FEBRUARY 29, 2024

Something else behind Hamilton-Wolff split

Yet another well-known F1 name has questioned why Lewis Hamilton triggered an exit clause to get out of Mercedes at the end of 2024 in order to move to Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton, Dutch GP 2023
© Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

Fernando Alonso recently scoffed at Hamilton's claim that racing for Ferrari has always been a childhood dream, and now another former teammate has a similar view.

It could be a sincere comment from Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen told the Finnish news agency STT, "but I don't think it was the only reason.

There must have been something else in the background.

One suspicion is that Hamilton simply fell out with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who reportedly turned down the seven time world champion's request for a longer-than-two-year new contract and a lifetime ambassadorial role.

It's rumoured Wolff needed to leave the door open at Mercedes for sensational young 17-year-old talent Kimi Antonelli, who the team boss likens to Max Verstappen.

Wolff famously tried to sign the then-teenaged Verstappen before Red Bull did, but couldn't offer him a fast route to the F1 grid because Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were on long contracts at the time.

We lost the young driver then, he told ORF, "because we simply didn't have a cockpit. Red Bull naturally seized the opportunity and gave him a contract with Toro Rosso, with the possibility of driving for Red Bull the following year.

And precisely because we have a junior on the horizon who is really driving at a very high level, I simply wanted to keep this option open now, Wolff adds.

He admits that 2025 could be a bit early for Antonelli, but Wolff is letting him skip F3 in 2024 with an immediate leap into Formula 2 - amid speculation the Italian could then be loaned to a Mercedes customer like Williams.

Kovalainen, who was paired with Hamilton at McLaren in 2008 and 2009, suspects there is certainly more to the 39-year-old's Ferrari move than a mere 'childhood dream'.

If there has been a little hint that this year's Mercedes is not super competitive, and when Mercedes did not give Hamilton a long contract, Hamilton could have sniffed that Mercedes may consider replacing him at the end of the season, said the Finn.

Kovalainen also suspects Hamilton may clash not only with Wolff this year, but also his Mercedes teammate George Russell, who will want to assert himself as the new 'number 1'.

Russell revealed in Bahrain on Wednesday that the new Mercedes was customised to suit (Lewis') wishes following consistent feedback last year.

There are a lot of relationships within the team that are now being put to the test, said Kovalainen, 42.