Why swapping Mercedes for Ferrari would be good for both Lewis Hamilton and F1

Luke Slater
The Telegraph
After unprecedented success at Mercedes, would Lewis Hamilton moving to Ferrari be wise? - AFP
After unprecedented success at Mercedes, would Lewis Hamilton moving to Ferrari be wise? - AFP

When Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi for his most dominant win of the year, it capped arguably his finest season

But, for the first time since he joined Mercedes in 2013, the talk about the six-time champion being lured to Ferrari seemed real. Toto Wolff, Hamilton’s boss at Mercedes, rated his chances of losing the driver at 25 per cent and Hamilton seemed to confirm rumours that he had met with Ferrari

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But why would Hamilton move from the sport's most dominant team ever to one of its most error-prone and inconsistent? 

Hamilton wants a challenge

Ferrari have been much closer to Mercedes since 2017 but the distance between the two is still significant, the Italians trailing in every way: 38 wins to 14, 38 pole positions to 20 and, the bottom line, six championships to none. Ferrari have not won an F1 title of any kind since 2008. 

Then why move? Not just because driving for the Scuderia is a nice way to end a decorated F1 career (it is) but because it would be a challenge for him to revel in; winning the world title there would be his greatest achievement. 

Hamilton has often spoken of how much admiration he has for F1's new generation of drivers: Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, Alexander Albon and Lando Norris. He has enjoyed the occasions where his own team's dominance has been challenged. “I do wish we had some battles,” was Hamilton's remark to Verstappen and Leclerc, who were on occasions dueling for second place in Sunday's race. “I noticed that you guys were battling. I saw it on the TV as I was driving past.”

If he truly believes this then he should take up the task of fighting on a more level playing field. It is not often enough that Ferrari or Red Bull have been a match for Mercedes. 

This would be something for fans to relish. We have had a brief glimpse of it in 2019, as Hamilton's battles with Leclerc at Monza and Spa and with Verstappen at the Hungaroring gave us some the most thrilling and tense on-track action. Neither Leclerc or Verstappen gave an inch but the racing was hard and fair.

He's good enough to make the difference

A move to Ferrari is not the step down it might first appear. The regulation changes in 2021 are significant and are aimed at leveling the field but it seems likely that those with the biggest budgets — the 2021 cars will be developed in 2020 and the spending cap does not come in until the following year — will remain at the front, Ferrari included. Even if Ferrari stay at their current level, Hamilton is good enough to be the difference.

Recently, Ferrari have had a car that has been close to the equal of Mercedes. They won just three races this year but took nine pole positions and were in contention to win in four or five other races. Sebastian Vettel's mistakes and the team's errors have played a part in the disparity.

Without too much rewriting of history, Leclerc should have been Hamilton's main title rival in 2019, had Ferrari not favoured Vettel early in the season. Imagining Hamilton in the Ferrari in any of the past three years, you would say that he would come out with at least one title, given how he has been driving. 

Since 2014, Hamilton has been the best driver in the best car. That has led to a period of dominance which has rendered the sport predictable and a little boring. In his last three titles Hamilton has had it all wrapped up with two races to go and has won 31 times in total, 20 times more than the next best driver, Vettel. 

He'd bolster his reputation

It would be good for both for F1 and for Hamilton's reputation if he moved to Ferrari and competed for titles in a car that was not clearly the quickest. With some worry over the sport's direction it could provide the spark and interest needed and at the time it needs it greatly.

The prospect of Hamilton against Leclerc (it seems unlikely that Vettel would stay beyond 2020) in the same machinery would be one to savour. It would also give Hamilton his most competitive team-mate in recent years. Hamilton has lacked a career-defining rivalry that other greats have had. Senna vs Prost, for example. This would be the perfect opportunity for one. 

There's still one more year to match Schumacher

If Hamilton does switch to Ferrari, he  wouldn’t make the move until the end of next season, allowing him another year at Mercedes to try and level Michael Schumacher's record 91 race victories and seven world drivers' titles.

Hamilton has 84 race victories and six world titles and the odds are that he will end 2020 surpassing those. Once that is done - he will know the chances of it happening by spring - the lure of taking a world championship for the German's old team could be extremely appealing. 

There are obvious drawbacks if Hamilton does move, however. Hamilton leaving Mercedes would free up a seat there and one that Verstappen or Leclerc - or even George Russell or Lando Norris - could take. Whilst Hamilton might be up for the fight with the next generation he would surely not enjoy losing to them while they are driving for the team he left. Fernando Alonso was at the peak of his powers at an uncompetitive Ferrari and that frustrated him enough to move to the untested McLaren-Honda partnership. Not a wise move. 

Given how Ferrari have managed the relationship between Vettel and Leclerc this year, there would be serious questions about putting Hamilton alongside him. He might help Ferrari raise their game or he could cause them to crack under even more pressure. Would Hamilton suffer Ferrari's missteps so gladly? He is not afraid of speaking out when he thinks his team have erred, but they do it so infrequently and with so little consequence that it is not a genuine issue. 

Hamilton and Mercedes is a pairing that has had remarkable success. But without any prolonged competition, his domination has become a rather staid show of supremacy. His skills and achievements are secure, so why not take one extra step to confirming himself as undeniably the greatest of all time?

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