Hamilton: Italian fans want me at Ferrari
Lewis Hamilton is braced for a hostile reception when he goes in search of a record sixth triumph at Ferrari’s home – but the world champion has revealed that the Italian supporters, who are likely to boo him, have pleaded for him to join their team.
Sitting in his Mercedes’ cockpit yesterday, Hamilton will have seen the solitary “Team LH” Union Flag among the swathes of Ferrari flags adorning the pit straight.
British novices Lando Norris and George Russell will have been stunned by the manic greeting they received upon leaving the paddock last night. The latter, who is yet to score a single point in Formula One, was mobbed like a rock star. The Williams driver required three security guards to keep the selfie brigade at bay.
Yet the fanatical tifosi have been starved of success in recent times. Kimi Raikkonen was the last driver dressed in red to win a world championship, 12 years ago. A Ferrari car has not won at Monza since 2010. And while Charles Leclerc finally ended Ferrari’s winless run in Belgium last weekend, Sebastian Vettel – paid £36million each year to end their title drought – has not won a race in more than a year.
In contrast, Hamilton is this year well-placed to close out his sixth world championship, moving to within one of Ferrari hero Michael Schumacher. He would usurp Schumacher as the master of Monza with another triumph tomorrow after winning four of his past five races at the “Cathedral of Speed”.
“I have a very good Italian following,” said Hamilton, who is 65 points clear of second-placed Valtteri Bottas in the championship. “I stand on top of the podium in Monza and more than 90 per cent of the fans are following Ferrari. You have this incredible fan base which creates one of the craziest atmospheres of the season. Often I have made the weekend not very good for them.
“But when I arrive at this race, a lot of Ferrari fans have asked me to go to Ferrari. I wasn’t expecting that. Ferrari have not had a championship since 2007, so there is that yearning of seeing their favourite team succeed. I am sure they are relating to the fact that I have won the title for the last few years.”
Hamilton is receptive to the idea of joining Ferrari, possibly ending his career with the Italian giants. The 34-year-old Briton has one more year to run on his £40milliona-season Mercedes deal.
“If there is a point in my life where I need to decide I want to change teams, then Ferrari could be an option,” added Hamilton, who trailed Leclerc by 0.07sec in practice yesterday. Vettel finished third.
“But how would I feel if I ended my career without driving for them? When you drive for Mercedes you are part of the family forever. That is important to me and so is loyalty.”