LONDON, United Kingdom, Sept 28, 2012 (AFP / Tim Collings) - One of the worst-kept secrets in motor racing was finally made official on Friday when Lewis Hamilton confirmed he was leaving McLaren for Mercedes.
In a move that had been openly discussed since the end of July, the British driver will retain his huge salary -- reportedly more than £15 million (19 million euros, $24 million) -- and have greater freedom in enhancing his earnings through personal sponsorship in a three-year deal that will take him past his 30th birthday.
Hamilton's departure from McLaren after six years as their leading Formula One driver and an association that started when he was 13 years old immediately triggered a series of other moves.
The 27-year-old will replace the legendary seven-time drivers champion Michael Schumacher, now 43, at Mercedes and be replaced at McLaren by the highly-rated young Mexican Sergio Perez, 22.
This leaves a vacancy at Perez's former team Sauber, the only Swiss outfit in the sport, and a question mark hanging over the future of the most successful driver F1 driver of all time, Schumacher.
It also leaves Ferrari reconsidering the identity of their favoured driver to replace struggling Brazilian Felipe Massa as Spaniard Fernando Alonso's partner in the future, if and when Massa is released.
For Schumacher, the options will be plentiful. Mercedes may wish to retain him to provide continuity as Hamilton beds in alongside another German Nico Rosberg, whom he knows well from their Formula A karting days in the Mercedes junior system in 2000.
Mixed-race Hamilton's upbringing on a social housing scheme is a world apart from flaxen-haired Rosberg's gilded life in Monte Carlo as the son of a multi-millionaire F1 champion, sometimes causing tensions.
But both have done a lot of growing up in the last decade and their close friendship has survived to be re-born as a racing partnership pregnant with potential.
Rosberg tweeted on Friday: "Very cool that Lewis will be my new team-mate! Going to be another great challenge."
Hamilton, certainly, will believe he can not only challenge for the drivers' title again with Mercedes but win it. If not, he would not have made the move.
Schumacher's other options will be to continue racing in F1 -- in which he has shown some thrilling form, fitfully, this year -- and he could be a target for Sauber, with team owner Peter Sauber a close friend.
Indeed, Sauber was seen deep in conversation with Schumacher's agent Sabine Kahm at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month.
Schumacher, however, has also been linked with a return to Ferrari.
But with his family home in Switzerland, a final hurrah at Sauber, if not a move into Mercedes management team, seems more likely.
Hamilton has spoken of the "new challenge" in joining Mercedes and in many respects he is giving himself a chance to repeat Schumacher's great success at Ferrari in creating a new era, virtually a dynasty of success, under the guidance of one of F1's wisest owls, fellow Englishman Ross Brawn.
Brawn designed all seven of Schumacher's title successes, two with Benetton and five with Ferrari, before he moved on to supply Briton Jenson Button with a title-winning season in his eponymous team in 2009.
He has also brought in Niki Lauda as non-executive director in a sign of wanting to build for the future.
Significantly, 2013, will be the last year in which F1 runs with its current technical rules before the introduction in 2014 of V6 turbocharged engines.
Mercedes, as a manufacturer team, will have a clear advantage over their rivals, like McLaren, who are customers, as they work on developments.
This, like the rest, leaves Hamilton apparently poised to be part of the Silver Arrows' big push for glory in the post-Schumacher era, with the former Red Baron set to be 45 when the new rules arrived.
Schumacher has been generous in welcoming Hamilton and vowed to try his best in the closing six races of this season, an ambition shared by McLaren who want to see Hamilton lift his second drivers' title with them this season before he leaves.
Whether Button, whose relations with Hamilton have cooled notably this year, lends his support also remains to be seen as what was once seen as a British 'dream team' works to avoid experiencing a nightmare break-up.