jump ship to Ferrari. Did Mercedes fail to prove to him, as Wolff indicated, that it would be competitive within “the next couple of years?”

Mercedes undoubtedly took its poor start to 2023 seriously and responded accordingly. An extensive overhaul of the W14, minus the distinctive ‘zero’ sidepods, was readied for the sixth round of the season. The top technical staff were swapped around, James Allison restored to the position of technical…

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