Lewis Hamilton drops his 14-year Formula One career with McLaren to join Mercedes on a three-year contract from next season.
The 27-year-old’s decision to move, which has been described by a close source as “the toughest of his career”, will send shockwaves through F1 as he now teams up with close friend Nico Rosberg at Mercedes.
Mr Hamilton will replace Michael Schumacher, the 43-year-old seven-time champion who looks set to retire from Formula One for a second time.
The F1 star, who signed for McLaren aged 13, has spent the last few weeks agonising over the decision following the end of his five-year contract with McLaren, which was worth £10m a year.
Earlier this week McLaren offered Mr Hamilton an extra £2m a year in a bid to see off the bid from Mercedes, reported to be worth £15m a year.
Mercedes entered into talks with McLaren’s management company, XIX Entertainment, several weeks ago.
The generous offer also allows Hamilton greater freedom with regard to his image rights and less impact on his personal time from sponsorship appearances.
I wish Lewis well and for the team to achieve the success we worked so hard for in the build-up. Michael Schumacher, who will be replaced by Hamilton
Hamilton said: “It is now time for me to take on a fresh challenge and I am very excited to begin a new chapter racing for the Mercedes Formula One Team.
“Mercedes-Benz has such an incredible heritage in motorsport, along with a passion for winning, which I share.
“Together, we can grow and rise to this new challenge. I believe that I can help steer the Silver Arrows to the top and achieve our joint ambitions of winning the world championships.”
McLaren meanwhile has announced that Sergio Perez would be their replacement for Mr Hamilton – the 22-year-old Mexican has signed a multi-year contract with the Woking-based marque.
Mercedes have only won one of 52 races since Mercedes took over Brawn GP at the end of the 2009 season, but the core of people behind the scenes is second to none.
Importantly, with new engine regulations due to come into force in 2014 as F1 switches to a new turbo era, Mercedes should have an advantage as a manufacturer and with McLaren as a customer.
Norbert Haug, vice president of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said: “Mercedes-Benz has supported Lewis throughout his career, from karting, to Formula 3, to our successful partnership with McLaren, and it will be a very nice moment for all of us in the team to see him at the wheel of a works Silver Arrow next season, following in the tradition of British Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix drivers Sir Stirling Moss and Richard Seaman.
I believe the combination of Lewis and Nico will be the most dynamic and exciting pairing on the grid next year. Ross Brawn, Mercedes team principal
“Of course, it takes a great driver to replace such a legendary and successful one as Michael Schumacher.
“Over the past three years, Michael has been a great driver and an exemplary ambassador for Mercedes.”
As for Schumacher, his future is unclear, but he said: “I have had three nice years with the team which unfortunately did not go as well as we all would have wanted on the sporting side.
“I wish Lewis well and for the team to achieve the success we worked so hard for in the build-up. I would like to thank the team for their trust and all the guys for their unconditional commitment. I will now concentrate on the next races.”
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said: “I am delighted to welcome Lewis Hamilton to our team. I believe the combination of Lewis and Nico will be the most dynamic and exciting pairing on the grid next year, and I am looking forward to what we can achieve together.
“Over the past three years we have been putting in place the foundations and building blocks that are needed to compete regularly for the world championship.”