The switch immediately opened up suggestions that other senior staff at Mercedes – such as his engineer Pete ‘Bono’ Bonnington – could follow him as has happened in the past when other stars have changed teams.
In 1996, Michael Schumacher was followed from Benetton to Ferrari by technical director Ross Brawn and chief designer Rory Byrne, as well as other key team members.
Jacques Villeneuve took his race engineer Jock Clear with him from Williams to BAR in 1999, while in 2015 Andrea Stella joined Fernando Alonso in the move from Ferrari to McLarenstaying on after the Spaniard left to eventually become main team.
But Motorsport.com understands that a similar shift of personnel cannot happen in Hamilton’s case due to a specific term in his Mercedes contract.
As part of the detailed terms of the deal that was signed between Hamilton and Mercedes last summer, a specific ‘non-poaching’ clause was believed to have been included to specifically prevent team personnel from being lured away if the driver switched teams.
Mechanics bring Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, to the grid
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
Such non-solicitation clauses are common in senior management contracts, and are aimed at protecting companies from a mass exodus of staff if high-level individuals are employed by a competitor and try to encourage other talent to join them.
While such deals cannot prevent individuals from moving companies in the event that all parties agree, they do prevent widespread disruption that can sometimes happen if there is a blanket approach for personnel.
Having such a clause in F1 contracts is far from rare, especially in senior management positions.
They have also in the past been included in various driver contracts too, to limit stars trying to lure the best team members with them.
At the end of the 2014 season, it is understood that Sebastian Vettel was unable to take his Red Bull engineer Guillaume “Rocky” Rocquelin with him to Ferrari because of such a non-solicitation clause in his Milton Keynes contract.
The most obvious candidate for Hamilton to take with him is his own race engineer Bonnington, with the pair having built up a formidable partnership at Mercedes.
Team principal Toto Wolff recently admitted that he anticipated sitting down with Bonnington to talk about the future.
“I think this is a discussion which everyone needs to have in the months to come,” Wolff said.
“And as much as I’ve spoken with Bono already, when I told him [about Hamilton’s move] he said, ‘Is it April the first?’ That’s something we will discuss in the future.”