The biggest driver moves in F1 history

Driver market silly season is one of the most looked-forward-to periods in F1 for fans.

Which driver will make the move to which team? Last season’s silly season was rather tame compared to previous years but Lewis Hamilton’s early announcement that he will move to Ferrari for 2025 has set this campaign’s rumour mill alight already.

So where does his move sit in the list of biggest transfers in F1 history?

Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull to Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel was the dominant force in F1 between 2010 and 2013, securing four consecutive titles with Red Bull.

The German looked set to remain with the outfit for life having risen through its junior ranks and, with the relationship between Vettel and the Red Bull hierarchy so strong, why would there be need to move?

A turning point came in 2014 when Renault struggled to adapt to F1’s new power unit regulations and, with Red Bull trailing and Daniel Ricciardo outperforming Vettel in his first season in the team, a shock switch to Ferrari was confirmed at the Japanese Grand Prix that term.

After close-run affairs with Hamilton from 2017 onwards, Vettel would ultimately fail in his quest to help turn the Scuderia’s title fortunes around, eventually retiring at the end of 2022 following two years with Aston Martin.

© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool

Fernando Alonso

There is no need to specify a move for Fernando Alonso given his history of swapping from top team to top team, often out of the blue.

The Spaniard began his switches by announcing he would move to McLaren for 2007 having won two Drivers’ titles with Renault. That move didn’t work out so a return to Renault followed, only for another shockwave to come ahead of the 2010 season as Alonso joined Ferrari.

Alonso came close to succeeding with his switch – denied only by Vettel in 2010 and 2012 – but after a slow start to F1’s new regulation set, another stunning switch came as he rejoined McLaren for 2015.

Honda was the allure yet, with the Japanese manufacturer enduring a nightmare return to the sport with McLaren, Alonso would find no success and eventually quit the sport at the end of 2018 to begin pastures new.

That wasn’t the end of the story though, as the Spaniard came back to F1 for 2021 with Alpine, spending two seasons with the French manufacturer before stunning the grid yet again by being announced as Vettel’s replacement at Aston Martin. Where will his career take him next?

Lewis Hamilton from McLaren to Mercedes

Hamilton has broken the news with a move before when he made the jump from McLaren to Mercedes.

McLaren gave him his F1 chance and he repayed them almost instantly with a title in his second season. As with Vettel, it seemed like an inseparable combination but in 2012, Hamilton jumped ship.

It made no sense from the outside in, with Mercedes in the midfield and McLaren challenging for titles. But what a decision it turned out to be.

Whilst the Woking-based outfit has slumped in the years since, Hamilton picked up six Drivers’ titles and was a part of eight Constructors’ triumphs as part of the Silver Arrows operation, helping to join Michael Schumacher as the most successful driver in history when factoring in only world titles.

Can he go one further with Ferrari?

			© FIA Pool Image for Editorial Use

© FIA Pool Image for Editorial Use

Nigel Mansell to CART

There was quite the soap opera around Nigel Mansell in the early 1990s.

The Briton became champion for Williams in 1992 yet found himself without a drive. Engine supplier Renault wanted a Frenchman in the car and Alain Prost, who had taken a sabbatical, came back for the Grove-based outfit.

Instead of staying in F1, Mansell went to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean to take on the CART/IndyCar series, becoming the only driver to hold both titles at the same time.

A return to F1 came after Ayrton Senna’s tragic death at Imola in 1994, with Mansell sharing duties with David Coulthard alongside regular driver Damon Hill.

A switch to McLaren was short-lived a year later – and that was that.

			© XPBimages

© XPBimages

Emerson Fittipaldi from McLaren to Fittipaldi Automotive

Emerson Fittipaldi is a legend of motorsport and one of the most successful drivers of the 1970s. The Brazilian won his first title with Lotus in 1972 before moving to McLaren to repeat his success in 1974.

But a major shock came when Fittipaldi upped sticks at the end of 1975 and joined brother Wilson’s team, Fittipaldi Automotive – or Copersucar.

The switch wouldn’t be successful as, across five seasons with the outfit, no victories would come before the curtain fell on the team in 1982.

Other transfers?

There have been plenty of stunning driver switches in the past, with Michael Schumacher and Prost heading to Ferrari and Senna moving to Williams from McLaren. But those were at least slightly expected.

Hamilton’s Ferrari switch has definitely provided a shock factor… will there be more later this year?

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