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Verstappen predicts ‘awkward’ final Mercedes year for Hamilton

Max Verstappen says Lewis Hamilton’s switch to Ferrari for 2025 was not a surprise to him, but reckons the early timing of the seismic announcement will make things a “little bit awkward” at Mercedes in the new season.

Red Bull’s Verstappen was asked about his rival’s blockbuster move for the first time at the launch of his team’s new car and suggested it was “not a surprise for me that they were talking”.

“At the end of the day seeing him go to Ferrari is not a surprise. If that’s your goal as a kid or your dream then you go, right?” Verstappen, F1’s reigning triple world champion, told reporters.

“The only thing for me was that it seemed like it [the news] was a bit leaked of course and then they had to announce it because to announce something that big that early in the season I think for sure for the rest of the year is a little bit awkward.

“Even though you have had a lot of success together as a team, you can’t be included into everything anymore.

“But for him going to Ferrari it’s not really shocking.”

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz admits he was surprised by the news that Hamilton will replace him in 2025, but insists he has several attractive options for his next move

Hamilton has rewritten the sport’s record books during his 11 years at Mercedes, where he has won six of his seven world titles, in an association that had appeared set to take the 39-year-old to the end of his F1 career before news of his stunning Ferrari move emerged.

Verstappen says it is inevitable that, as with any driver leaving a team, Hamilton will be kept away from certain discussions and information related to plans for future seasons as this campaign wears on.

However, he does not believe there will be a change to the level of support and backing that Mercedes give their long-serving driver.

“For sure he has a great relationship with everyone and especially also with Toto (Wolff). But he also knows at one point, and Toto for sure will tell him like ‘I’m really sorry, we’ve had all this success, but you can’t be part of certain meetings anymore’,” added Verstappen.

Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur says Hamilton will be a ‘huge asset’ when he joins the team, but he expects Sainz to continue to give his best for the remainder of his time with the team

“That’s normal in F1 and it’s probably a bit weird, but you’re professional enough to deal with that [as a driver].

“At the end of the day, you are professional enough to just deal with what you have.

“It’s not like they are suddenly enemies or whatever. He has achieved so many great things with that whole team that they are still behind him, it’s just you know at one point you can’t just share certain stuff. But once he is sitting in the car they will still go flat out for him to try and win races as well.”

Toto Wolff says he respects Hamilton’s decision to leave Mercedes, and insists their friendship will remain beyond the end of their professional relationship

Speaking on the same topic earlier this month in the wake of Hamilton’s Ferrari switch being announced, Mercedes boss Wolff said the 2025 information issue was “not something that bothers me at all”.

“We have engineers that leave us and go to other teams and the notice periods are sometimes as short as six months,” Wolff said.

“So I don’t have any doubt in Lewis’ integrity in terms of sharing information. In that respect, we want to make sure that this is a successful season for both drivers [Hamilton and George Russell], and a successful season for Mercedes.”

Ferrari face the same situation with Carlos Sainz, who Hamilton is replacing next year.

Max: ‘Maybe they’ve shown him stuff that we don’t know’ | Horner admires Hamilton ‘bravery’

Hamilton takes to the track at Silverstone to test out the new Mercedes car ahead of his final season with the team as team-mate George Russell observes from the side

Ferrari, like Mercedes, are still searching for a performance breakthrough in the sport’s current ground-effect regulation area which has been absolutely dominated by Verstappen and Red Bull so far.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, Verstappen said when asked about the possible reasons for Hamilton’s switch to Maranello for next year: “From my side it’s very difficult to know. I don’t know how the current situation is of course at the team.

“I don’t know what he has at the back of his mind – if it’s a dream from when you were a kid then at one point, if you’ve already achieved so much in the sport anyway then why not?

“But then again, maybe he’s spoken to Ferrari and they’ve shown him stuff that we don’t know, so for me it’s very difficult to answer that.”

Christian Horner, Verstappen’s team boss at Red Bull, praised the boldness of Hamilton’s move and also suspected the seven-time champion may have seen something at Ferrari “which he likes the look of” for the future.

“I think Ferrari are a competitive team,” Horner told Craig Slater.

“They’ve laid their marker down by hiring a driver like Lewis. It’s a big decision by him to walk away from that relationship with Mercedes-Benz that’s been throughout his entire career from even before Formula 1.

“So you’ve got to admire his bravery with that, but Ferrari is a great brand and obviously he’s seen something there that he likes the look of.”

When is F1 pre-season testing?

Pre-season testing takes place from Wednesday February 21 to Friday February 23 at the Bahrain International Circuit with just three days for the teams to get prepared for the new season.

When is the first F1 race?

Just one week later, the opening race of the 2024 season will begin with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29 to March 2.

Due to the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, the Bahrain and, seven days later, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, will be held on a Saturday.

This means practice one and two will take place on Thursdays, with final practice and qualifying on Fridays.

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