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In surprising move, Lewis Hamilton ditches Mercedes, will join Ferrari

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today, seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton announced he will leave Mercedes for Ferrari at the end of this season. The news sent shock waves through the racing world. He's been with the team for the last 11 years, so why is he leaving what has been a very successful partnership? Well, here to tell us is Madeline Coleman. She covers Formula One for The Athletic. Hey there.

MADELINE COLEMAN: Hello. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Hey. So for those of us who aren't glued to every twist and turn of what's happening in Formula One, give us some perspective. How big a deal is this?

COLEMAN: This is probably one of, if not the biggest driver move in F1's history. It was a big surprise, especially since Lewis was indicating all last season that he planned to spend the rest of his career at Mercedes. And so for the news to kind of hit today, it sent shock waves throughout the entire F1 world.

KELLY: And do we know why? Why is he going?

COLEMAN: That's a very good question. It's a fair one. To be very honest, it's not incredibly clear right now. My colleague, Luke Smith, kind of wrote earlier today that it kind of suggests that there might be some doubt in Mercedes' ability to change course and get back to the summit of their, you know, winning ways. They were winning world championship after world championship for several years, but they've been struggling in recent years since the regulations changed.

KELLY: Yeah. I was looking and seeing Hamilton has not actually won a race since the 2021 season. So where should we put his value as he leaps to Ferrari?

COLEMAN: I think that he brings a lot of value to the team. He's got the experience. He has more wins since 2007 than Ferrari has through all the driver changes that they've had over the years. So I think it's more of - how does the team adapt to the regulations, and what kind of car? I don't believe that there's any doubt in Lewis Hamilton's ability to, you know, really perform at the top of his ability.

KELLY: And where does this leave Mercedes?

COLEMAN: Mercedes is going to be kind of going into a new era. You know, they're very similar to Ferrari in that both teams had to overhaul their car design. So it's kind of a lateral move, if you will, in terms of a pure competition level. So now Mercedes will be in the hands of George Russell and what the future may hold.

KELLY: You just described this as a lateral move. Is it cynical to ask if this is perhaps as much or more about dollar signs than pole position?

COLEMAN: I don't believe so. I think, when you've got both teams, looking at them just competitively, they're kind of on, like, the same foot, especially since Red Bull just kind of blew everyone else out of the water with their car last year. You know, Ferrari brings kind of this sense of romance, almost, that, you know, everyone's captivated by the red car. It's all about that red Ferrari. Most drivers dream - if not all drivers dream - of one day being in the cockpit, so I think that there's a little bit of that element to it as well - of living out that dream.

KELLY: As someone who tracks this day in, day out, what are you going to be watching for? What's going to be exciting to see?

COLEMAN: I think I'm curious to see who's going to end up being in the other Mercedes seat. You know, at least they've got the 24 races and all of the sprint races this season to, you know, kind of give the farewell tour to Lewis before he moves on to Ferrari. But who's going to be taking his spot? Where is Carlos Sainz going to be in 2025? - because Carlos is a talented driver. Out of the - out of all of the races in 2023, he was the only one outside of Red Bull that won a race, and that carries a lot of weight to his talent.

KELLY: Madeline Coleman of The Athletic, updating us there on big news from Formula One today. The seven-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton, announcing he is leaving Mercedes for Ferrari at the end of the season. Thank you, Madeline.

COLEMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JD MCPHERSON'S "BLOODHOUND ROCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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