The announcement of Hamilton’s departure from McLaren to Mercedes in late September 2012 left the F1 world stunned, and had many onlookers questioning his decision.
But Hamilton has gone on to prove the doubters phenomenally wrong over his 10 year-stint at Brackley, adding a further six world championships and 82 grand prix victories to his achievements to date.
The seven-time world champion has eclipsed Michael Schumacher’s records for most wins and pole positions, and sits tantalisingly close to an unprecedented eighth drivers’ crown.
That got us wondering – what might have happened had he not gambled on Mercedes? We’ve taken a look at three alternate realities where Hamilton opts against a switch to the Silver Arrows at the end of 2012.
Stays at McLaren – but only for so long
Hamilton decides against joining Mercedes and instead agrees fresh terms to commit his future to McLaren.
2013 proves to be a frustrating season – McLaren’s worst for 33 years. Hamilton manages a couple of podium finishes but he and teammate Jenson Button fail to win a race.
McLaren fall to fifth place in the constructors’ but Hamilton is hopeful of better fortunes with a major engine change on the horizon for 2014.
2014 starts promisingly enough with a double podium in Australia, however, despite improved performance, McLaren fall behind a resurgent Williams in the pecking order and Mercedes turn out to be untouchable as Hamilton endures his second winless season on the trot.
A switch to Honda power in 2015 proves disastrous and Hamilton continues to endure barren results for a further campaign.
Frustrated by McLaren’s continued failures, Hamilton accepts a second offer from Mercedes to join the team and replaces Nico Hulkenberg to become teammates with childhood friend Nico Rosberg, who is now a two-time world champion.
After three years off the top step of the podium, Hamilton returns to winning ways in 2016 but suffers a narrow title defeat to Rosberg, who seals his third championship in a row. Hamilton and Rosberg continue to duel it out in an increasingly fiercely-contested rivalry, with Hamilton emerging on top in 2017 to take his long-awaited second drivers’ crown.
Tensions boil over in 2018, leading to several on-track clashes between Rosberg and Hamilton, with neither prepared to bow down to the other. Mercedes’ intra-team dramas play into the hands of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who wins the 2018 title to match Juan Manuel Fangio’s total of five world championships.
Disgruntled by his worsening relationship with Hamilton and the intensity of their rivalry, Rosberg retires at the end of the season, paving the way for the arrival of Valtteri Bottas, who has impressed at Williams for several years.
Mercedes enjoy a far more harmonious driver pairing and Hamilton goes on to add a further two championship trophies to his collection across 2019 and 2020.
Hamilton loses out to Max Verstappen in controversial circumstances in 2021, before enduring another winless campaign in 2022 as Mercedes fall back at the start of a new regulation era.
Hamilton goes into 2023 as a four-time world champion who is still someway shy of Schumacher’s wins and poles record.
Does what Vettel failed to do at Ferrari
Hamilton turns down Mercedes but approaches Ferrari, who offer him the underperforming Felipe Massa’s seat to partner former McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso.
Behind the scenes, Alonso is angered to be reunited with his 2007 nemesis. After the pair fail to put past grievances behind them, the Spaniard leaves to replace Sergio Perez at McLaren for 2014, convinced that the team’s impending reunion with Honda will provide the answer to securing an elusive third title.
Kimi Raikkonen completes a sensational return to Ferrari for 2014 to join Hamilton, who enjoys a brief resurgence in 2015, recording a couple of wins before another frustrating campaign follows in 2016.
From no victories in 2016, Ferrari hit back with a bang in 2017 as Hamilton takes a handful of wins on his way to successfully ending Mercedes’ run of F1 titles.
Hamilton overcomes some costly reliability failures that threatened to derail his title hopes by taking full advantage of having the fastest car for much of the season to beat Vettel – who swapped Red Bull for Mercedes at the end of 2014 – to the crown.
Boosted by winning his second world title, and having successfully delivered Ferrari’s first world championship in a decade, Hamilton once again defeats Vettel in a head-to-head battle to make it back-to-back titles and become a three-time world champion.
Hamilton has to wait until 2022 for another stab at a world championship. Despite a promising start to the season, Hamilton ultimately comes up just short against Verstappen – thanks largely to Ferrari’s operational blunders and reliability failures.
The 38-year-old, wary of previous missed opportunities but buoyed by Ferrari’s improved performance, is determined to win a fourth world championship in 2023 and go out of F1 on top.
Straight into a title battle at Red Bull
Having caught wind of Mercedes’ interest in Hamilton, Red Bull boss Christian Horner moves quickly to offer Hamilton a seat at the reigning world champions to form a super team alongside three-time world champion Vettel.
The offer proves too tempting to refuse, and Hamilton is thrust into an immediate title battle against Vettel. It takes Hamilton a little while to find his feet at his new team, in which time Vettel opens up a comfortable championship lead. Hamilton fights back strongly in the second half of the season but is narrowly beaten by an in-form Vettel.
Red Bull find themselves on the back foot at the start of F1’s new engine cycle and although they are not in the hunt for world titles, Hamilton is able to get the better of Vettel, who, bruised by his first defeat to a teammate, makes the switch to Ferrari.
Hamilton asserts himself as Red Bull’s new team leader and is joined by Daniel Ricciardo for 2015, which proves to be another frustrating season as the team go winless.
Hamilton and Ricciardo share the odd victory between them over the following five seasons, but Red Bull have to wait until 2021 to get their first shot at a title since 2013.
Ricciardo is forced to play a supporting role to the superior Hamilton in his intense season-long title battle against Verstappen, who, having grown frustrated at Toro Rosso with his route to Red Bull continually blocked, was snapped up by Mercedes in 2018, before going on to win the 2019 and 2020 titles.
Hamilton pips Verstappen in 2021 to secure his second drivers’ crown, preventing the Dutchman from becoming a three-time world champion.
With Mercedes and Verstappen out of the title picture in 2022, Hamilton enjoys a relatively comfortable run to a third world championship and looks to carry his winning streak into 2023.