Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has been linked with a shock move from Mercedes to Ferrari next year, according to reports on Thursday.
Sky Sports News said Hamilton would leave Mercedes after the 2024 season and replace Carlos Sainz Jr. at Ferrari. It didn’t cite any sources. The Daily Mail also said the deal would go through while motorsport.com said it wasn’t a done deal yet but negotiations were at an advanced stage and could be concluded this week.
When contacted by The Associated Press, Mercedes and Ferrari declined to comment on if Hamilton will join Ferrari.
The move would surprise many F1 observers because the 39-year-old British driver signed a new two-year deal last summer until 2025, although it remains unclear whether the deal contained an escape clause.
After signing the new contract, Hamilton spoke of having “unfinished business” at the team and of having faith that Mercedes could get back to the front.
Hamilton won six titles with Mercedes in seven years from 2014-20 and lost the 2021 championship to Red Bull's Max Verstappen on the final lap of the last race. He has not won a race since 2021 and remains stuck on a record 103 wins.
If he joins Ferrari he would likely replace Sainz, considering Sainz's teammate, Charles Leclerc, recently signed a multi-year contract extension.
Five years ago, Hamilton was asked if he could ever be tempted to drive for Ferrari.
“If there is a point in my life where I decide I want a change, that potentially could be an option,” he said at the time.
In late 2019, Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reported Hamilton met with Ferrari chairman John Elkann twice that year and they discussed Hamilton potentially replacing then-driver Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari.
Hamilton was subsequently asked at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that year if he met Elkann.
“Naturally, everything that happens behind closed doors is always private with whoever it is you end up sitting with,” Hamilton said. “For many years, I’ve never ever sat down and considered other options, because we (Mercedes) have been driving straight ahead, on the same path. We’re still on that path, and there’s very little that’s going to shift it.”
Ferrari has not won the drivers' championship since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 when he beat Hamilton — who was in his debut season — by one point.
Hamilton joined Mercedes in 2013 from McLaren in what was also a surprise move at the time.
After dominating to 2020, Hamilton and Mercedes have been frustrated in the past two seasons. Mercedes won only one race in 2022 — through George Russell — when the car suffered from a bouncing effect, known in F1 as porpoising. The team admitted getting the design wrong.
Hamilton finished third overall last season but a mammoth 341 points behind Verstappen and secured only six podium finishes.
While Leclerc’s form improved with three podiums in the last four races of 2023, Hamilton finished the last three races in eighth, seventh, and ninth, respectively.
Preseason F1 testing begins on Feb. 21 in Bahrain. Bahrain also hosts the first of a record 24 races on March 2, when Verstappen starts his bid for a fourth straight world championship.
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing