F1 champ Lewis Hamilton will leave Mercedes for Ferrari at the end of this season
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
It's a move that's shocked the racing world. Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton announced he's leaving his team, Mercedes, and will be joining Ferrari for the 2025 season. That'll put the sport's most successful driver on its most successful team. So how big a deal is this? To understand, we're joined by Luke Smith, a senior writer covering Formula One at The Athletic. Good morning.
LUKE SMITH: Good morning.
FADEL: So for those who don't follow F1, people like me, tell us more about what makes this such a big deal.
SMITH: Lewis Hamilton has enjoyed so much of his success in Formula One with Mercedes. He's won six of his seven World championships for the team. He's got such an intrinsic bond with the team and he said only last year I see myself being associated with Mercedes until the end of my days.
SMITH: He wanted to try and win another championship with the team. So for him to say even before this season has even started that he will leave at the end of the year, it's a real, real shock. And of all the teams to go to, one of its great rivals, Ferrari, an iconic brand, it's a real, real bombshell, I think, for the whole of Formula One.
FADEL: So what's changed? Why leave now? He said till the end of days, won six world championships with Mercedes and then leaves.
SMITH: Well, he said that he wants a new challenge. That's ultimately the core of it. He broke the news to the team principal, Toto Wolff, over coffee on Wednesday morning, and Toto didn't try and convince him otherwise. He understood that basically, Lewis just wanted a fresh start and to do something different. But there is also the fact that Lewis is trying to get a record-breaking eighth world championship. No one's ever done that before. And Mercedes in the past couple of years haven't quite been the competitive force they once were. The car hasn't been as good the past couple of seasons, so this is maybe a last roll of the dice for Lewis, who'll be 40 by the time he races for Ferrari, which is older than most Formula One drivers continue into their careers to hope that they can give him the car that Mercedes just hasn't been able to over the past couple of seasons.
FADEL: Now, Ferrari is the oldest, most successful team in F1, but it hasn't won a driver's championship in nearly two decades. Does Hamilton believe he can change that?
SMITH: Well, I think clearly he must have seen something in the Ferrari project that makes him think so. He's going into a team that is really trying to put everything it can into ending that championship drought. Him signing is a big, big coup. I think that will help appeal a lot of other top technical talent designers for the car who can ultimately help that goal happen in the coming years, but I think it's going to be a big ask. We've got a lot of great teams in F1 still, Red Bull and Max Verstappen, they've dominated the past two seasons.
Even Mercedes, they're also trying to get back to the top, but they'll be doing that without Hamilton now. So it's a bit of a risk, I think, from Lewis. But when he left McLaren, his first team for Mercedes in 2013, at the time, everybody thought it was the wrong decision, and he proved that to be very, very wrong. So I think he's hoping that he can prove that his judgement is correct once again with this last late career gamble, I think.
FADEL: Now, the sport's popularity in the U.S. has exploded in recent years, due in part to the Netflix Formula One documentary series "Drive To Survive." Will Hamilton's move drive that interest up even more?
SMITH: Yeah. I think it will. I think it's a huge story for Formula One all over the world. I think it's a really, really big move for the whole of F1. For "Drive To Survive," as well. I think that it's definitely going to be a storyline in the upcoming couple of seasons, assuming they happen, because I think that'll be great for everyone to get insight into this huge, huge move. Ultimately, Formula One drivers do not get more famous than Lewis Hamilton, and F1 teams do not get more famous than Ferrari.
FADEL: Luke Smith is an F1 senior writer at The Athletic. Thanks for your time.
SMITH: Thank you very much.
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