Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari at the end of this year will be only the second time in a 19-year career that he has made a change. By the standards of most drivers, he’s been remarkably faithful to his teams.
On the only previous occasion when he chose to move, many expressed doubts over the wisdom of his decision or scepticism over his motives. But Hamilton’s switch to Mercedes proved an inspired call which enabled him to become the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time.
Looking back beyond Hamilton’s 11-year stint at Mercedes, past all those wins and championships, it’s easy to forget how big a gamble he appeared to be taking when he committed to them in September 2012.
Hamilton began that month by winning the Italian Grand Prix. It was McLaren’s third win in a row and it propelled him to second in the championship, 27 points off leader Fernando Alonso. In contrast Mercedes had only won once in their three seasons since returning to F1 as a full constructor.
Fans, pundits and racers alike questioned whether Hamilton had done the right thing. “McLaren have the resources, the money, the long-term commitment and huge experience,” said three-times world champion Jackie Stewart. “If I were Lewis I would have stayed with them.”
The timing of Hamilton’s announcement, coming soon after he retired from the lead of the Singapore Grand Prix, led some to claim it was an impulsive decision. Some even suggested Hamilton had allowed himself to be lured away to a less competitive team by the promise of a lucrative payday. They were soon proved quite wrong.
In his first year at Mercedes the team won three times while McLaren endured a win-less campaign. Only one of Mercedes’ wins came Hamilton’s way – a home win at Silverstone escaped him due to a puncture – nonetheless it was an encouraging start.
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But what convinced Hamilton to join Mercedes was the extent of their preparations for the 2014 season, when an entirely new set of technical regulations was due for introduction, including V6 hybrid turbo power units. Mercedes nailed the new rules and in 2014 they began a run of eight consecutive constructors’ championships. During that spell Hamilton won six titles: Rosberg pipped him to one by just five points, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen claimed the other in controversial circumstances in 2021.