Lewis Hamilton‘s arrival will present “a huge opportunity” for Ferrari next year but signing the seven-time Formula 1 champion involved some uncomfortable phone calls, team principal Fred Vasseur said.
Hamilton is joining Ferrari for next season after driving for Mercedes since 2013. He will team up with Charles Leclerc at the Italian team after Carlos Sainz Jr leaves.
“It’s a huge opportunity for the team, for sure,” said Vasseur, who has known Hamilton since they worked together during the British driver’s path through junior categories in the mid-2000s before his F1 debut with McLaren in 2007. That relationship helped ensure that the agreement was made “naturally”, he said.
Vasseur said the coup of signing Hamilton — a deal which surprised many in F1 — meant some difficult conversations with Sainz and with Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, an old friend.
“As you can imagine, it was not the easiest call of my life (with Sainz). One of the most difficult was the one with Toto,” Vasseur said.
“I’m fully convinced that (Sainz) is a very professional driver, that he understands that we have a long season in front of us.
“We had a long discussion, as you can imagine, but I will be fully supporting Carlos. He is fully committed.”
Hamilton’s move was announced on February 1 and he said a few days later that driving in Ferrari red represented a “chance to fulfill another childhood dream”.
Leclerc said he was looking forward to learning from Hamilton.
“We’ve had discussions with Lewis, especially when everything was announced and official, we texted each other, of course,” he said.
“Lewis is a great champion with a lot of experience and so much success. It is always interesting to have a new teammate as you learn different ways of working, of driving, and even more so when my new teammate is a seven-time world champion.”
Ferrari unveiled its 2024 car, which the team said had been designed with a heavy emphasis on “drivability” — making the car easier for Leclerc and Sainz to drive and more adaptable in a range of conditions than the sometimes unpredictable 2023 car.
Red Bull won all but one of the races last year as Max Verstappen ran away with the drivers’ title. Ferrari struggled for much of the season but was the only other team to take a race victory as Sainz won the Singapore Grand Prix.