Confirmation is in: Lewis Hamilton is leaving McLaren, the team that has nurtured his F1 career for more than half his life, to go and drive for Mercedes for the next three years, replacing Michael Schumacher. And it would appear, judging by the reaction out there, that there’s little love for Hamilton – do you feel he’s betrayed McLaren to chase some kind of global celebrity status and the money that comes with it? Do let us know.
From our safe position on the Sunday Afternoon sofa, let’s try and unpack the scenario with some tea and toast. You don’t need to be an expert in these things to feel McLaren’s sense of slight. The team has of course wished its driver well, but it’s also made it clear it has two drivers left in contention for this year’s title (in reality it probably has none). Message: there will be no favours for Lewis, and he can hardly expect to be as close to the technical and development team as he may have been in the past.
Secondly, while Lewis and Mercedes have confirmed the move – “I believe that I can help steer the Silver Arrows to the top and achieve our joint ambitions of winning the world championships”, Hamilton said – McLaren has already announced that it has signed Sergio Perez. Nothing quite like getting the new girlfriend out there on your arm when you’ve been dumped, eh?
McLaren’s reaction tells us all we need to know about the real reason that Lewis even entertained conversations with Mercedes; the relationship which started with a ten-year-old boy telling Ron Dennis he would drive for him one day has been in decay for a couple of years now. You could blame it on McLaren’s inability to turn what is widely regarded as the best car on the grid this year into a championship leader. Or you could blame it on Jenson Button. JB has charmed and worked his way in to the heart of that team. A team Lewis believed was all his.
So what about the new deal? There is talk of $100million over three years, surely more than a garage team like McLaren can afford, not now it has to pay for its engines in 2013 and has yet to announce which 1.6-litre turbo it will run in 2014.
Which leaves us with the oft-levelled accusation that Lewis craves some kind of global megastar status, that he will one day be as famous as say, Michael Jordan. The story goes that it’s Mercedes as much as Hamilton’s agents, XIX Entertainment, that will enable this celebrity and that the mutual benefit is what makes it worth it for Benz. We’re tempted to suggest that if it’s the racing driver Mercedes wants, we can’t imagine that anyone who enjoys F1 doesn’t already know everything they need to know about the Mercedes brand.
But on the other hand if you were going to leave McLaren for anyone, and Ferrari was taken, Ross Brawn – Mercedes-Benz team principal and architect behind Schumacher and Button’s championship wins – is probably the person you’d leave for. The team is clearly not winning in its current guise, and has failed to catch fire around Michael Schumacher. But just wait. Our bet is that with Lewis there, it will very soon.