After six seasons at McLaren, Hamilton left the Woking team at the end of 2012 to join Mercedes in a bombshell move to replace seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who retired from F1 for the second and final time. 

Although the move was seen as a huge gamble by many at the time, given McLaren was a front-running team and Mercedes had enjoyed little success since returning to the sport in 2010, it proved to be a masterstroke. 

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Mercedes bosses Ross Brawn and Niki Lauda ultimately sold the move to Hamilton, who went on to win six F1 world championships in seven years. 

But according to Ecclestone, the move was in danger of collapsing over a pay dispute, which prompted him to step in and offer to financially support Mercedes. 

"Niki [Lauda] realised what a valuable driver Lewis was, and he found some way of persuading him [Lewis Hamilton)] he should be driving for Mercedes," Ecclestone said on the Disney+ documentary series ‘Lucky!’. 

“If he didn't get paid what he wanted, Lewis, he wasn't going to agree.

"So I said 'well he's somebody that I think Mercedes needs, I'll pay the difference.' But eventually Mercedes paid.”

Ecclestone’s revelation may come as a surprise considering he has appeared to aim several digs at Hamilton in recent years. 

In 2021, Ecclestone claimed Hamilton is no longer the fighter he once was and suggested the 37-year-old Briton was only extending his career having “looked at the clothing range and music but realised that it is not as easy to make money there as it is in F1”. 

He later told Hamilton to accept a £20m pay-off and quit F1 following an underwhelming start to the 2022 season, before saying he hopes arch rival Max Verstappen goes on to beat the seven-time world champion’s records