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Hamilton to Ferrari: A history of bombshell moves to the Scuderia

Seven-time world champion joins long list of greats that made the emotional move to race in red

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As F1 recovers from the bombshell news of Lewis Hamilton’s Ferrari switch for 2025, we look at some of the bombshell signings to race in red. 

Nigel Mansell in his Ferrari 641 during the 1990 US Grand Prix at Phoenix (Image Credit: @LegendarysF1 on X)
Nigel Mansell in his Ferrari 641 during the 1990 US Grand Prix at Phoenix (Image Credit: @LegendarysF1 on X)
Nigel Mansell:1989

When Hamilton begins his career with Ferrari, he will be the first British driver since Nigel Mansell to race for the Scuderia. Mansell became loved by the Tifosi, cementing his tenure with victories for the team.

Following a challenging year with Williams, he made the sensational switch at the end of the 1988 season. The team had lost its Honda engine to McLaren. Now powered by Judd engines, the FW12 lacked the speed and reliability to challenge the might of the MP4/4, one of F1’s all-time greatest cars.

Arriving at Maranello in 1989, he hoped to re-energise the team in what he saw as a transitional year. A revolutionary semi-automatic gearbox debuted in his 640 and was beset by problems in testing. Having left Williams due to bad reliability in 1988, this was far from the ideal start.

However, thanks to Senna crashing out in the first round in Brazil due to heavy rain, Mansell took an unexpected and famous win on his debut for Ferrari. Reliability became a commodity for the rest of the season, with his dreaded gearbox causing multiple retirements.

But Mansell would take one more win, sensationally winning in Hungary. He took the lead from Senna in the closing stages. He never relinquished the lead after qualifying sixth—quite the feat at a track notorious for its lack of overtaking opportunities.

The arrival of reigning World Champion Alain Prost in 1990 meant Mansell was no longer the lead driver. The infamous internal political battles that rip through Maranello came to the fore, and Mansell found himself out in the cold regarding decisions and set-up.

Seven retirements in 16 races due to more reliability woes resulted in just one win all year at Portugal. Mansell announced his retirement from the sport. He would, of course, return for 1992.

Mansell also has a record of honour that will never be beaten; he was the last driver to be handpicked to drive for Ferrari by the legendary Enzo Ferrari himself. To have an endorsement from Enzo is quite a compliment. Mansell’s stunning career achievements are a giveaway as to why.

Michael Schumacher: 1996
Michael Schumacher driving the 1996 F310 at Imola (Image Credit:@Historical_F1 on X)
Michael Schumacher driving the 1996 F310 at Imola (Image Credit:@Historical_F1 on X)

Ferrari began to become a front-running force again in 1994 and 1995. Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi took one victory apiece, with new Team Principal Jean Todt’s vision for a competitive Scuderia coming to fruition after a 58-race drought without a single win.

The next phase of the plan was simple: a star-quality driver needed to drive one of the famous red cars. Todt had eyes for only one man: Michael Schumacher. Rumours that the reigning 1994 World Champion had signed for Ferrari began circulating in mid-1995. Confirmation of the bombshell move came before the end of the year.

Ferrari needed more quality to sustain a championship bid, but Schumacher saw the move as a challenge. Todt had offered the team to him, the German now the undisputed number one at Maranello.

A transitional year followed in 1996, as the F310 was uncompetitive and hopelessly unreliable. New teammate Eddie Irvine described it as a “piece of junk”. Yet Schumacher dragged the car to three victories, including a dominant first win for Ferrari in atrocious conditions in Spain.

The dream team was complete when technical and tactical genius Ross Brawn and car design mastermind Rory Byrne arrived in 1997. Schumacher’s first title challenge with Ferrari in 1997 ended with the German excluded from the final season results—the reason: driving into the side of Jacques Villeneuve’s Williams at Jerez. Disappointment followed again in 1998, losing the title to Mika Hakkinen.

His struggles to win a title resulted in some truly classic F1 moments. His masterclass at Hungary in 1998, smashing into the rear of David Coulthard at Spa in the same year, and duelling with Hakkinen at Spa in 2000 are iconic.

Although Hakkinen won the title again in 1999, Schumacher gave the Scuderia its first Constructors’ championship since 1983. Then, in 2000, the dream came true. Schumacher took the driver’s title to end a drought going back to 1979.

Complete and ruthless dominance followed. Schumacher and Ferrari won back-to-back double titles from 2000 to 2004. It was a difficult season in 2005, with just one win at the controversial United States Grand Prix. 2006 would be his final year in red, challenging Fernando Alonso for the title until the last race.

Kimi Raikkonen: 2007
Kimi Raikkonen celebrates winning his first race for Ferrari in Australia in 2007 (Image Credit:@iceman7news on X)
Kimi Raikkonen celebrates winning his first race for Ferrari in Australia in 2007 (Image Credit:@iceman7news on X)

Ferrari needed a star replacement for Schumacher following the legend’s (first) retirement from the sport. Raikkonen had impressed during his time at McLaren, with rumours first circulating he’d signed for the team in 2005.

The Finn arrived in 2007 to fanfare and high expectations. Being selected as the successor to Michael Schumacher comes with enormous pressures, and the Finn batted them away but taking victory on his debut.

Raikkonen’s legendary consistency across the season kept him in contention for the championship despite the dominant performance of the two McLarens, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. But as McLaren began to falter, the Finn found himself in the perfect position to pounce. He would take the title in his first year in red by one point.

Sadly, this would be the highlight of his first stint with Ferrari. Dropping out of contention midway through 2008, Ferrari’s poor execution of the 2009 regulation changes led to to just one win that season. With a much-vaunted move for Fernando Alonso on the horizon for 2010, Raikkonen found himself paid off the following year. While Alonso’s signing was a significant moment, it had been the worst-kept secret in the paddock.

But Raikkonen would return to Maranello in 2014, racing alongside Alonso and the final entrant on our list. The Finn never achieved the heights of his 2007 championship win again but took his last F1 win in 2018 in the United States. To say it was a popular win would be an understatement.

Sebastian Vettel: 2015
Sebastian Vettel celebrates his first Ferrari victory in Malaysia, 2015 (Image Credit: @F1 on X)
Sebastian Vettel celebrates his first Ferrari victory in Malaysia, 2015 (Image Credit: @F1 on X)

Vettel’s move to Ferrari shocked the F1 paddock, catching the sport off guard. Having dominated the past four seasons, Vettel failed to win a race in 2014. Deciding to move to Ferrari, he hoped to emulate his hero, the great Michael Schumacher.

2014 proved an equally challenging year for Ferrari. Its understanding of the new turbo hybrid regulations turned out to be far from stellar, resulting in poor reliability. It endured a winless season, rival Renault becoming the only non-Mercedes winning engine.

2015 saw the reset button hit for both Vettel and Ferrari. The relationship started well in a new partnership for a new era, as Raikkonen’s and Alonso’s had. Winning the second race of the year, an emotional Vettel struggled to hold back the tears. Two more victories followed.

2016, by stark contrast, was a disaster. Winless again, Ferrari never looked like challenging the all-conquering Mercedes W06. But F1’s much-vaunted new car saved the team the following year. However, history was about to repeat itself, and the hope from Vettel’s arrival would dramatically vanish.

Ferrari started the 2017 season with the fastest car on the grid. It won two of the first three races in the first real challenge to Mercedes’ dominance since 2014. But reliability and strategic calls once again proved to be the team’s Achilles’ heel. Vettel failed to finish two of three Asian races, derailing his already faltering championship bid. Hamilton won the title again, and the team hoped for better.

2018 saw more of the same. A solid start to the season became undone, though this time almost immediately. Team and driver mistakes threw away hard-earned pole positions in China and Baku, but Vettel crashing out of the lead in Germany proved so costly.

He won just a single race in 2019, while new teammate Charles Leclerc took two to beat him in the standings at year’s end. Coupled with their disastrous collision in Brazil, all was not well.

The team announced 2020 would be Vettel’s last year in red, with an increasingly awkward relationship developing off track.

Hamilton: A new era?

Mirroring the fate of Alonso, Raikkonen and Mansell, Vettel endured an underwhelming and sad end to a highly successful spell for both team and driver.

The arrival of Lewis Hamilton at Maranello will bring hope that it can once again sustain a title challenge. The proof will come when the inevitable rough patches arrive during the season.

This could be a mistake from the Scuderia or Hamilton himself. The significant difference between now and previous years is that the team is stabilising under Fred Vasseur. That Ferrari broke Red Bull’s winning streak last season speaks volumes of its current operation. It resembles the team Jean Todt created.

Hamilton’s signing for 2025 is about as big an endorsement as it could hope for. Ferrari is gaining momentum, and now Lewis Hamilton is arriving next year. His decision to race in red is bold and a risk.

Vasseur’s tenure could bring about the next successful Ferrari spell. Hamilton will hope so. History has not been kind to drivers in red over the last decade.

Feature Image Credit:@schumacher on X

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