Lewis Hamilton pace concerns as ‘biggest challenge’ at Ferrari identified

Oliver Harden
Lewis Hamilton on the grid with his hands to his head. Bahrain March 2023

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton with his hands on his head at the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix.

David Coulthard fears Lewis Hamilton will face his “greatest challenge” of all against Charles Leclerc when he arrives at Ferrari ahead of the F1 2025 season.

Hamilton rocked the F1 world last week by announcing that he will leave Mercedes at the end of 2024, having won six of his seven World Championships with the Silver Arrows.

The British driver, who will be on the brink of his 40th birthday when he arrives at Maranello, will be partnered by Leclerc, widely regarded as the fastest driver over a single lap today.

Charles Leclerc: Too hot for Lewis Hamilton to handle?

Coulthard has admitted to being left shocked by Hamilton’s split with Mercedes, whose engines have powered every single one of his 332 Grand Prix starts since he arrived on the grid with McLaren in 2007.

And he believes Leclerc, a fellow protégé of Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur, will put up a firm fight against Hamilton next year.

Appearing on the Formula For Success podcast, he said: “He would always be talking to every team.

PlanetF1.com recommends

Revealed: The remarkable 36-hour timeline behind Lewis Hamilton’s shock Ferrari move

Your questions answered: All you need to know about Lewis Hamilton’s Ferrari move

“It helps you understand the market, you always gain a bit of intelligence in terms of what they’re bringing on stream with their engines, so it’s all part of gathering that intelligence.

“I just never imagined he would effectively – even on good terms – break that winning relationship that’s been going since he was 12 years old with Mercedes.

“But that said, I think it’s very exciting for Formula 1. It will give a huge impetus to Ferrari when it comes to bringing [in] engineers and people really understand that they’re getting an unbelievable driver.

“But, I have to say, I think he will find one of his biggest challenges in Charles Leclerc.

“Charles is a young, brilliantly fast race driver. Yes, he doesn’t have the World Championships and experience of Lewis, but I think he’s a Champion in waiting, so that may well be where Lewis faces his greatest challenge.

“I think Charles is one of the quickest single-lap drivers out there.”

Coulthard likened the potential Hamilton/Leclerc dynamic to that between Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher, who battled for the World Championship at the turn of the century with Hakkinen renowned for his outright speed and Schumacher for his consistency.

He explained: “I think Mika Hakkinen was one of the fastest guys over a single lap and I would suggest even faster over a single lap than Michael. I can’t prove that, because they never were in the same car together.

“Where Michael was exceptional [is that], whatever qualifying lap he had done, he could do that 60 times.

“Everyone will have their own opinion, but I think that Charles is a stunning qualifier.

“I think Lewis is an amazing racing driver, but at 40 I don’t see him getting quicker over a single lap and, by that time, Charles will be at his prime.”

Hamilton’s decision to leave Mercedes comes just months after he signed a new two-year extension with the team, with Coulthard claiming there is no such thing as loyalty in such high-stakes contract negotiations.

Asked if Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had his eye off the ball in failing to spot Hamilton’s intentions to leave, he said: “I don’t think so. I think that Toto is an incredible operator.

“If you look at his growth shot through motorsport, through his relationship with HWA in the German touring car championship and then into Williams and then into Mercedes, I think his eye is on many balls.

“But even if you are a great manager – and in his case, owner and team principal – you can’t stop somebody leaving if they want to leave.

“A loophole has been created by them doing the one-plus-one [deal]. I assume that Lewis was able to trigger it – releasing or not taking up the option for him to continue – once he felt comfortable that Ferrari were offering him something magical for the future.

“This is his retirement plan. He is going to end his career at Ferrari. So this is about legacy, it’s about trying to win a World Championship with them.

“He can [win] the eighth with Mercedes this year if they deliver him the race car, so he could go to Ferrari as an eight-time Champion and then try and add to that with them.

“[In] Formula 1 – and I’m sure it’s [the same in] other sports – you sign these marriage papers, a contract, and it’s a beautiful thing.

“But on the same day you sign the marriage paper, you’ve got the divorce papers prepared because you will not spend a lifetime with the team. It’s the reality.

“You might do eight, nine, 10 years with a team – or even longer in the case of Lewis with his relationship with Mercedes – but it was always a case of: if it didn’t suit him [he would leave].

“Or it has to be said the other way: if Mercedes felt he wasn’t performing for whatever reason, do you think they’d keep him in there because of his name? Not a chance.

“The stopwatch doesn’t lie. You need pace.”

Read next: ‘Big problem’ facing Lewis Hamilton at Ferrari in Nico Rosberg repeat warning