Formula 1: Ferrari might have made a massive mistake

Ferrari's decision to replace Carlos Sainz Jr. with Lewis Hamilton for the 2025 Formula 1 season looks worse every week, and we are just three races into the year.

Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, Formula 1
Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, Formula 1 / Mark Thompson/GettyImages

Before the 2024 Formula 1 season began, Ferrari announced that seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is set to replace Carlos Sainz Jr. alongside Charles Leclerc starting in 2025, leaving the 29-year-old Spaniard without a ride for next year.

Knowing Hamilton could become available due to an exit clause in his current Mercedes contract, which was initially said to tie the Briton to the Silver Arrows through at least the 2025 season, the Scuderia capitalized and signed Formula 1's all-time winningest driver.

But the first three races of the 2024 season have raised some serious questions about the logic behind this move, especially as Sainz is now faced with the reality of needing to look elsewhere for a 2025 seat.

Have Ferrari made a major mistake?

While he is right not to let on, there's no doubt that Sainz, whose list of options for 2025 should still be quite lengthy, took the decision personally.

And he has shown it every time he has been on the race track during what is somewhat of a "lame duck" season.

He passed Leclerc twice to secure the third and final podium position -- and Driver of the Day honors -- in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix behind the Red Bull duo of three-time reigning world champion Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

He was forced to miss the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at Jeddah Corniche Circuit due to a bout with appendicitis, but upon returning in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park Circuit, he picked up right where he left off, qualifying on the front row and dominating the race after Verstappen was forced to retire with a mechanical failure.

Leclerc, who placed second, was never a threat as Sainz headed the Maranello-based team's first 1-2 finish in more than two years.

Sainz, who had been the only driver other than Verstappen to win any of the last 20 races, maintained his status as the only non-Verstappen winner in the last 21 events, having now won twice.

He leads all drivers with an average of 20 points per start this season, and despite his missed start in Jeddah, he trails Verstappen for the world championship lead by just 11 points. He sits just seven points behind Leclerc, despite Leclerc's average finish being third, which is tied for the best among the drivers who have run every race.

As a top-tier driver, Sainz has been overlooked for years. He beat Leclerc in their first season as teammates in 2021 and was ahead for pretty much the entire 2023 season until the finale. He has now won a race three years in a row, while Leclerc has had just one winning season in their four years as teammates.

The fact that Ferrari themselves failed to see that could end up biting them in the backside, even as they welcome the sport's statistical GOAT by pretty much any career metric.

Hamilton's start to the 2024 season has been a disaster, even without including his engine failure knocking him out of the Australian Grand Prix. He has been consistently beaten by George Russell, who consistently beat him throughout their first season as teammates in 2022 as well, and wasn't even a lock to score points before the issue forced him to retire from the race.

Hamilton's top finish of the 2024 season is eighth place, and he sits in 10th in the standings. He has placed higher than seventh just once in the last nine races. The last 10 races Sainz has finished, he has done so in the top six, including two wins and three additional podium finishes.

While Sainz has reeled off three straight winning seasons, Hamilton is coming off the first two winless seasons of his career, even as Mercedes beat Ferrari in the constructor standings in 2023.

Sure, Lewis Hamilton is still Lewis Hamilton. But in NFL terms, what Ferrari have done is effectively replaced a Joe Burrow/Josh Allen-type athlete (Patrick Mahomes is reserved for Verstappen) -- an elite star who continues to improve -- with a 2015 version of Peyton Manning, an all-time great who simply wasn't what he once was at the twilight of his career.

Hamilton still wants to win, but how much of this move comes down to his boyhood dream of racing for Ferrari? And how much of Ferrari's willingness to signs off on it comes down to the Lewis Hamilton brand and the recognition that comes with that? How much of "Lewis Hamilton is still Lewis Hamilton" actually translates to the race track?

The more you watch Formula 1, the more it becomes clear that Hamilton is a shell of himself from his Mercedes glory days, and that has been increasingly obvious for the last three seasons. If he were to return to his championship form, it would take a personal resurgence, one that goes beyond a change in organization.

It's one of the reasons why the whole idea of "are Mercedes back?" for the last 47 races (and counting) has become somewhat comical.

While some of his struggles this season have undoubtedly come down to the fact that part of him has already mentally moved on to Ferrari (even though he denies it), Hamilton has done absolutely nothing to separate himself or stand out during this new era of rules and regulations.

Even if Hamilton doesn't make the type of mistakes that plagued Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari tenure, it's hard to imagine that a quadragenarian Hamilton is going to be an upgrade over an improving race winner in Sainz, a budding star who is 10 years his junior.

And it's hard to imagine that he's just going to cruise around Leclerc. Let's not forget that Vettel was supposed to "make Charles cry", and Leclerc completely dominated his four-time world champion teammate.

The fact that Ferrari have effectively kicked Sainz to the curb, giving another team the opportunity to capitalize, could have long-term ramifications.

Next. Formula 1: Former Red Bull ace feeling the pain, warning issued over 2025. Formula 1: Former Red Bull ace feeling the pain, warning issued over 2025. dark

Sainz is operating with a massive chip on his shoulder -- and without an appendix. Perhaps those are the biggest upgrades Ferrari could have brought to the table in 2024. And perhaps now the Formula 1 world is beginning to realize it.