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Stick or twist? Five times F1 drivers have joined their teams’ rivals

Written by Max Drinkwater-James, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Lewis Hamilton will drive for Ferrari from 2025, as he leaves his six-time title winning team Mercedes. 

This is a headline you’ve surely heard in the news recently, after Lewis Hamilton announced his departure from Mercedes at the end of 2024,  heading to the scarlet Scuderia Ferrari from the 2025 season.

A move touted as the biggest in motorsport history. A driver of Lewis’ calibre and history moving to the prestigious scarlet colours of Ferrari seemed almost destined to join the likes of Schumacher, Prost, Vettel and Alonso in moving to the prancing horse. 

However, some are also questioning the morale of the move with Lewis joining one of Mercedes’ biggest competitors in the turbo hybrid era and abandoning a team that’s given him six of his seven world titles. 

But fear not, Formula One fans, as this isn’t the first time in the sports history when a driver has left their team to join a rival. Some worked out and thrived in their new team, whilst others looked back on what could have been.

Here are five such shock rival driver moves, that too rocked the Formula One world once they came to fruition. 

1.Alain Prost: McLaren to Ferrari 

Alain Prost had just won the 1989 world title with McLaren, after a fierce, yet sometimes brutal partnership with Ayrton Senna. Surely, he would stay with the team he just won a championship with?

No. Prost joined the Scuderia, having walked away from McLaren after his championship win. An accumulation of incidents between Prost and Senna reached boiling point in their penultimate race as a driver duo, with both drivers colliding trying to fight for the lead of the race. 

Prost was out, yet Senna marched on after some help from a marshal to get running again. This saw the Frenchman part ways with his fierce rival and teammate. The move didn’t go to plan for Alain after he was booted from the scarlet outfit just one year later after coming out and publicly criticising his team. 

2. Michael Schumacher: Benetton to Ferrari 

The red Baron moved from Benetton to Ferrari for the 1996 season, after winning consecutive world drivers championships with Benetton in 94’ and 95’. 

So how did Schumacher perform with his new team? Well, if five consecutive world titles between 2000 and 2004 are anything to go by, he surely performed strongly with his switch. 

Of course, it took a few years to get up in running. Schumacher was dethroned by Mika Hakkinen twice, and pipped to the title by Jacques Villeneuve, but the duo of Schumacher and Ferrari became unstoppable ever since. That was of course, until the next driver move. 

Michael Schumacher next to his 1996 Ferrari challenger; Credits: Scuderia Ferrari

3. Fernando Alonso: Renault to McLaren 

Our first non-Ferrari move goes to Alonso, and his move in 2007 to McLaren. This deal was secretly signed in 2005, when Alonso dethroned Schumacher and Ferrari from championship contention. 

Alonso won the World drivers championship in 2005 and 2006, the latter after a fierce season-long battle with Schumacher, and cemented his name into F1 history. So why leave Renault for McLaren? 

You may ask yourself the same, and think it was an odd move, but you look no further, and McLaren were one of the dominating teams before Schumacher’s reign, and had looked on the up towards the time of Alonso’s move. 

Alas, the move didn’t pay off for Alonso, who left the team ahead of the 2008 season, after a bitter rivalry with a certain rookie by the name of Lewis Hamilton, and after the conclusion of the spygate drama. 

Fernando Alonso with McLaren Teammate Lewis Hamilton ahead of the 2007 season; Credits: Formula One

4.Lewis Hamilton: McLaren to Mercedes.

Yes that’s right, this isn’t Lewis’ first foray into the rival transfer spotlight. 

Lewis had won his first world championship with McLaren in 2008, but never really reaped any further rewards afterwards, due to a lacklustre McLaren car never getting the Brit near the title lead by the likes of Brawn GP in 2009, and later Red Bull from 2010-2013. 

Lewis needed a change, and that change would come in the form of Mercedes. The retiring Michael Schumacher (for the second time) would step down after the 2012 season. Mercedes at this point weren’t the juggernaut we know of today; they were only in their fourth season and many predicted failure for Hamilton.

Although he failed to make an impression in 2013, securing only a single win, he went on to dominate the sport, winning a further six drivers titles with the silver arrows, breaking records for fun along his way. 

Hamilton celebrates his first win for Mercedes at the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix; Credits:

5. Sebastian Vettel: Red Bull to Ferrari

Sebastian was at the forefront of F1 success, for his reign as world champion from 2010-2013, and earned the reputation as one of the greats of the sport. 

Although many fans disliked the domination, Vettel thrived on it. He loved being the villain; it meant he was being successful. Thus it came as a surprise to many when he jumped ship to Ferrari for the 2015 season. 

A lacklustre 2014 saw Vettel toppled from the head of the standings by Hamilton, and this was enough for Vettel to chase the scarlet colours of the Scuderia. 

Like his inspiration Schumacher, Vettel aimed to match his fellow countryman, by gaining championship success with Ferrari. 

However this dream never materialised, Vettel took the fight to Hamilton but always fell short arguably his best opportunity came in 2017 and 2018 but a combination of mistakes, bad luck and Mercedes Benz performance kept Vettel to just his four world titles. 

So now we’ve established that some of the best drivers in F1 history have made the moves to rival teams before, and let’s end with a pressing question: How will Lewis perform at Ferrari? 

Nobody knows the honest answer. Of course he’ll extract the best out of the car, and pick up wins, but the illustrious eighth world title will be his goal, and to win it in a Ferrari to break Schumacher’s record would be nothing short of motorsport poetry.


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