Motor racing-Hamilton says Ferrari will be a new chapter in his F1 story

Formula One F1 - Pre-Season Testing - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - February 23, 2024 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during a press conference REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

(Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton said he decided to leave Mercedes and join Ferrari in 2025 because the opportunity came along and he wanted to write a new chapter in his record-breaking Formula One story.

The seven times world champion, the sport's most successful driver of all time with 103 wins, spoke to reporters during Bahrain pre-season testing on Friday for the first time since his move was announced on Feb 1.

Hamilton, who has not won a race since 2021, signed a two-year extension with Mercedes only last August and he was asked what had changed to make him activate a break clause.

"At that time I saw my future with Mercedes," he said. "But an opportunity came up at the end of the year and I decided to take it.

"It was obviously the hardest decision I think I have ever had to make. I've been with Mercedes, I think it's 26 years they've supported me and we've had an absolutely incredible journey together.

"We have created history within the sport and I'm very proud of what we've achieved.

"But ultimately I'm writing my story and... it was time to start a new chapter."

Hamilton said he had never been to Maranello, Ferrari's factory, because it would not have been a 'good look' for a Mercedes driver, and his Italian amounted to a few phrases picked up while karting in Italy as a kid.

He recalled how as a youngster he had played a computer game as Michael Schumacher, a seven times world champion with Ferrari, in the red car.

"It is a team that has not had huge success since Michael’s days, and I see it as a huge challenge," he said.

The 39-year-old has also always been keen on Ferrari's sportscars, and bought his first in 2010 as a reward for his success while at McLaren. The Briton has since sold that car.

The appointment of Frenchman Fred Vasseur, an old friend from his time racing for him in junior series and who took over as Ferrari principal last year, was key to the move.

"I've got a great relationship with Fred," said Hamilton. "When he got the job at Ferrari I was just so happy for him.

"It (the move) really wouldn't have happened without him, so I'm really grateful and really excited about the work that he's doing there."

Hamilton, the only Black driver on the starting grid, said his campaigning for diversity would continue at Ferrari and he had already discussed plans.

"There's still is a huge amount of work within the whole sport, of which I'm speaking to (F1 chief executive) Stefano (Domenicali) constantly and looking to work more with Formula One," he said.

"Ferrari, they have a lot of work to do so I've already made that a priority in speaking with (chairman) John (Elkann) and they are super-excited to get on and work on it also."

The season starts in Bahrain on March 2.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Toby Davis)

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