Ferrari are a driver's dream, even for Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton

LONDON • After 13 years in Formula One, Lewis Hamilton's enthusiasm shows no sign of waning. In one area, however, he may grow weary quickly next season.

From the moment he returns in 2020, he is going to be dogged by questions about where he will see out his time in F1: Mercedes or Ferrari?

It will be the last of his key career decisions. A choice that could ultimately define his place among F1 greats and one perhaps driven by his heart as much as his head.

Gerhard Berger did two separate stints with the Scuderia between 1987 and 1995 and the Austrian understands the visceral, emotional attraction of racing for Ferrari.

"For Lewis, I could not recommend to any driver more than if you can at one time in your career drive for Ferrari," he said. "It is an outstanding experience. Driving for Ferrari is very emotionally driven. Some are cold to it, some react very much towards it.

"I was affected very much. I love Ferrari, I loved the Italian mentality, the brand, and I think Lewis would. Most of the drivers love it but it has to be right on timing."

What matters to the 34-year-old Hamilton is proving he is the best on track and he has done so.

With six titles, he is one behind Michael Schumacher and trails the German's record of 91 race wins by seven. He could reach both tallies next season, after which his contract with Mercedes, with whom he has won five of his six championships, comes to an end. In 2021, new regulations come in to play.

What happens next is something he is already considering. At the last grand prix of the season in Abu Dhabi, he did not deny he had met Ferrari's chairman, John Elkann.

Leaving Mercedes, a team still at the peak of their game, may seem inconceivable. Yet Hamilton is at least contemplating it.

He knows his history and what success at Ferrari would mean for his legacy. He also understands what winning means to Ferrari fans - and they are both legion and global - having denied them the pleasure so many times.

Such has been his success that even in Italy there are indications that they want the world champion on board. The partisan Italian press, usually focused on Ferrari, were moved to describe Hamilton's recent win in Mexico as "a masterpiece of speed and technique" and the driver himself as "a giant".

A title triumph with Ferrari would make him the driver who returned the Scuderia to the top - notably where Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel (next season notwithstanding) failed - and enable him to see out his career with the most famous team in F1.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

I think he should go to Ferrari but after he has beaten all the records... You never leave a winning team.

GERHARD BERGER, Austrian driver who had two stints with the Scuderia between 1987 and 1995, believes it is only a matter of time before Lewis Hamilton quits Mercedes.

Having taken his first championship for McLaren, he would also have won the title with three different teams, a remarkable achievement that would cement his position as the driver who made the difference over machinery.

Yet cold, hard analysis suggests that staying with Mercedes makes most sense.

Their team principal, Toto Wolff, has said he believes it is a 75 per cent probability Hamilton will do so, but admitted there was a "25 per cent chance" that Mercedes could not control the matter.

Berger said: "I think he should go to Ferrari, but after he has beaten all the records. It would be too much to do it before because he has such a phenomenal team around him. You never leave a winning team."

Hamilton has also been clear that what Wolff chooses to do - staying at Mercedes, taking over the running of F1 or even joining Ferrari - will influence his decision. Perhaps a one-year extension at Mercedes in 2021 to see how the new rules play out before a final move, rather than throwing it all behind the big gamble at Ferrari straight away.

Either way, Hamilton has all the cards in his hands.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2019, with the headline 'Ferrari are a driver's dream, even for Hamilton'. Print Edition | Subscribe