Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari: Smart or Stupid?
Much has been made about Lewis Hamilton's future with Mercedes after a disappointing start to the 2023 season. His contract ends at the end of the season and with Mercedes falling short of expectations, there have been question marks raised over his relationship with the team.
Hamilton's recent outburst, where he claimed that the engineers did not implement his feedback, was an indication of the level of frustration that he had with another mediocre car.
Since then, we've had the second race of the season in Jeddah and Mercedes appear to have a far more positive outlook. The team almost scored a podium, Toto Wolff appeared excited about the kind of gains Mercedes were making in the wind tunnel, and even Hamilton said that he wasn't going anywhere.
Having said that, the question of the seven-time world champion going to Ferrari continues to persist. The allure of the Scuderia, which is still the most prestigious team in F1, is tempting for any driver in the sport. To add to this, Mercedes are not really winning any races or titles this season anyway, and the road to recovery might be a bit long as well.
When it comes to the question of whether Hamilton will sign with Ferrari, I don't think it's going to come down to logic anymore. F1 drivers are methodical, but they can be impulsive as well. Lewis has spent a decade with Mercedes and he might just sign with Ferrari to take another shot at glory.
In this feature, I'm not trying to answer whether Lewis will go to Ferrari. The question I'm trying to answer is if he does go to Ferrari, whether it will be a smart move or a stupid one.
To answer this question, let's take a look at both sides of the coin before we reach a conclusion.
Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari: A smart move
#1 Mercedes has suffered a major talent exodus
It's safe to say that Mercedes has been going through a phase of transition in the last few years. The team has lost a lot of key personnel, with some of them being poached by other teams while others have moved on to different challenges in life.
There is added pressure as well on the team to perform and it was quite telling that Toto Wolff came down hard on the team for sticking to a zero-sidepod concept this season.
While it's safe to say that the core remains intact, it's hard to deny that the exodus has hurt Mercedes. Does the team still have the pedigree? Only time will tell as Aston Martin appears to be doing better despite having a lot of the same things on its package.
#2 It is highly likely that Mercedes might not fight for the title next season
Mercedes is looking at a gulf of about 1.5 seconds per lap to Red Bull. That's a major deficit and realistically speaking, that kind of gap cannot be overcome in one season. To add to this, the cost cap is going to prove to be a major deterrent irrespective of what the team claims.
In all fairness, if Mercedes starts the 2024 F1 season behind Red Bull in terms of performance, then it won't be much of a surprise. In such a scenario, would Hamilton be willing to commit to a team that is realistically not fighting for a title in the next 12 to 18 months? That's a question only he can answer.
Especially if you compare with Ferrari, a team that has at least propelled Charles Leclerc into the top 3 in qualifying in the first two races.
#3 Fred Vasseur could be the X-Factor that Ferrari needs
Fred Vasseur has taken over at Ferrari and, in contrast to the demure nature of Mattia Binotto, there is a more punchy leader at the top of the Scuderia. Vasseur's career has been defined by success in leading teams. He did the same with his ART GP project in the junior categories and helped Alfa Romeo finish P6 last season as well.
The "no BS" nature of Vasseur and him being a hard taskmaster might just be the last piece of the puzzle that has eluded Ferrari in all these years.
#4 The ever-larger looming threat of George Russell
Hamilton was outscored by teammate George Russell last season. Russell is 0-2 this season in qualifying while the two drivers are 1-1 in the races. Hamilton hasn't exactly stamped his authority over his teammate so far, and Russell has been chipping away at the gap to his legendary teammate.
Hamilton's history with competitive teammates has not been the best. He's had tensions with Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, and Nico Rosberg, all of whom were capable enough of taking the fight to him. With Russell getting more confident by the day, Hamilton moving to a new team where he doesn't have to contend with a competitive teammate (in the case of a Lewis-Leclerc swap) is surely an added incentive.
Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari: A stupid move
#1 Ferrari also going through a transition
A major red flag for Hamilton could be the fact that Ferrari is itself going through a transition. Fred Vassuer is on a major clean-up mission as a lot of changes have already been made behind closed doors.
If we take this into consideration, Ferrari might be in a situation similar to Mercedes. If that's the case, it doesn't matter which team Hamilton goes to, he's not challenging for the title either way.
#2 When was the last time Ferrari won the championship?
Since their last win in 2007, Ferrari have come close to winning the title multiple times but have never crossed the line. 2008 was painful, and so was 2010 and 2012. Having said that, the fact remains that the team hasn't won a title in 15 years and that is a major red flag. It also became evident last season that Ferrari were not ready to fight for titles.
There were many areas where the team lagged, including performing under pressure and in-season development. Even for a driver as experienced and as successful as Hamilton, these things might be hard to overcome.
#3 The distinguished list of failed legends at Ferrari
Let's take a look at the list of F1 elite talents that tried their luck with Ferrari but failed. Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and now Charles Leclerc. That's a distinguished list of highly successful drivers and pristine talents falling short with the Italian team.
Apart from the legendary Michael Schumacher, who dominated the sport with Ferrari, and Kimi Raikkonen, who won the title in 2007, every other driver has failed. Can Hamilton overcome such odds? He can, but does it make sense to risk something like this? Probably not.
#4 The possibility of Charles Leclerc as a teammate
If Ferrari are not willing to do a Leclerc/Lewis swap and replace Carlos Sainz instead, it would mean another young charger for Hamilton to contend with. Moving from Mercedes, where Russell is slowly improving, to Ferrari, where the challenge with Leclerc could be of a similar magnitude, is not the best environment to go into for any driver.
Mercedes are already Hamilton's team while Ferrari have been molded around Leclerc. In the twilight of his career, does it make sense for Hamilton to go up against a young charger? It might be great for fans, but for Hamilton, this might not be the best thing.
At the end of the day, as I mentioned earlier as well, Lewis Hamilton's move to Ferrari is something that is very hard to predict.
Mercedes are a team in transition, and so are Ferrari. Mercedes are suffering from an exodus of talent, so are Ferrari, and finally, the challenge of having Charles Leclerc as a teammate in Ferrari is bigger than George Russell in Mercedes.
Mercedes have won eight titles in the last decade, while Ferrari haven't won anything in 15 years. Hamilton could still make the move to Ferrari. He might even be successful with the team. But looking at the facts in front of us, staying at Mercedes appears to be a smarter decision for the seven-time world champion than making a move to Ferrari.