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What Hamilton's move means for F1, Mercedes, his legacy

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Pinch yourself: Lewis Hamilton will be driving for Ferrari on a multi-year deal in 2025. In one of the most surprising moves in Formula One history, Hamilton is ditching Mercedes to don the legendary Italian manufacturer's trademark red.

Many factors led the seven-time champion to this seismic decision. Here's how to make sense of Hamilton's career move.

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Why would Hamilton leave Mercedes?

It may seem hard to grasp that Hamilton would leave after winning six of his seven world titles with Mercedes and being the face of the team's reign. But maybe it shouldn't have seemed that far-fetched: After all, this is the same driver who shocked the world by leaving McLaren for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season.

Hamilton was linked to Ferrari on multiple occasions, most recently last year. He publicly committed to Mercedes in 2023, signing a two-year extension and even saying, "I don't envisage being anywhere else."

But now we know that Hamilton's contract had an exit clause after 2024, allowing him to take an opportunity just like this. At 39, the seven-time champion has more years behind him than ahead of him in Formula One as he chases an eighth drivers' title, something that has never been achieved.

With an agreement for 2025 and beyond, Hamilton's signaling that he believes Ferrari offers a better chance at the drivers' championship than Mercedes. That shouldn't be a shock: The Brackley-based outfit has tripped over itself constantly since the ground-effect regulations were instituted in 2022. The no-sidepod design of the W13 was a massive disappointment, but Mercedes initially opted for a similar concept with the W14.

After two seasons, Lewis has one pole and hasn't added any trophies to his case. It's unclear how Mercedes' W15 will perform, but would Hamilton be leaving if it appeared to be a significantly better car? This appears to be an admission that his best chance at winning his eighth world title with Mercedes was extinguished when the checkered flag waved in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 12, 2021.

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What does Ferrari offer Hamilton?

A lot.

From a performance perspective, Ferrari may be ahead of Mercedes right now. Though the Silver Arrows finished second in the constructors' championship in 2023, Ferrari's peaks have been much higher. A strong start to 2022 put the team ahead of Red Bull for a stretch, and at the conclusion of last season, Ferrari was a constant threat for pole and often Max Verstappen's main challenger on Sundays.

Don't discount the role of the 2026 engine regulations in his decision. Hamilton joined Mercedes in 2013, just before the series moved to a V6 turbo-hybrid engine formula in 2014, and went on to add six world titles.

Familiarity is another key. At Ferrari, Hamilton will reunite with team principal Fred Vasseur. Hamilton won his Formula Three Euro Series and GP2 championships driving for Vasseur's teams, and their history together could have helped this deal cross the finish line.

Most importantly, the legacy of driving for Ferrari, Formula One's most prestigious team, cannot be overstated. Every driver dreams of racing for Ferrari, and Hamilton is no exception. He characterized it as "a dream position" in 2021.

And if Hamilton can bring a world championship back to Maranello, not only would he cement himself as a Ferrari hero, he would immortalize himself as the greatest Formula One driver of all time. It won't be easy with Charles Leclerc as his teammate, but Hamilton has sharpened himself against top drivers on his own team before.

It's hard to think of a more storybook ending to Hamilton's career than winning a championship with the Prancing Horse. Only Michael Schumacher has as many world titles as Hamilton, and now Hamilton enters Schumacher's old stomping grounds with a golden opportunity to pass him in the record books.

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Where does Sainz go from here?

The odd driver out in all of this is Carlos Sainz, whose contract expires after 2024. Over the last couple of weeks, he watched his teammate Leclerc sign a long-term extension and saw an all-time great fill the other 2025 Ferrari seat.

Luckily for Sainz, he has no shortage of options. He can easily replace Hamilton next year if Mercedes is interested in a veteran driver. The most obvious move, however, appears to be a deal with Stake, with the intention of becoming Audi's lead driver when it joins the series in 2026. Sainz's father currently races for Audi in the Dakar Rally, strengthening the connection.

The second 2025 Red Bull seat could also be available if Sergio Perez's contract isn't renewed. Sainz is no stranger to the Red Bull family: He rose through its junior ranks and drove alongside Verstappen at Toro Rosso in 2015.


Who fills Hamilton's Mercedes seat?

There will be some almost impossibly big shoes to fill at Mercedes following Hamilton's departure. The Silver Arrows will presumably stick with their original plan of transitioning George Russell into Hamilton's role as team leader, and they've got a variety of potential choices for their second seat.

The first is Sainz - as stated above, a driver swap where Sainz goes to Mercedes and Hamilton to Ferrari neatly solves this issue. Other intriguing candidates who aren't under contract in 2025 include Williams' Alex Albon and Haas' Nico Hulkenberg. A reunion with Valtteri Bottas or former Mercedes reserve driver Esteban Ocon could be stop-gap solutions. The most earth-shattering choice would be Fernando Alonso, who's never scared to be an opportunist.

But the best pick might already be part of Mercedes - no, not Mick Schumacher, but junior driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli. At age 17, he might be the biggest prospect since Verstappen. Mercedes already decided to fast-track Antonelli to Formula Two in 2024, bypassing F3 entirely. That shows how highly the team thinks of the youngster's talent.

If Antonelli impresses in F2 the way he has in previous junior categories, maybe that will convince Mercedes it can replace Hamilton with a world champion in the making.

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