It is known that most, if not all, Formula 1 drivers have a desire to race for Scuderia Ferrari. The team optimises what F1 stands for as the longest running team in the series – having been a part of the championship since its inauguration in 1950. However, with the announced departure of Sebastian Vettel from the Scuderia, I was never under the impression that six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton would have filled the seat, and here is why:
Having had an arguably easy run over the last few years in F1, with little competition to Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport from any of the other teams, there was a factor to say Hamilton may have been interested in the seat. Moving to Ferrari could have given the reigning champion a challenge after he had potentially equalled the records of Michael Schumacher at the end of 2020. The rumour that Toto Wolff may be leaving the Brackley outfit at the end of the year to make the switch to Racing Point F1 Team, soon to be named Aston Martin, would have left the team without the strong force at the top – in Wolff and Niki Lauda – that has been one of the contributing factors to the team’s long success.
Surely, this would have given Hamilton room to think about making the switch to the team most on the grid desire to race for. But another stronger factor would have made it too much of a hazard for Hamilton to give up the comfort he has in the Mercedes team.
Firstly is the assumed fact of why Vettel has decided to leave Ferrari at the end of 2020. I would be surprised if an offer was not put on the table for the four-time champion to stay with the team. It is not a secret that Vettel feels some personal affiliation with Ferrari, so would have had desire to stay.
Enter the Leclerc factor. With Charles Leclerc exceeding expectations in his rookie season with the Scuderia, it is no secret that focus changed throughout 2019 and backing shifted from one driver to the other. Vettel knew he was not number one in the team anymore, something I assume was made even clearer in contract negotiations for 2021 and beyond. No happy ground could be found to satisfy both driver and team, Vettel knew he was not top dog for the Prancing Horse anymore, and decided the romance they started in 2015 was over.
Albeit this is all here-say and supposition, it is the most likely chain of events from the evidence we have in front of us. However, this will likely never be confirmed by either party – one not wanting to admit they were outdone by a much younger and less experience teammate in the space of 12 months, whilst they other would not want to openly admit they’re aiming for a one-two running, especially in light of new signing Carlos Sainz Jr.
This brings us back to Hamilton, who is in the same calibre of driver as Vettel and Fernando Alonso. All three drivers like to run the team, have the team centered around them, and be considered as number one in the team. All three drivers would pick a supporting teammate rather than one that could be a threat or challenge to them and their position in the team.
The point remains that Hamilton would have likely not wanted to move to a team where he was not seen as the number one. He would also have had to fight to make his position known as number one against a teammate who not only has the backing of the team already, but would be much more experienced with the car than him.
For good or bad, Formula One is building itself in the top teams as a place for number ones and twos, with drivers like Leclerc, Max Verstappen and Hamilton holding the reigns of the team, whilst their teammates look to be playing second fiddle. Yes, their teammate will likely find race wins throughout a season, but how the strategy would play out for them over the course of the championship would be expected to see favour to the other side of the garage.
2021 will be a telling year for many, as the rumour of Vettel replacing Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes to partner Hamilton has gained some pace, and talk of Alonso making a return to Renault F1 Team also looks to be on the cards. A shuffle at the top in Mercedes could see a fall from grace, and if that is the case, Hamilton’s next move for 2022 – when the new regulations are now due to come into effect – will be very interesting to watch indeed.
Whether or not Hamilton’s time at Ferrari will come is covered by a big question mark. The time may have been missed for the six-time champion as it looks like Ferrari are following in Red Bull Racing‘s footsteps and investing in the young, now having their youngest line-up for 50 years. It is not looking like they will have a place for an older number one in their team for a long time, by which time Hamilton’s time in the sport may be up.