Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton will make a surprise switch to Ferrari next year, after Mercedes announced Thursday he would leave the team at the end of the 2024 season.
"Lewis has activated a release option in the contract announced last August and this season will therefore be his last driving for the Silver Arrows," Mercedes said in a statement.
"I have had an amazing 11 years with this team and I'm so proud of what we have achieved together. Mercedes has been part of my life since I was 13 years old. It's a place where I have grown up, so making the decision to leave was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make," said Hamilton.
"But the time is right for me to take this step and I'm excited to be taking on a new challenge."
Ferrari subsequently confirmed the arrival of the 39-year-old Briton, who is due to partner their current driver Charles Leclerc, according to a number of reports in Britain and Italy.
"Ferrari is pleased to announce that Lewis Hamilton will be joining the team in 2025, on a multi-year contract," the Italian team said in a statement.
The BBC reported that Mercedes team staff were called to a meeting with boss Toto Wolff at their UK headquarters on Thursday to be told Hamilton will leave at the end of the 2024 season and head to one of Formula One's most storied names.
A move to Ferrari raises eyebrows because Hamilton had signed a two-year contract with his current team Mercedes for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, but that deal contained a clause allowing him to leave after one season.
Several reports say Hamilton's agreement with Ferrari was put together hastily as the team was in talks with Spanish driver Carlos Sainz, whose deal runs out at the end of this season, about a contract extension.
Hamilton won the last of his world titles in 2020 but lost the 2021 championship in controversial fashion to Max Verstappen when the race director ignored the safety car rules in Abu Dhabi, effectively blocking the Briton's route to victory in both that grand prix and the championship.
The Dutch Red Bull driver, who is 13 years younger than Hamilton, has dominated the F1 scene ever since.
Hamilton finished sixth in the drivers' standings in 2022 and third in 2023.
Ferrari, who have admitted they held discussions with Hamilton in 2019 about joining them in the future, declined to comment on the reports they were negotiating a switch for the 2025 season.
Hamilton has never hidden his anger at the 2021 incident in Abu Dhabi, believing he was robbed of an eighth title that would have put him ahead of Ferrari legend Michael Schumacher.
He has made clear his frustration with the performance of his Mercedes car in the last two years and might believe a move to Ferrari would enable him to reignite his challenge for that elusive history-making title.
However Ferrari have also suffered patchy form in the last few seasons although they seemed to find momentum towards the end of last season.
That improvement was not enough to prevent Mercedes beating them to second place behind Red Bull in the constructors' championship.