Hamilton's brave move offers long-term benefits

Mercedes can give him greater commercial control and possibly a title

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 4:27pm


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So, he's gone and done it. It's just as well that Lewis Hamilton can handle pressure because all eyes will be on him in the paddock in Japan after his defection to Mercedes. It's going to take a lot of mental strength to cope with all the attention and then step into the car of a team you have turned your back on.

Hamilton's contract talks have been the talk of the paddock for most of the summer. Now it's become the story of the year. It's hard to overestimate just how big a deal this is, not just for the Briton, but for the sport. The ramifications will ripple through F1, affecting drivers, teams and fans.

Why has he decided to leave McLaren, the team with whom he grew up in motor sport? It's certainly not for the wage packet, which is not that much different to what he was being offered by McLaren. That's not to say it's not been motivated, at least in part, by financial considerations.

Hamilton is now managed by Simon Fuller, the same man who is behind the brand that is David Beckham. Being a worldwide brand that transcends the sport of F1 may well be his masterplan for Hamilton. While he stayed at McLaren, Hamilton was tied to promoting the team's commercial sponsors. At Mercedes he will have more freedom to make his own deals, no doubt carefully managed by Fuller. Mercedes is much better known outside of motor sport.

Of course, money can't be the only reason for Hamilton to move. He's a fiercely competitive individual, and he wants more than one world title. He's not going to head to Mercedes just to take the money and compete in the midfield. In purely sporting terms, the move seems to make little sense. McLaren are proven race winners and title contenders. They have a pure racing outfit, whereas the German manufacturer have a corporate master to answer to. Mercedes have only won a single race since they took over the title-winning Brawn team at the end of the 2009 season.

But Hamilton could be pursuing a canny long-term strategy. In 2014, F1 will bring in sweeping new rule changes to engines. Ross Brawn won the title with Jenson Button last time there were big rule changes, and he's still at the helm after the Mercedes buyout. He is excellent at getting a headstart on interpretation and with Mercedes being one of the select band of teams that make their own engines, Hamilton is taking a calculated risk on the sport's future direction.

Of course, the actions of one driver in Formula One will have consequences for everyone else. Michael Schumacher's career at Mercedes is over. His achievements have been unrivalled, but this comeback has not been a success, and surely now is the time to draw a line under it.

You have to feel for Nico Rosberg, who has consistently outdriven Schumacher. Brawn says he will be given equal status to Hamilton, but you have to question whether he will find himself playing second fiddle to his close friend. Over at McLaren, Sergio Perez is to be given the vacant race seat. He certainly has the talent, shown in his podiums for Sauber this season, but he is a rough diamond.

McLaren talk about helping him develop, but you know they'd rather still have the fastest man on the grid in their garage. The inquest will still be continuing over how Hamilton was allowed to slip away.

Perhaps Hamilton felt unloved at McLaren, despite being there so long. Certainly his demeanour at times suggested it. Perhaps his head has been turned by his advisers who initiated contact with Mercedes. Perhaps he needed a new challenge. Perhaps he really does feel the F1 landscape is about to change dramatically. Perhaps he will live to regret his decision, but you have to applaud his bravery.