Lewis Hamilton says his call to leave Mercedes was one of the "hardest decisions" he has made in Formula 1, as his exit for Ferrari was confirmed on Thursday night.

At the end of a dramatic day of developments, as Hamilton's bombshell move sent shock waves through F1, Mercedes ended speculation in the evening when it announced that the seven-time champion would leave the squad at the end of this year.

As predicted, it said that Hamilton had activated an exit clause in his contract that leaves him free to join Ferrari for 2025.

Speaking for the first time about the call to end his long association with Mercedes, Hamilton said: "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. But the time is right for me to take this step and I'm excited to be taking on a new challenge.

"I will be forever grateful for the incredible support of my Mercedes family, especially Toto for his friendship and leadership and I want to finish on a high together.

"I am 100% committed to delivering the best performance I can this season and making my last year with the Silver Arrows, one to remember."

Lewis Hamilton with Toto Wolff at Abu Dhabi GP 2023

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said he accepted Hamilton's decision to join a rival, but said his squad was excited about the options it had as it ponders a replacement for 2025.

"In terms of a team-driver pairing, our relationship with Lewis has become the most successful the sport has seen, and that's something we can look back on with pride," he explained. "Lewis will always be an important part of Mercedes motorsport history.

"However, we knew our partnership would come to a natural end at some point, and that day has now come.

"We accept Lewis's decision to seek a fresh challenge, and our opportunities for the future are exciting to contemplate.

"But for now, we still have one season to go, and we are focused on going racing to deliver a strong 2024."