Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: The Only Thing That Matters

Throughout last year, there had been a small section of rumors and whispers about Lewis Hamilton making a shocking move to Ferrari.

Most of the non-Italian F1 press – myself included – blew the rumors off. There’s no way Hamilton would not be Mercedes for life. He’s never driven a car with a non-Mercedes power unit in Formula 1 and had been with the works team for 11 seasons, with which he won 6 championships.

But there’s something funny about drivers desperate for a championship: they don’t care about doing it the right way, the wrong way, or the left or right way. They just want a way.

For example, in 1973, DiGard Racing came into being. Fielding NASCAR Cup Series cars out of their Daytona Beach shop, literally in the shadow of the legendary racetrack, Donnie Allison became their first driver.

Allison held stock in the team and was a co-owner in addition to his driving duties. But after a few years, DiGard kicked the future 2024 NASCAR Hall of Fame, inductee, to the curb, leaving Allison flat on his butt, with no payout or any actual stake in the team. According to the Allisons, DiGard just took his money and ran.

About ten years later, DiGard had proven themselves to have the equipment to win a championship. They simply hadn’t been able to. They turned to a driver who had the talent to win a championship but simply hadn’t been able to: Bobby Allison.

Yes, Bobby Allison drove for the team that reportedly screwed his brother out of a lot of money. And eventually, they would also piss the older brother off. Not only did he continue to drive for them, he also won a championship with them. And that’s all that matters.

And now Hamilton heads to Ferrari, the team that was once the largest thorn in his side when Sebastian Vettel led the team. His first race with Scuderia will come a month after he turns 40-years-old.

His teammate will be Charles Leclerc, who Vettel called the best driver he had ever come across in Formula 1 after Leclerc easily beat him in the German’s last two years in Maranello.

Remember: none of this matters. As long as the only thing that matters is accomplished.

Winning a championship with the Prancing Horse will be the most challenging prospect of Hamilton’s career. His task becomes even more daunting, considering he will likely have to overcome Leclerc – and Max Verstappen – for it, if they can build him a car to do it.

But if he does, and he can finally bring a championship home to the cathedral that Michael Schumacher remodeled, there will be no doubt that Hamilton is the greatest of all time.

Heck, the last time Ferrari won a driver’s championship came in the legendary 2007 season in which Kimi Raikkonen stole the championship from then-rookie Hamilton. Should Hamilton win a championship with Ferrari, the accomplishment would go down as perhaps the most fantastic bookend to a career in the history of sports.

Past the Hamilton aspect of this story, there’s another aspect that may get ignored. Carlos Sainz had been rewarded after holding even with Leclerc for the balance of his tenure with Ferrari by driving a lame-duck season in 2024. It’s jarring to see the only non-Red Bull Racing race winner in 2023 be shown the door at the end of the 2024 season… before it even starts.

Sainz will have a number of options available to him, as only reigning champion Max Verstappen, George Russell, the McLaren duo and the Ferrari lineup are set for 2025. The best option for him will likely be Kick Sauber, which will be Audi in 2026- a constructor that has direct links to Sainz through his father’s legendary rallying career.

As for the other Mercedes seat next to Russell, team head Toto Wolff has some options. The most exciting one may be Andrea Kimi Antonelli, a 17-year-old phenom that will be in F2 in 2024 after skipping F3 entirely.

Antonelli already has the perquisite Super License points needed for F1 available to him as the reigning Formula Regional European Champion and Formula Regional Middle East Champion. The lone literal qualification Antonelli hasn’t met yet for a Super License is his age, and he will turn 18 years old in August.

But if Antonelli falters in F2, the driver’s market is still sizable for Wolff. Valtteri Bottas making a return to the team as a solid hand would definitely be a possibility, along with Sainz or Esteban Ocon.

Heck, Mercedes is such a big works team, they could even get somebody out of the blue to drive for them. Vettel would likely be very interested in taking that phone call to potentially race for the German automaker, for starters.

The 2024 F1 grid is the same as the 2023 F1 grid, so a shake-up of some kind has been a bit overdue. But nobody outside of the Hamilton or Ferrari camps expected anything like this before even the season’s first race. Both Mercedes and Ferrari will be even more fascinating to watch in a year already expected to be dominated again by Red Bull.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via