Lewis Hamilton has the chance to do something extraordinary


The idea of Lewis Hamilton moving to Ferrari is simultaneously shocking but not remotely surprising.

Hamilton is, obviously, a prodigiously talented driver. We all know that. But he’s not just fast, he’s smart.

At his best, he can manage races and exploit the strengths of the car while minimising its weaknesses.

And, like the very best drivers, he always keeps a bit of brain space free for analysing what his opponents are doing.

It’s that blend of outright speed and tactical nous that separates the greats from the rest.

‘The Professor’ Alain Prost. Pic: AP

There is a reason why Alain Prost, the man who memorably declared that the point of Formula One was to win a race at the lowest possible speed, was known as The Professor.

Or why Michael Schumacher once performed the truly astonishing feat of finishing second in a race, despite only being able to use fifth gear.

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He simply worked out the answer to a problem that most of us would find insurmountable.

But even the most thoughtful racing driver can be susceptible to a malaise that is chronic among Formula One’s greatest drivers – the obsession with Ferrari.

Put simply, there is a niggling fear among this most select of clubs that, once retired, you’ll look back on your career, forget the wins, the championships, the glory and the champagne, and rue the feeling that you never drove for the sport’s most revered team.

Because to win in a Ferrari is the ultimate goal.

Former Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher at the 2004 Japanese Grand Prix. Pic: Reuters/Action Images/John Marsh

The allure of Ferrari

I don’t think there is another sports team quite like the Ferrari F1 team.

All sports have great, world-famous sides, whose successes ebb and flow – Real Madrid, Manchester United or the New York Yankees. But for all the fans who love those teams, there is another group who can’t stand them.

With Ferrari, the spectrum is different.

Everyone is, at least, interested in them. Many like them, plenty adore them. But very few, in my 40 years of watching the sport, truly hate Ferrari. Even the ones who say they do, normally, don’t.

It is a team that has bounced between success and awful underachievement, and that, of course, is what attracts the great drivers.

What better feeling, what more romantic ambition, than to resuscitate Ferrari, who haven’t won the drivers’ title since 2007?

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It’s the same rationale, the prospect of recapturing the glorious past, that has brought a line of stellar managers to Manchester United over the past decade.

It’s what lured Schumacher to Italy (he succeeded, spectacularly), it’s what Ayrton Senna intended to do, and it’s the dream that now beguiles Hamilton.

You can understand it. Just cast your eyes over the people who’ve won a title in a Ferrari – such luminaries as Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari, Niki Lauda and, of course, Schumacher.

Two British drivers have done so – Mike Hawthorn and John Surtees, both achieved more than 60 years ago.

British driver John Surtees in a Ferrari for the 1964 Syracuse Grand Prix. Pic: AP

Hamilton does have the chance to do something extraordinary.

Where Ferrari has fallen short

Except, of course, Ferrari doesn’t just have the ability to delight, but also to disappoint.

The team somehow managed to avoid winning the title with Sebastian Vettel, despite putting an in-form, four-time world champion into the quickest car on the circuit.

They did the same with Fernando Alonso.

Recently they’ve spent fortunes on developing a car that shows flashes of genius, and then either breaks down, slows down or is hobbled by the team’s strategic blunders.

Somehow, Ferrari have become the recidivists at snatching failure from the jaws of success. And that can’t just be down to bad luck.

Hamilton will know what he’s walking into.

But once upon a time, he shocked everyone by leaving McLaren when they were supreme and joining a nascent Mercedes team. That worked out really rather well.

Maybe, just maybe, he could be the key to unlocking Ferrari’s dreams.

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