Most of the rumours that circulate the F1 paddock turn out to be just that: rumours. But over time, some (even the most outlandish) turn out be right on the money. The rumour that Lewis Hamilton will join Ferrari at the end of 2018 could be the next one that list.
Why would Hamilton leave Mercedes?
On paper it seems ludicrous for the 3-time champion to even consider Ferrari. At Mercedes he has the dominant team and de facto team leader status. Arguably more important is retaining access to the dominant engine of F1’s hybrid era. Particularly as the current engine regulations are set to continue for the next 3 years. And despite early promise Ferrari are starting to look shaky in their pursuit of Mercedes and their first title since 2007.
When you dig below the surface, there are in fact a host of convincing reasons why the British driver might not be able to resist the allure of Ferrari. Here are a few of the most compelling.
Nothing lasts forever
Few F1 teams in the history of the sport have been able to sustain their dominance. Since the championship started in 1950 even great teams like Lotus, Alfa Romeo, Williams, McLaren and Red Bull could only set the pace for 2-4 years before being toppled.
With the exception of the Ferrari/Schumacher era – when the German took 5 of his 7 titles in a row – this holds true. A championship win for Hamilton (or Bottas) in 2017 would mean Mercedes have taken 4 successive titles. An unlucky number according to the history books and a warning sign for a driver consider the next and probably final chapter of his career.
Hamilton’s F1 legacy
Were Lewis Hamilton to retire from F1 at the end of this season, his legacy would be assured. A triple champion held in the same regards as the giants of the sport. Second only to Michael Schumacher in all-time wins. The first – and so far only – black racer the sport has ever seen. But the competitive instinct that has driven Hamilton to reach F1 is unlikely to settle at that.
Not since Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s has a driver ever won world titles for 3 different teams. Between 1955 and 1957 Fangio achieved the feat with Mercedes, Ferrari and Maseratti. No one has replicated that since – not even Senna, Prost, Clark, Lauda or Stewart. It is difficult to imagine this challenge not piquing Hamilton’s interest. To achieve it of course he needs to move and undoubtedly Ferrari are the only squad capable at the moment of beating Mercedes.
Is Vettel already on his way to Mercedes?
Rumours have swirled around the F1 paddock since last year that Sebastien Vettel has signed a pre-contract agreement with Mercedes for 2018. It is no secret that the board of Mercedes would like to see a German driver race for the team again. They had no expectation that Nico Rosberg would retire suddenly last year.
At times last season it looked like the Vettel/Ferrari partnership was going to implode. Without a championship win this season it is not inconceivable that Vettel would opt to move on after his current contract expires.
Given Hamilton’s recent experience with a German teammate at Mercedes, it is interesting to consider whether he would want to remain for Vettel’s arrival. Especially when the alternative could be an eye-watering final pay day to sign for Ferrari.
Going out of F1 with a bang
Ferrari would need to offer Hamilton a breathtaking amount of money to prise him away from Mercedes. Whilst a factor that would not be enough on its on to sway the first black F1 champion to get out of his Silver Arrow.
The attraction of the Ferrari brand also cannot be underestimated. Beyond the attraction of racing those iconic scarlet cars, Hamilton is brand savvy. An opportunity to combine the Hamilton and Ferrari brands could be massively successful. Furthermore, working with Ferrari could help further grease the wheels and open doors for Hamilton’s personal ambitions in the fields of fashion, music and design.
The Hamilton brand goes stratospheric
A 3-year contract with Ferrari would take Hamilton to the end of 2021. By then he will be 36 and has regularly stated his desire to pursue other interests outside of F1 by this age. The timing could not be more ideal. Leaving the sport with a final tally of between 4 and 7 world titles by 3 different teams to round out his impressive F1 record.
The smart money will likely ride on Hamilton staying put at Mercedes. The risks of leaving are significant. But when the opportunities a move to Ferrari could present are laid out, the idea stops looking so outlandish.