Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton will leave Mercedes at the end of this year to join Ferrari on a multi-year deal, the Italian team confirmed on Thursday.

Mercedes said Hamilton activated a release clause in the two-year contract extension he signed last year. Ferrari then confirmed that the 39-year-old British driver will join in 2025.

Hamilton joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013 and won six of his seven world titles at the Silver Arrows on his way to a record 103 race wins.

“I have had an amazing 11 years with this team and I’m so proud of what we have achieved together. Mercedes has been part of my life since I was 13 years old,” Hamilton said in a team statement. “It’s a place where I have grown up, so making the decision to leave was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. But the time is right for me to take this step and I’m excited to be taking on a new challenge.”

Hamilton last won the title in 2020 and has not won a race since the penultimate race of the 2021 campaign.

Ferrari has not won a drivers’ title since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, bottom, is sprayed with champagne by Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc on the podium for the Formula One Mexico Grand Prix in Mexico City, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Hamilton is making a shocking move from Mercedes to Ferrari next year.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, bottom, is sprayed with champagne by Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc on the podium for the Formula One Mexico Grand Prix in Mexico City, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Hamilton is making a shocking move from Mercedes to Ferrari next year.

AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File

With Charles Leclerc recently signing a multi-year deal at Ferrari it will make for an exciting-looking partnership. But it also means Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. will need a new team in 2025.

Mercedes also needs to search for a new driver, just like it did after Nico Rosberg stunned his team by retiring just days after winning the 2016 title ahead of Hamilton.

Hamilton’s move to Ferrari surprised many F1 observers because, after signing a new deal last summer, he spoke of having “unfinished business” at the team and of having faith that Mercedes could get back to the front.

Hamilton won six titles with Mercedes in seven years from 2014-20 and praised team principal Toto Wolff.

“I will be forever grateful for the incredible support of my Mercedes family, especially Toto for his friendship and leadership,” Hamilton said.

Wolff said their partnership came “to a natural end” and understood the choice.

“We accept Lewis’s decision to seek a fresh challenge, and our opportunities for the future are exciting to contemplate,” he said. “But for now, we still have one season to go, and we are focused on going racing to deliver a strong 2024.”

Five years ago, Hamilton was asked if he could ever be tempted to drive for Ferrari.

“If there is a point in my life where I decide I want a change, that potentially could be an option,” he said at the time.

In late 2019, Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reported Hamilton met with Ferrari chairman John Elkann twice that year and they discussed Hamilton potentially replacing then-driver Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari.

Now he gets the chance after a couple of frustrating years.

Mercedes won only one race in 2022 — through George Russell — when the car suffered from a bouncing effect, known in F1 as porpoising. The team admitted getting the design wrong and won no races last year.

Hamilton finished third overall in 2023 and secured only six podium finishes.

While Leclerc’s form improved with three podiums in the last four races of 2023, Hamilton finished the last three races in eighth, seventh, and ninth, respectively.

Preseason F1 testing begins in Bahrain on Feb. 21. Bahrain on March 2 hosts the first of a record 24 races with Red Bull star Max Verstappen bidding for a fourth straight world championship and Hamilton looking to end his Mercedes career on a high.

“I am 100% committed to delivering the best performance I can this season and making my last year with the Silver Arrow one to remember,” Hamilton said.

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