Formula 1: Max Verstappen decision led to Lewis Hamilton's Ferrari move

Max Verstappen not signing with Mercedes in 2014 played an indirect role in Lewis Hamilton leaving Mercedes for Ferrari ahead of the 2025 Formula 1 season.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 / Rudy Carezzevoli/GettyImages

Just over a month before the start of the 2024 Formula 1 season, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton made the decision to end his partnership, the most successful partnership the sport has ever seen, with Mercedes at the end of 2024 to join Ferrari as the replacement for Carlos Sainz Jr. alongside Charles Leclerc.

Hamilton had just recently signed a two-year contract extension to tie him to the Silver Arrows through the 2025 season, but that deal was revealed to be a one-and-one deal, with the latter year having a driver option. The 39-year-old Briton used that option to get out of the contract and sign with the Scuderia, where he is now locked in through 2026.

Hamilton reportedly wanted a deal with Mercedes that kept him there through 2026. However, Mercedes did not want to risk losing young protege Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who has been with their junior team for the last six seasons.

Change coming at Mercedes

The 17-year-old Italian is in his first season of Formula 2 with Prema Racing after winning the 2022 Italian F4 Championship, the 2022 ADAC Formula 4 Championship, the 2023 Formula Regional Middle East Championship, and the Formula Regional European Championship.

The idea behind extending Hamilton through 2025 was to reassess the situation and potentially promote Antonelli, at which point he may or may not have had a full Formula 1 season under his belt at another team (potentially Williams, where Mercedes' George Russell spent the first three seasons of his career).

But now Hamilton's seat is open for 2025, putting Mercedes in a challenging situation. Do they promote Antonelli to the factory team straight after just one Formula 2 season? It might not be the most desired outcome, but does it beat signing a driver for just one season -- and having that driver know that he is effectively in a lame duck situation?

Either way, it beats losing Antonelli. And team principal Toto Wolff knows it, because he went through something similar in 2014 with Max Verstappen.

Mercedes wanted to sign Verstappen, then 16, to a contract, but they did not have room to give him a seat in Formula 1 right away, given the fact that both Hamilton and Nico Rosberg under contract for the foreseeable future. Additionally, 2014 was the start of the V6 turbo hybrid era in which they were the dominant team, lessening the need for a driver change.

So Verstappen instead signed with Red Bull, and at the age of 17, he competed for sister team Toro Rosso in 2015. After the first four races of the 2016 season, he was promoted to Red Bull, and he won his first race with the team at the age of 18, doing so in large part thanks to the infamous first-lap crash between Hamilton and Rosberg in Barcelona.

Skip ahead to 2024, and Verstappen continues to be a major thorn in Mercedes’ side. He is under contract with Red Bull through 2028 and has won 35 races since the start of the 2022 season; no other driver in Formula 1 history has won more than 33 races in a full three-year span.

Most notably, he denied Hamilton what would have been a record-breaking eighth world championship with that last-lap pass in Abu Dhabi in 2021.

Knowing he didn’t want to lose Antonelli, Wolff was unable to commit to Hamilton beyond 2025. So when it comes down to it, it's thanks to Verstappen’s decision 10 years ago that Hamilton is now off to Ferrari.

And that's not the only way Verstappen might have played a role in the move.

The Dutchman denying Hamilton an eighth title may well have played a role also, given the sense of urgency the now 39-year-old Hamilton faces to break Michael Schumacher’s record. I truly don't think an eight-time world champion would want to end his career anywhere other than Mercedes, even if Ferrari was indeed a "childhood dream".

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Mercedes simply have not cut it since the new ground effect regulations were introduced in 2022, and Hamilton has not stood atop the podium since the week before the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He likely feels that he needs a change in order to have a shot, and Ferrari have had the next most success (behind Red Bull) since 2022.