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

September 30, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

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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