Lewis Hamilton’s Ferrari Move Revs Up the Fashion Industry

In Formula 1, there’s no bigger name than Lewis Hamilton. In many ways, Hamilton transcends the sport itself as a massive public figure in his own right. Hamilton is the sport’s first and only Black driver — currently tied with Michael Schumacher for seven-time world driver championships (WDC) — and boasts the record for the most wins and podium finishes (among countless others).

Off the track, Hamilton is a regular front-row fixture at fashion week, host for a Met Gala table to spotlight Black fashion leaders, owner of the clothing line +44 (Hamilton’s favored racing number) and nonalcoholic beverage company Almave, opened charitable STEM foundation Mission 44, serves as executive producer of the upcoming Formula 1 film starring Brad Pitt and Damson Idris and much more.

More from WWD

Unsurprisingly, the sporting world at large was shocked when Hamilton announced (coincidentally, on the first day of Black History Month) that he would be leaving Mercedes-AMG Petronas, his beloved team after a decade, to join Scuderia Ferrari, a team equivalent to religion in Italy for the 2025 season and beyond.

The move sent Hamilton fans and industry insiders alike into a tizzy; Ferrari’s social media account gained hundreds of thousands of followers and Ferrari’s share prices soared more than 10 percent and the company’s value rose to $10 billion on the stock market (in tangent with a strong earnings reports of 17 percent increased revenue for 2023 by Ferrari, released on the same day).

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 13:  Lewis Hamilton with (L-R) US Olympian Miles Chamley-Watson, US designer Kenneth Nicholson, Lewis Hamilton, US designer Law Roach, Kehlani, stylist Jason Rembert, US athlete Sha'Carri Richardson, Theophilio designer Edvin Thompson and model Alton Mason  attend The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Representatives for Ferrari declined to comment on Lewis Hamilton until the end of the 2024 season, “out of respect for all parties, teams and drivers involved.”

Several motorsport insiders told WWD that they were simultaneously shocked and intrigued by the move; Hamilton made a similar move (seen as a gamble at the time) when he left McLaren in 2013 for Mercedes — where Hamilton was expected to end his career. Hamilton is seeking his eighth WDC and to indisputably become the best in Formula 1.

Luke Smith, senior writer at The Athletic, said this move doesn’t compare to any other in his decade-long motorsport reporting career. “There’s no bigger driver in Formula 1 than Hamilton, and no bigger team in Formula 1 than Ferrari. Ferrari has always been the most famous team in Formula 1 with a degree of prestige, history and exclusivity no other team gets close to matching. This will only escalate once Hamilton joins the team.”

Lily Herman, creator of the popular Formula 1 culture newsletter Engine Failure, noted that in the wake of two years of largely average excitement in the race for the WDC title and the overarching dominance of Max Verstappen and Red Bull, this move could be the shakeup the sport needs. Especially as the sport has looked to expand its reach — specifically in the U.S. — and has evolved to “engaging fans in every other part of Formula 1 — including aspects of the sport’s broader culture, like fashion, social impact, popular media and more.”

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 15: Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates winning a 7th F1 World Drivers Championship on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey at Intercity Istanbul Park on November 15, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton winning his seventh World Drivers Champion in 2020 at the Turkish Grand Prix.

Meanwhile, Abby Rakshit, strategy consultant for Fortune 500 tech and auto firms and founder of Racing Forces Media, a thought leadership creative platform for and by women in sports, akins the move to historical sports deals such as Michael Jordan and Nike or David Beckham moving to LA Galaxy.

One big question that remains on countless minds: What does this move to Ferrari mean? As someone deeply intertwined with the fashion industry, Hamilton’s sartorial choices, styled by industry darling Eric McNeal (and previously, image architect Law Roach), are the talk of the paddock — with Instagram accounts such as Rashi Gaur’s @hamazinglew dedicated to decoding high fashion choices from Valentino to Louis Vuitton.

“Lewis has one of the strongest personal brands of any public figure worldwide — across any industry, not just sports,” explains Herman. “Several drivers [such as Pierre Gasly, Zhou Guanyu, Alex Albon and future teammate, Charles Leclerc] have already pointed to Lewis Hamilton raising the bar as far as how drivers can become societal tastemakers and cultural icons.”

With more than half of the grid including Fernando Alonso’s and Daniel Ricciardo’s contracts up after the 2024 season and Audi recently confirmed retain 100 percent ownership of Sauber’s team in 2026, this change spells a massive shakeup in Formula 1 fashion and sponsorship space.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been digitally retouched) As Formula 1 returns to the grid for the 2024 season the drivers assemble at pre-season testing in Bahrain. (L-R) Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber, Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari, Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Haas F1, Lance Stroll of Canada and Aston Martin F1 Team, Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing, Yuki Tsunoda of Japan and Visa Cash App RB, Logan Sargeant of United States and Williams, Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari, Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and Haas F1, Pierre Gasly of France and Alpine F1, Fernando Alonso of Spain and Aston Martin F1 Team, Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes, Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren, Oscar Piastri of Australia and McLaren, George Russell of Great Britain and Mercedes, Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB, Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing, Zhou Guanyu of China and Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber, Alexander Albon of Thailand and Williams and Esteban Ocon of France and Alpine F1 pose for a photo prior to F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 21, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Adam Pretty - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)
After the 2024 Formula 1 season, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Logan Sargent, Daniel Ricciardo, Yuki Tsunoda, Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu, Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen will be looking to retain their seat or seek out a new team.

India Roby, freelance fashion and Formula 1 writer, said Hamilton’s move greatly impacts other drivers’ success — and who have all started leaning toward becoming celebrities, through brand ambassadorships or starting their own merchandise line — and with the pressure to become more of a public figure in their own right, as Lewis at Ferrari will remain center stage for the foreseeable future.

“Similar to Lewis, teams will be thinking about what these individual drivers offer to the overall racing brand versus solely results on the track,” Roby noted. “At the end of the day, drivers need to provide teams with value and attract money and sponsors, and that means having a ‘face.’”

Sponsorships are critical for racing teams to fund their operations across research, personnel, logistics, marketing and facilities — with at least 100 people in addition to the two main drivers and reserve drivers traveling to more than 20 races in all four corners of the globe with company and factory numbers ranging upward of 300 to 1,200 people. Estimates put bigger name teams such as Mercedes, McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari spending about $400 million per year.

James Vowels, team principal at Williams Racing, explained during their car launch at the Fifth Avenue Puma store in early February the importance of these partnerships to his team. “The first phone call I made when I joined the team was to Puma. I really like what they stand for as a brand and I wore their trainers for many years. The sponsors we are working with have meaning to us and to the world as well.”

When Formula 1 drivers move teams, it’s not always set in stone that sponsors will follow suit — especially as Ferrari carries its heavy weight of luxury brand sponsorsGiorgio ArmaniRay-Ban, Richard Mille and Ferrari Style.

“Naturally, Hamilton brings interest from brands in the U.K.,” explains Rakshit. “Ferrari hasn’t had a title sponsor in a while, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a big tech or finance company aligns with Ferrari moving forward. Title sponsors historically costs $50 million to $100 million a year. It will be much easier for Ferrari to get sponsorship conversations within that range with Hamilton now.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04: Grace Wales Bonner and Lewis Hamilton attend The Fashion Awards 2023 presented by Pandora at the Royal Albert Hall on December 04, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
Grace Wales Bonner and Lewis Hamilton attend The Fashion Awards 2023 in London.

Chris Medland, Formula 1 journalist and broadcaster, concurs that budget constraints have often left brands deciding which of the two names synonymous with the sport to choose from: Hamilton or Ferrari. And now, brands don’t have to weigh their options; Medland observes that brand reputation and history in sport mean everything — especially as the allure of Ferrari is powerful enough to attract the sport’s most successful driver, despite not the team not winning a champion title since 2008.

Notably, during Hamilton’s championship-winning streak, Tommy Hilfiger reentered the space in 2018 as a sponsor of Mercedes. The eponymous brand previously worked with Hamilton’s future team, Ferrari, in a four-year apparel partnership from 1998-2002.

MILAN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 16: Lewis Hamilton and the fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger pose during the Fall 2019 Tommy x Lewis Milan presentation during the Milan Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 on September 16, 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Jacopo Raule/Getty Images for Tommy Hilfiger)
Lewis Hamilton and Tommy Hilfiger at the Tommy x Lewis Spring 2020 presentation during Milan Fashion Week.

The brand selected Hamilton to be an ambassador and design several capsule collections, which set a major precedent within the industry’s intersection. Mercedes’ watch sponsor since 2013, IWC Schaffhausen, has also collaboratively designed limited-edition watches with the champion.

IWC issued a statement to Instagram thanking Hamilton, an indicator that the two will be parting ways next year: “We would like to thank Lewis for his outstanding contribution as a brand ambassador and member of the worldwide IWC Schaffhausen family.…We look forward to another exciting season together. For his future endeavors, on and off the racetrack, we wish Lewis all the best.”

After reentering the motorsports world as a partner to Mercedes in 2018, Hilfiger has seen the rise in popularity between fashion, motorsport and entertainment. “The world of racing is developing at an incredible pace, and we are excited to be at the forefront in our continuing partnership with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team,” Hilfiger told WWD. “We are excited to accelerate on this legacy into the 2024-25 season.”

While plans for the brand’s future with Hamilton remain under wraps, the brand has continued to double down on its Mercedes ties. The company named both Mercedes driver, George Russell, and his long-term girlfriend, Carmen Montero Mundt, ambassadors last year. WAG culture and power couples have been a major part of pop culture; interest in Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce and Victoria Beckham and David Beckham has never been higher.

ZANDVOORT, NETHERLANDS - AUGUST 27: George Russell of Great Britain and Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team and Carmen Montero Mundt arrives at the track during the F1 Grand Prix of The Netherlands at Circuit Park Zandvoort on August 27, 2023 in Zandvoort, Netherlands. (Photo by Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images)
George Russell and Carmen Montero Mundt wearing Tommy Hilfiger at the Dutch Grand Prix in 2023.

Mercedes reserve driver and Alpine’s FIA World Endurance Championship driver, Mick Schumacher, son of Michael Schumacher, was similarly named an ambassador in 2023 — F1 Academy driver Nerea Martí, Mundt, Schumacher, and Schumacher’s girlfriend and social media influencer Laila Hasanovic were all recently in attendance at Tommy Hilfiger’s fall winter 2024 show at NYFW.

Over time, Hamilton helped turn the paddock into a version of the red carpet, similar to the NBA and NFL tunnels. Hilfiger said the company will continue to explore this crossover within the fashion and entertainment space; the brand is a partner to the upcoming Formula 1 feature film starring Tommy Hilfiger menswear ambassador, Damson Idris.

As for what’s next on the horizon for Hamilton? Joshua Robinson, European sports reporter at The Wall Street Journal and coauthor of the non-fiction book, “The Formula: How Rogues, Geniuses and Speed Freaks Reengineered F1 Into the World’s Fastest-Growing Sport,” foresees Hamilton’s name and image on top of “an already timeless brand like Ferrari” will lead to “unprecedented reach for a Formula 1 driver.” Moreover, Robinson notes that the combination of Hamilton and Ferrari will equate to a “compelling package” for new and returning sponsors as they both “represent the pinnacle of the sport.”

The “Lewis Hamilton effect” is an indicator of the rapidly changing tides in sponsorship space and what it means to be a Formula 1 driver today. Medland explains, “Lewis is looking at life after Formula 1 as well as his racing career and will not have moved to Ferrari if it restricted him from tackling the other projects he already does. For a long time now, Lewis has shown he performs at his best when he’s allowed to dedicate time and energy to his other business and fashion ventures too — and that has already helped other drivers get the opportunity to do similar.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 17: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team arrives at the track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at  on November 17, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Song Haiyuan/MB Media/Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton wearing a custom look by Bottega Veneta.

Rakshit points to the rumors of a joint investment fund set up by Ferrari’s parent company Exor N.V. with a $250 million contribution to act as “Hamilton’s personal private equity or venture capital firm to invest as he sees fit.” If proven true, the move would be a much bigger scale feat than recent news of Tiger Woods’ ownership stake and partnership in his namesake-branded TaylorMade golf apparel.

Moreover, Rakshit predicts that plans for a Ferrari with a Hamilton moniker or association, similar to the McLaren sports car named after Brazilian Formula 1 racer Ayrton Senna, will hit the market within the next couple of years of Ferrari’s vehicle developments. After all, Hamilton famously kept Ferraris in his collection, even while he was driving for Mercedes.

Likewise, Tim Malachard, marketing director at Richard Mille, told WWD that Hamilton transcends Formula 1 as being a multiworld winning champion in the sport. In joining Ferrari, Malachard anticipates deeper involvement from Hamilton in the Italian fashion scene as major houses get ready to roll out the red carpet for him.

“Drivers are followed by millions on social media and can’t just depend on their performances at Grand Prix races,” Malachard said. “Fans follow their lives daily. All teams and sponsors are now very sensitive to the image portrayed by each driver.”

Europe, Italy, Maranello, 25.04.2023 Richard Mille X Ferrari shoot with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz
Carlos Sainz for a 2023 Richard Mille x Ferrari shoot in Maranello, Italy.

Smith has also seen how the landscape of Formula 1 fans has changed over time. “We’re increasingly in an era where fans — especially the younger fans flocking to the sport — follow drivers and personalities, not necessarily teams. It’ll be curious to see how fans react to their loyalties being tested.” To that end, companies will also be much more aware of how to properly craft their deals to ensure they get the best driver and/or team that aligns with their brand identity.

Like Hilfiger and IWC with Hamilton, the brand relationships drivers keep can often run deep. Richard Mille has sponsored Leclerc since his go-karting days more than 10 years ago and sees him as a part of their family; Sainz has also been a Richard Mille watch wearer since his time at McLaren.

While Richard Mille executives have yet to meet with Hamilton, the formal announcement between the exclusive Swiss watchmakers and Hamilton is inevitable. Malachard said that while it’s too early to comment on the state of ambassador contracts after this season finishes, they noted that they will continue to remain in contact with Sainz.

“Lewis is a superstar in every way and extremely sensitive to creativity in fashion and lifestyle,” Malachard said. “We look forward to meeting with him and that he will enjoy joining our family of partners. We are sure many creative ideas will emerge from talking to each other.”

Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc of Scuderia Ferrari in limited-edition Ray-Ban glasses to mark the team's 75th anniversary at Monza.
Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc for a 2022 Ferrari x Ray Ban limited-edition glasses to commemorate the team’s 75th anniversary in Monza, Italy.

Similarly, Ray Ban representatives told WWD that as part of its dedicated partnership with Ferrari and “[they] would welcome the opportunity to work with Lewis.” The sunglass company also isn’t counting out further sponsorships down the line with Sainz just yet, adding that they “welcome all opportunities to support [the] historical brand.”

“Lewis is the quintessential 21st-century sports star — who crosses over easily into other worlds — from culture to fashion to music,” Robinson said. “Meanwhile, Ferrari truly [represents] racing heritage. Sponsors will see plenty to like with Ferrari and Lewis complementing each other’s images. By bringing some much-needed diversity and outspokenness to the team, Lewis gives Ferrari a modern edge that it hasn’t always had.”

Representatives for Lewis Hamilton declined to comment on this story and referred WWD to his statement on Instagram: “The time has come for me to start a new chapter in my life, and I will be joining Scuderia Ferrari in 2025.…I now have the chance to fulfil [sic] another childhood dream. Driving in Ferrari red.”

For More WWD Formula 1 News

Rokt Goes Racing With Red Bull’s F1 Academy Driver Hamda Al Qubaisi

Reiss, McLaren Collaboration: For On and Off the Formula 1 Racetrack 

Formula 1 Goes All-in on Its Future in the United States

Best of WWD