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Mercedes move may be the making of Lewis Hamilton’s legacy

September 30, 2012 Leave a comment

On Friday (28th September), it was announced that McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton has signed a three year deal with the Mercedes Formula One team, effective as of the start of the 2013 season and if he can put the team on top of the pile, he will secure his place as one of the sport’s all-time greats.

The decision came as a surprise to many observers outside the world of motorsport, but there has speculation amongst those in the know for some time now about a possible move to the Silver Arrows for the 27 year old. His decision signals the end of a 14 year association with Woking-based McLaren and many within the Formula One world have criticised his choice to leave. At the front of the critics queue is McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, who responded to the news by saying ‘I wouldn’t advise anyone to leave McLaren if they want to win.’

On the face of it, it is difficult to disagree with those who question Hamilton’s judgment. Since the German luxury car manufacturer bought out Brawn GP after the 2009 season, its team has managed only one race win (Nico Rosberg, Malaysia 2012) and delivered only four podium finishes. This pales in comparison to the achievements of McLaren in that time. Hamilton alone has won nine races and finished on either the second or third step of the podium a further 12 times, while teammate Jenson Button has managed seven wins and 17 podiums. Furthermore, McLaren have finished second in the Constructors’ Championship for the last three years, while Mercedes have been a distant fourth. All of this suggests that Hamilton is taking a backwards step and make no mistake, as things stand, he is. So why move?

Hamilton’s decision to leave a successful McLaren team is a gamble (This image is the property of the Daily Telegraph)

Rumours have abounded for a while now that Hamilton is ruffling too many feathers at McLaren. The Englishman has had his fair share of bad luck this year with mechanical faults and pit stop errors, but the team’s management have not been impressed with his vocal and public criticism of them. When Hamilton tweeted telemetry data at this season’s Belgian Grand Prix making it accessible to millions, Martin Whitmarsh dismissed it publically as a small error of judgement. Behind close doors, you can bet he was fuming. Hamilton has increasingly garnered a reputation as an attention seeker, particularly when compared to the amiable and relaxed Button, and it has been evident for some time that McLaren are growing tired of his antics. A divorce may be the best solution to a love affair that has soured.

 

Sports fans often like to think that money is not a key factor in the decision making process for men of Hamilton’s vast wealth, but it in fact plays a huge role. Hamilton’s decision to jump ship and join a less successful team is no exception in this regard. Ross Brawn himself stated that the first move was made by Hamilton’s camp and with the riches on offer at Mercedes, this should come as no surprise. It is no secret that McLaren have been looking to offer Hamilton a contract on reduced terms as they need to make economies and weight has been added to this by the signing of Sergio Perez (who is essentially bankrolled by the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim Helú) as Hamilton’s replacement. According to the Daily Telegraph, Hamilton will earn £20 million a year at Mercedes, compared to the £15 million he is currently paid at McLaren, and the scope for income from commercial activities is also much greater in the silver and green of Mercedes. McLaren are notorious for controlling the image rights of their drivers, something with which Hamilton’s representatives have never been happy. At Mercedes however, the 2008 world champion will be free to sign whatever sponsorship deals he wants, significantly boosting his earning potential, while the global profile and appeal of the Mercedes brand will open many new doors in terms of sponsors, allowing Hamilton to profit from the same sort of car-related kudos that benefits Fernando Alonso at Ferrari.While money is a key consideration, it is not however, the overriding factor. Hamilton sees himself as the best driver on the current Formula One grid and for a man of his talents, one world championship is an underachievement. At 27, he is no longer a youngster and having realised this, he has acted to change things.

As things stand, McLaren offers the better chance of delivering a world title, but Ross Brawn and his team at Mercedes appear to have convinced Hamilton that they are the better bet in the long term. As mentioned earlier, McLaren have announced cost-saving measures and some of this is ironically linked to Mercedes. The contract which sees McLaren receive free engines from the German manufacturer expires at the end of the current season, meaning that they will have to spend a great deal of money that they have previously not had to find. With what is said to be the biggest budget in Formula One at an estimated £185 million a year, Ross Brawn’s team has no such problems and can afford to build a car around Hamilton, who will be the team’s undisputed number one.

It is unclear what McLaren are going to do in terms of engine provision, with some claiming they will simply become a Mercedes customer and others stating that they are going to build their own. Whatever the case, it would seem they have been unable to convince Hamilton that it is a project worth buying in to.

Brawn himself is a selling point as team principal, who would not want to drive for a man who has helped mastermind eight Drivers’ and eight Constructors’ Championships? Brawn built a dynasty with Michael Schumacher at Ferrari that saw the German clinch five consecutive world titles on his way to becoming the man who many see as the greatest Formula One driver of all time. Hamilton, it would seem, has been convinced that Brawn can do the same at Mercedes. It is a big gamble, but if he can succeed where the great German failed and establish Mercedes as the leading team in the sport for years to come, he will cement his own place as an all-time great.

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Categories: Motorsport

Saeed Ajmal: Pakistan’s Star Man

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

By Faisal Hanif

With the fourth edition of the ICC World Twenty20 imminent, one player on most people’s list to star at the tournament in Sri Lanka is Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal.

In the post Warne/Murali era the man from Faisalabad has established himself as the premier spin bowler in world cricket. Given his performances over the last year some would even argue that he is the number one bowler outright.

Ajmal, who began his international career at the relatively late age of 30, has made up for lost time. In helping demolish England earlier in the year he became the fastest off spinner in history to 100 test wickets (19 matches). Recently he has also overhauled compatriot Shahid Afridi to become the highest wicket taker in international Twenty20 cricket. In all three formats of the game Ajmal is ranked in the top three in the ICC’s official rankings, coming in at number one in ODIs.

Saeed Ajmal in action

His consistency over the last twelve months has been so spectacular that his omission from the shortlist for the ICC’s prestigious test player of the year award has caused a national and international outcry.

But stats and awards or the lack of them in this case paint a partial picture of Ajmal’s influence on the world game and that of Pakistan cricket as a whole. In the aftermath of the spot fixing scandal that has deprived Pakistan, and world cricket, of two potentially great bowlers in Mohammed Aamer and Mohammed Asif, Ajmal has stepped in to fill the void. He has more than any other bowler, or player for that matter, assured Pakistan’s continued competitiveness on the world stage.

For a country famous for its production line of bowling greats he maintains the tradition, sharing a common ability to deceive batsmen with both subtle and exaggerated variations.

His doosra has proved virtually unplayable at times and he has bamboozled even the historic masters of spin bowling like Sachin Tendulkar, as well as dismantling the top order of the then ‘number one test team’ three test matches in succession. A breakdown of Ajmal’s figures show that over 60% of his wickets have involved batsmen from position 1-7 in the batting line up.

Whilst in technical ability Ajmal is most often compared with Muttiah Muralitharan (given the shared occupation as offspiners) he has exhibited characteristics more commonly associated with the other great spin maestro, Shane Warne.

Throughout his career Warne was not only hailed as a great technician but also a master of the mental aspect of the game. As part of the great Aussie generation that revolutionised methods in the mental degradation of opponents, Warne was more often than not the chief culprit.

Ajmal took this one step further as Pakistan prepared to battle the all conquering England team in a three test series in January-February 2012. With his reputation growing in the build up to the series, coupled with the English batting’s well known susceptibility to spin bowling, Ajmal issued a warning of having invented a new delivery. The English batsmen, already in dread of having to face the now infamous doosra, where now in a sweat over the mysterious teesra that threatened to compound their problems.

Pundits and fans alike were equally enthralled as to what this new delivery would do. Perhaps as its name suggested it would spin in three different ways? As the series progressed and Ajmal took an impressive 24 wickets at an average of 14.70 it became clear that there was no teesra. The mind games had the desired affect and the doosra and other little variations had been enough to whitewash the competitors and claim a historic victory.

The fact that Ajmal’s threats had been taken so seriously shows how much his opponents have come to rate his abilities. As a late developer Ajmal continues to work at his art all the time with each game providing a new subtle variation that doesn’t allow a batsman to ever truly settle. It may not be long before an actual teesra is unveiled to the world.

With or without such a delivery he is sure to relish the slow spinning wickets of Sri Lanka and will be Pakistan’s trump card in securing a second Twenty20 world title. Despite the twenty over format being a batsman’s game he is a good bet to be the star performer and perhaps man of the tournament. Shane Warne certainly thinks so.

Categories: Cricket, Guest Blogs