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Formula 1: Top 10 biggest driver transfers in F1 history

Published at :February 6, 2024 at 1:24 PM
Modified at :February 6, 2024 at 1:24 PM
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Hisan Kidwai


These moves have left an indelible mark on F1’s rich history

The world of Formula 1 has always been dynamic, marked by the unexpected, and the driver transfer market is no exception. In the upcoming 2025 season, the shockwave is set to hit again with Lewis Hamilton’s surprising move from Mercedes to Ferrari.

As fans eagerly await the unfolding drama, it’s worth revisiting some of the biggest driver transfers that have left an indelible mark on F1’s rich history.

10. Nigel Mansell to CART (1993)

Nigel Mansell’s journey into CART in 1993 was like stepping into a new adventure after conquering Formula 1. Imagine winning the F1 championship, only to face a roadblock as your team wants a driver from a specific country. That’s what happened to Mansell, but instead of giving up, he embraced a new challenge.

In an unprecedented move, Mansell did something extraordinary – he raced in both F1 and CART at the same time! Holding titles in both series simultaneously showcased his incredible skills. Even though his return to F1 with McLaren was short, his stint in CART added a cool twist to his racing story, proving he was one of the most versatile drivers ever.

9. Niki Lauda: Retirement to McLaren for 1982

Niki Lauda’s comeback in 1982 with McLaren marked a significant chapter in his Formula 1 career. After a brief retirement following his double world championships, Lauda found renewed motivation. The Austrian, enticed by McLaren’s potent Porsche-powered MP4/2, made a surprising return to the grid. In 1984, Lauda achieved the ultimate triumph, narrowly beating teammate Alain Prost to the title.

This unexpected turn of events showcased Lauda’s determination and love for the sport. His retirement-turned-comeback with McLaren not only added another championship to his illustrious career but also left an indelible mark on the history of Formula 1.

8. Emerson Fittipaldi: Lotus to McLaren (1974)

Emerson Fittipaldi’s big move from Lotus to McLaren in 1974 was a game-changer in his Formula 1 story. After a great start with Lotus, winning the 1972 World Championship, Fittipaldi faced some challenges in 1973. In a surprising twist, he joined McLaren for the 1974 season, leaving the team that had won the constructors’ championship for one that finished third.

Despite doubts, the move turned out to be a masterstroke as Fittipaldi clinched his second driver’s title, narrowly beating Ferrari’s Clay Regazzoni. This bold decision showcased Fittipaldi’s love for new adventures and played a huge part in his ongoing success in Formula 1.

7. Kimi Räikkönen to Ferrari (2014)

Kimi Räikkönen’s return to Ferrari for the 2014 Formula One season marked a dramatic twist in the driver market saga. Ferrari officially announced the highly anticipated move, bringing back the last world champion who clinched the title in a thrilling final race in Brazil in 2007. The Finn joined forces with Fernando Alonso, forming a formidable duo under the Ferrari banner.

The decision to sign Räikkönen for at least two seasons represented a significant shift in Ferrari’s approach, as they had released him in 2009 to make way for Alonso. This move marked a departure from the team’s previous hierarchy, where Alonso had been the undisputed No. 1 driver. The prospect of two world-class rivals, Räikkönen and Alonso, competing for Ferrari added a layer of intrigue to the upcoming season, setting the stage for one of the most gripping campaigns in recent F1 history.

6. Lewis Hamilton: McLaren to Mercedes (2013)

Lewis Hamilton‘s move from McLaren to Mercedes in 2013 marked a strategic shift that would define the latter part of his Formula 1 career. Departing from McLaren, where he secured his maiden championship in 2008, Hamilton joined Mercedes at a time when they were not yet a dominant force.

The decision was met with skepticism, as Mercedes was considered an underdog compared to McLaren’s competitive package. However, Hamilton’s foresight became evident as he played an important role in transforming Mercedes into an F1 powerhouse. The following years saw Hamilton winning numerous Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles, solidifying his legacy and showcasing his ability to make career decisions that would shape the course of Formula 1 history.

5. Fernando Alonso: Renault to McLaren (2007)

Fernando Alonso‘s Formula 1 journey has been marked by unexpected twists. After winning two Driver’s titles with Renault, his move to McLaren in 2007 proved tumultuous, leading to a return to Renault. In a surprising turn, Alonso joined Ferrari in 2010, aiming for championship success. Despite near misses in 2010 and 2012, the evolving F1 landscape prompted another shock as he rejoined McLaren in 2015.

A challenging partnership with Honda saw little success, prompting Alonso’s 2018 departure. His comeback with Alpine in 2021 set the stage for yet another surprise – replacing Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin. Alonso’s career remains a captivating narrative, leaving fans curious about the next unpredictable chapter in this F1 maverick’s story.

4. Daniel Ricciardo: RedBull to Renault (2019)

Daniel Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo made a bold move from Red Bull to Renault in 2019

In a surprising twist, Daniel Ricciardo made a bold move from Red Bull to Renault in 2019, announcing his departure on August 3. Despite close talks with Red Bull and earlier indications of contract renewal, Ricciardo opted for a new challenge, signing a two-year contract with Renault. This unexpected decision marked a significant shift for the Australian driver, leaving the team where he had spent the first decade of his Formula 1 career.

Replacing Carlos Sainz Jr., Ricciardo joined Renault alongside Nico Hulkenberg, familiar with Renault’s engines from Red Bull’s use between 2007 and 2015. While Red Bull’s Christian Horner respected Ricciardo’s decision, Helmut Marko expressed surprise, speculating about doubts about the Honda Project or lucrative offers from Renault.

3. Michael Schumacher: Benetton to Ferrari (1996)

Michael Schumacher’s shift from Benetton to Ferrari in 1996 was a momentous decision that changed the course of Formula 1. After winning consecutive championships with Benetton, Schumacher aimed to lead Ferrari back to glory. Despite initial challenges, the partnership bore fruit in 2000 when Schumacher secured Ferrari’s first Drivers’ Championship in over two decades. This marked the beginning of a dominant era, with Schumacher claiming a record seven world titles and solidifying his legendary status in Formula 1 history.

2. Sebastian Vettel: Red Bull to Ferrari (2015)

Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Formula 1 F1
Sebastian Vettel moved from Red Bull to Ferrari in 2015

Sebastian Vettel, the dominant force in Formula 1 with Red Bull from 2010 to 2013, made a surprising move to Ferrari in 2015.

Having secured four consecutive titles with Red Bull, Vettel’s departure marked a significant shift in the competitive landscape. The decision came after a challenging 2014 season where Red Bull struggled with new power unit regulations, and Vettel faced tough competition from his teammate Daniel Ricciardo. The move to Ferrari was confirmed at the Japanese Grand Prix, signalling the end of an era with Red Bull.

Vettel aimed to help Ferrari reclaim its former glory, although achieving championship success would prove elusive during his tenure with the Scuderia. His move to Ferrari added a new chapter to his career and brought forth a period of change in the F1 hierarchy.

1. Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes to Ferrari (2025)

Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time F1 world champion, has announced a historic move from Mercedes to Ferrari for the 2025 season. This unexpected shift marks the end of a 17-year partnership with Mercedes, despite recently signing a new contract. The multi-year agreement with Ferrari adds a new chapter to Hamilton’s illustrious career and sets the stage for intense competition in the upcoming season.

The move has generated significant excitement, making the 2025 season highly anticipated as fans eagerly await Hamilton’s journey in the iconic red livery. This transfer is not just a sports headline but a cultural moment, injecting fresh excitement into Formula 1.

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