Hamilton and Mercedes: A Look Back

With Hamilton entering his final season with Mercedes this year, ATRL’s Ayesha Ninan takes a look at their historic partnership.  

Ayesha Anna Ninan

February 10, 2024

If anyone thought that Guenther Steiner’s departure from Formula 1 was the biggest pre-season news, the announcement that Lewis Hamilton will leave Mercedes to join Ferrari for the 2025 season has created a tectonic shift in the world of Formula 1. Speculation is rife with what the new move will entail but we still have a year for Hamilton to drive in his Silver Arrow and close out a glittering partnership. 

Hamilton has won six of his seven world championships with Mercedes (photo via @LewisHamilton on X)

Lewis Hamilton entered Formula 1 as a McLaren driver with arguably one of the best rookie seasons imaginable, losing the championship by a single point in the final race to Kimi Räikkönen. Sir Jackie Stewart, a stalwart of British motor racing, described Hamilton as “the best prepared first-year Formula One driver that I’ve ever seen.” Hamilton went on to win his first world championship the following season, but a dry spell after that prompted him to join Mercedes. The move was deemed risky at the time but the pairing of the wisdom of three-time world champion Niki Lauda and Team Principal Ross Brawn at Mercedes proved too tempting. 

 

Hamilton’s partnership with Mercedes has gone on to become one of the most successful in Formula 1 history. Yet, he earned only a single race win that first season in 2013. The “dawn of the turbo-hybrid era” of 2014 saw a change from the 2.4 litre V8 engine being replaced with a 1.6 litre V6 engine with a new turbocharger and a new hybrid energy recovery system. Mercedes got their design right. And so, in 2014, Lewis won his second world championship – the first of six with Mercedes, which has won eight consecutive constructors’ championships.

At Ferrari, Hamilton will reunite with Fred Vassuer, who was his Team Principal in GP2 in 2006 (photo via @F1 on X)

On his way to his third title in 2015, Hamilton signed a “blockbuster” 140 million dollar three-year contract extension, keeping him at Mercedes till 2018. His contract negotiations with Team Principal, Toto Wolff, would take place on text and then hash things out in person – one time for a ten hour stretch with pizza at Hamilton’s home in Monaco. The team principal and driver have a strong friendship built on straightforward communication. With Mercedes “loosening the constraints,” Hamilton has had the freedom to explore other interests, particularly in fashion, as he partnered with Tommy Hilfiger to create a line of merchandise. When doubts were expressed about Hamilton’s ability to balance his extracurricular activities with his primary job, Hamilton famously attended a Tommy Hilfiger fashion show in New York, then flew to Singapore and won the race in 2018. Known for arriving on track in bold outfits, Hamilton has said that he felt like he “had to conform to something that [he] was uncomfortable with” in the past and he now uses his fashion to express himself and send a message for others to do the same.

 

When Hamilton first arrived at Mercedes, he was paired with Nico Rosberg, his friend and teammate from their karting days. Unlike some other teams, Mercedes makes it a point to let drivers race and not interfere with team orders to change driver positions. This led to clashes between Hamilton and Rosberg, costing Hamilton the title and their friendship, as Rosberg won the championship in 2016. Still, more championships came in 2018, and 2019 when Hamilton became a six-time world champion – second only to Michael Schumacher’s seven wins. 

 

That seventh win came in 2020. At the same time, Hamilton chose to take the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, instigating more open conversations about racism in motorsport – a historically white space. Mercedes backed its driver by sending out a car that sported black livery. This is a stark contrast to Hamilton’s early days in racing. The Guardian reported in 2007, “There’s a lot of money in formula one and his media minders have told reporters that questions about race and ethnicity are out of bounds.”

Hamilton pictured with former teammate Valtteri Bottas (left) and Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff (center) (photo via @LewisHamilton on X)

Hamilton has won 83 of his 103 races with Mercedes. He holds a litany of records, among which was the longest record for at least one race win per season. Still, Mercedes held to its policy of letting drivers race even when this record was at risk with a struggling car and new teammate George Russell putting up a solid fight in 2022. Mercedes refrained from issuing team orders and Russell went on to win the race that would have been Hamilton’s best bet.

 

Troubled times had come knocking. When Lewis was once asked, ‘How would he feel if he had a dud car – like Rosberg on Sunday – and it had all gone wrong? “I don’t think about it because I don’t need to,” he said.’ However, Mercedes has been unable to deliver a championship-winning car since 2021 and Hamilton will have had to ask himself the question that he did not have to think about back in 2014. The answer is in his choice to exercise the exit clause a year into his two-year contract with Mercedes. 

 

Toto Wolff has said that they both knew this was a possibility. In 2019, he said “We have talked very openly about Ferrari and what the brand represents. But for me as long as we are able to produce a quick car and a powerful engine, we will always have an opportunity to decide who drives the car.” At the time, Hamilton did continue on into 2021, the most controversial season that the sport had ever seen. With the title fight coming down to the final race in Abu Dhabi, and equal points between Hamilton and Max Verstappen, a controversial directive issued by race director Michael Masi saw Verstappen overtake on the final lap and head to victory. Lewis congratulated Max, despite the shock of having an almost-guaranteed win snatched away in the final moments. He was knighted at Windsor Castle just three days later.

Today, Lewis acknowledges that being a part of Ferrari’s legacy has been a childhood dream. It remains to be seen if this unexpected partnership will give Hamilton what he is fighting for – a record-breaking eighth world championship.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ayesha Anna Ninan is an editor and script development consultant based in Mumbai. She developed an interest in Formula 1 through Netflix’s Drive to Survive and has become an avid follower of the sport. In her spare time, she teaches film editing, runs a nonfiction book review blog and now writes about Formula 1. She holds a masters in film production from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia.

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