Two of the Riskiest F1 Driver Moves That Actually Paid Off

May 2, 2023

  • Lewis Hamilton Celebrates his 91st F1 Victory

We aren’t even two months into the 2023 Formula One season, and there are already talking points in abundance. Red Bull have carried their dominance from last year into the new campaign, winning all three races thus far and Max Verstappen looks well on course for a third consecutive world championship. Ferrari, by contrast, look a million miles off the pace they showed last season however, and they have a lot of thinking to do at their Maranello headquarters.

Perhaps the most surprising talking point of all however is the early season pace of Aston Martin, and particularly that of veteran two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. The 41-year-old Spaniard shocked the rest of the paddock last term when he announced that he would be leaving Alpine, a team at the front of the midfield which delivered him back-to-back world championships in 2005 and 2006. When it was announced that he would be joining one of last season’s backmarkers, replacing Sebastian Vettel at the Aston Martin, even more eyebrows were raised.

Alonso Justifies His Decision to Move to Aston Martin

However, so far, it looks like his decision has been justified. He has proven to be the fastest man on track, outside of the grid-leading Red Bulls, in each race this season, and has secured three consecutive third-place finishes. Fans and experts were aware of the British team’s pace in preseason testing however, no one could have anticipated just how quick they would be.

The most recent Grand Prix in Melbourne was as exciting as it was chaotic. The race proved that it isn’t just live casino games in Australia that are exhilarating, and while it was once again Verstappen who romped to victory, Alonso once again stole the show. He recovered from an early spin to once again secure a place on the podium and continue his strong early-season form.

The Spanish driver’s success got us thinking, how many more drivers have made a risky decision to change teams? Well, here are two of the riskiest drivers’ moves that actually paid off.

Lewis Hamilton: McLaren > Mercedes

“Isn’t that a bit like swapping Manchester United for West Ham?” That’s what Jeremy Clarkson said to Lewis Hamilton on an episode of Top Gear in the aftermath of his decision to make the move from McLaren to Mercedes. And the decision was most certainly a stunner.

The Woking-based outfit led a young Hamilton to the brink of becoming the first rookie in history to win a world championship in 2007. One year later, the Stevenage-born star would claim that honor, becoming the first Brit in 12 years to climb the Formula One mountain. But for the next four years, both Hamilton and McLaren were left in the dust by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, and the now-seven-time world champion knew that he had to make a move in order to secure more world championships.

No one could have ever expected Mercedes to dominate in the way they have over the last decade, however. Everyone knew that rather than focusing on the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the Silver Arrows were focusing all of their attention on the 2014 season and the dawn of the turbo-hybrid era. And that focus paid off in a car that was far superior to the rest of the grid.

As such, Mercedes has catapulted Hamilton to greatest of all time status, helping him to six driver’s world championships and a further eight constructor’s crowns. The iconic driver bet all his chips onto the German team, and he came up trumps. Hamilton’s decision to trade in McLaren for Mercedes may have seemed foolish at the time, but in the end, it has proven to be one of the greatest decisions made by any athlete in history.

Kimi Räikkönen: McLaren > Ferrari

Another man that also took a risky decision when he announced that he would be leaving McLaren was Kimi Räikkönen. The Flying Finn was taken to the brink of two world championships by the British team, only to eventually finish second, firstly to Michael Schumacher and then to Fernando Alonso. In 2006, after a dismal year for reliability issues, enough was finally enough.

It was announced that Räikkönen would replace the retiring Schumacher at Ferrari, and once again, the paddock was stunned. While Lewis Hamilton was ready and waiting to replace the outgoing star, and as back-to-back world champion Fernando Alonso had also signed up to the team, former team principal Ron Dennis was still disappointed to see his lead driver depart for his biggest rival.

Räikkönen immediately rewarded team principal Jean Todt’s faith in him by securing a win in his debut at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix, however, the year would be an incomplete one that was dominated by McLaren. That was until the season’s latter stages at least. With Alonso and Hamilton embarking on a civil war in Woking, Räikkönen and the Scuderia quietly went about their business in Maranello, and eventually, they got their just desserts.

The recently retired Finnish star won three of the last four races to steal the title out from under the noses of both McLarens, eventually winning the championship by just one point. It was the only championship Räikkönen would ever win in Formula One, and his brave decision to leave a McLaren team that he was so ingrained into was immediately justified.