12 Sept 2012

Will Lewis Hamilton move to Mercedes for 2013?

There has already been an immense amount of speculation regarding where Lewis Hamilton will end up in in F1 in 2013.

He was signed by McLaren at an early age and was managed by his father until two years ago.  He has led a life dominated by the personalities of two older men - Ron Dennis and Anthony Hamilton.  In 2009 Ron stepped down from his role as McLaren's team principle and not long after that Lewis announced his father would not be managing him any more.

From an early ago Lewis, seen as a prodigy not just by his father, led a straight-jacketed existence.  If he stepped out of line he was corrected.  If he went partying with his celebrity friends he was scolded.

Two years ago Lewis said this of his school days - "School felt like an escape.  It was my time to mess about and have a kid's life - to be normal. But at weekends I never had a chance to go to any of those under-18s clubs or parties. And that affects you because your friendships are not so strong."

He has grown up in public, and is still growing.  He can be petulant, sulky even.  If the car breaks down he can be publicly damning of the team.  When he wasn't as fast as his team mate he tweeted the telemetry to prove it wasn't his fault - it was the car's fault.

It has only been in the last couple of years, free of Ron and Anthony, that Lewis Hamilton has been able to start growing up - and he has made plenty of mistakes - mistakes we all make behind closed doors.  But Lewis doesn't have that option.

He has tweeted, partied with celebs until the small hours, grown a strange beard, changed his speech patterns and generally adopted the persona that he wants to be - rather than what others tell him to be.

McLaren have provided Lewis with a winning car for every year of his career.  He has never failed to win at least two races in a championship year.

But there have been ups and downs.  His first two years were compelling - 2nd in 2007 then 1st in 2008 in the drivers championship.  Since then he's been 5th in 2009, 4th in 2010 and another 5th in 2011.

So the results started to slide downhill in 2009 and have only really recovered this year -  where Lewis currently sits 2nd in the championship.

Lewis' contract with McLaren ends this year and there are two reasons whey there is so much speculation as to his whereabouts and why he may move to Mercedes, or even Lotus:

  1. His new management, XIX, which is run by ex-Spice Girls boss Simon Fuller is doing the negotiating.  Fuller may be an expert manager but he is new to the F1 Piranha Club and perhaps his overtures towards Lotus and Mercedes are being conducted in a manner that is more brash and loud than others.  But then again part of the skill of negotiation is to take an offer from one employer and present that offer to your preferred employer in the hope they will match it.
  2. Lewis himself is still tied, to a certain degree by, McLaren.  Even were he to sign with them next year, McLaren, even under the leadership of Martin Whitmarsh, is a tightly run ship.  They expect loyalty, professional PR appearances and do not give away personal sponsorship opportunities.  A McLaren driver is a controlled driver.  Witness David Coulthard's beard and general flowering of his personality once he had left McLaren.  Some people suit this way of life, others don't.  And Lewis doesn't seem to.

Lewis claimed at Monza not to know what was going on with negotiations and that it was up to his management company to negotiate with the teams, not him.  This is absolute rot.

McLaren are an independent team and cannot pay as much as Mercedes.  This is why they hang on to all available sponsorship cash rather than giving the drivers free reign.  The culture of McLaren may be one thing but cash is tight and everyone knows it.

The fly in the ointment of all this speculation is that there is one thing that Lewis Hamilton wants to do - emulate his hero Ayrton Senna.  And Senna won three world championships - his last coming in 1991 at age 31 - with McLaren.  Lewis Hamilton has only won one.

Lewis is aware of history.  He is 27 years old and will be 28 at the start of the 2013 season.  He has another six or seven competitive years in F1 where he will be at the very top of his game.

Mercedes are a good team but they are not a great team.  They won the constructors championship in 2009 with their previous iteration partly due to a technology advantage that, once removed, brought them down to the same level as everyone else.  And since then they have failed to deliver.  Indeed in the years previous to that as BAR and Honda they had failed miserably in their F1 quest.

McLaren were formed in 1966 and have been winning races and championships since 1974.  They have won one quarter of all races they have entered and have won the past three races of the 2012 season on the trot.

They may have suffered a few ups and downs over the past few years but McLaren are proven winners.

Lewis Hamilton may be trying to break free from his shackles and he may be asking for a touch too much money but he is not stupid.  He knows that in order to become a multiple world champion he needs to stay at McLaren in 2013 and beyond.

And this is why we disagree with those who say he is moving to Mercedes for megabucks.  We believe Lewis Hamilton will drive for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in 2013.