An irrepressible and likable character, Vasseur has made a strong start to leading Ferrari out of its latest era of underachievement. The project remains a work in progress – but the operational errors of previous years were fewer in number last year.
Vasseur has been a unifying presence.But from Ferrari’s side, why does it want a 39-year-old over the impressive 29-year-old Sainz? Because Hamilton proved in 2023 he still has the growling hunger to return to the top – and he drove as well as ever across the season. Give him the car, he’ll deliver.
Combined with Leclerc, Ferrari will likely have the strongest line-up on the grid next year – and Hamilton’s presence will galvanise and further motivate the team. He might well also aid Vasseur’s much-needed recruitment drive for fresh technical heads.
So what about this season? Hamilton signed a two-year deal extension with Mercedes just last August, but it seems the second of those had some sort of break option – which he has actioned a little more than a month before the start of the new campaign. For now, he remains a Mercedes driver. That’s going to be awkward.
We’ve seen such a scenario before. Alonso was announced as a McLaren driver ahead of the 2006 season, but saw out his Renault deal before switching camps the following year. But how the dynamics can work this time around remains to be seen.
A Hamilton sabbatical, standing him down with immediate effect, would avoid a huge distraction in what is a crucial rebuilding year for the Mercedes F1 team. But at this late stage, who on earth could Toto Wolff sign to replace a seven-time world champion?
The questions roll on. How will Leclerc react, giving how he has just recommitted himself to Ferrari for an undefined long-term? Surely Vasseur told him this was possible. They also go back a long way.
What if Mercedes blows Ferrari away in 2024? That would sow a seed of doubt. And what if the Ferrari gamble does backfire in 2025 and Hamilton is forced again to dig deep for motivation? Will he have the energy and desire?