Is Mercedes the right move for Hamilton?

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Lewis Hamilton has shaken up the F1 driver market by announcing he will drive for Mercedes from 2013.

The 2008 world champion has ended an association with McLaren which lasts beyond the six years he has driven for them in Formula One. He first introduced himself to Ron Dennis in 1995, aged nine.

Hamilton made several costly errors on the track last year. Having got back on top of his game this year, has he just made an even bigger mistake off the track?

For

Three years after their return to F1 as a full manufacturer team, Mercedes show the potential to become a competitive force in Formula One. They scored their first win earlier this year in China with Nico Rosberg, and probably should have had another in Monaco where Michael Schumacher would have been on pole position but for a penalty.

Last year Ross Brawn assembled a highly experienced technical team including Bob Bell, Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa, who have had time to gel over the course of 2012 in preparation for Hamilton’s first year with the team.

Leaving McLaren at a time when they have the most competitive car in F1 is a calculated gamble. Mercedes’ arrival in F1 in 2010 relegated McLaren to the status of engine customer having previously been the focus of Mercedes’ efforts. With a major change in engine rules coming in 2014, Hamilton’s move could turn out to be very well-timed.

His new team mate, Nico Rosberg, is a known quantity as the pair raced together in karts at Team MBM (ironically, standing for Mercedes-Benz McLaren) in 2000. Rosberg, who has won once in 122 starts, is likely to be a less challenging team mate than Jenson Button.

On top of that, Hamilton’s Mercedes deal is reported to be more lucrative, with greater opportunities for him to increase his earnings through personal endorsements, which are tightly restricted by McLaren.

Against

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Hockenheimring, 2008McLaren have given Hamilton a race-winning car in every season he has driven for them, and a potentially championship-winning car more often than not.

Switching from them to Mercedes, who have won one race out of the last 52, invites comparisons with other world champions who made ill-fated moves: Emerson Fittipaldi to Copersucar in 1976, Niki Lauda to Brabham in 1978, and Jacques Villeneuve to BAR in 1999.

The potential of Mercedes’ technical team has not yet been reflected in their car, which has fluctuated in performance and suffered more reliability problems that most.

In the short-term, Hamilton’s impending departure from McLaren is not going to help his flagging championship hopes. The team will have to keep him out of the loop on any developments that relate to their 2013 car, which is only going to make it harder to maintain their current level of performance.

And he can kiss goodbye to that McLaren F1 LM he was promised if he won three drivers’ titles with McLaren.

I say

On the surface it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Hamilton has switched to a less competitive team because they are offering him more money. There is obviously more to it than that. Asked at Monza what was his priority when choosing a team Hamilton responded simply: “I want to win.”

But moving to Mercedes is a considerable risk. This is a coming-of-age moment for Hamilton – a severing of the McLaren umbilical cord. The question is whether it makes or breaks him.

Mercedes’ performances suggest there is untapped potential along with their enviable resources and manpower. But they’ll have to raise their game considerably if Hamilton is to overcome the combined might of Vettel at Red Bull, and Alonso at Ferrari – not to mention Hamilton’s old team.

You say

Will Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes bring him another world championship by 2015? Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.

Will Hamilton win the drivers' championship with Mercedes in the next three years?

  • Yes (39%)
  • No (61%)

Total Voters: 657

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276 comments on Is Mercedes the right move for Hamilton?

  1. This is going to be interesting, especially reading Hamilton’s comments, and given who the dancing players are.

    Hamilton is looking for more freedom, and a better environment to win. It’s clear he has been decreasingly happy in McLaren since 2009 when he was forced to drive his first uncompetitive car. He’s an emotional guy, and clearly when things aren’t happy around him, he gets affected by that, with his performances suffering. Moving to a fresh team allows him a clean emotional slate with no history or baggage.

    Mercedes are getting one of the 3 best drivers on the grid, so they must be over the moon. Hamilton is one of the few who will drag a rubbish car further up the grid than it belongs. He’ll do things that the BAR/Brawn/Merc crew haven’t seen a driver do, and may well inspire them. But is he a leader? Can he build a team around him, and grow them? There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. Unlike Schumacher, Lewis is a driver who has to ask the team what to do more often than not. Schumacher is probably the greatest “team builder” ever, and even in a diminished state I don’t think Lewis has the natural capability he has in that area. It requires a different skill set to working out how to drive the car quickly, and what is making the car slow. It requires determination, long term vision and political diplomacy. None of those are Lewis’s strong points (and it doesn’t mean he should be judged negatively because of it).

    There’s also the echos of coincidence in this. Mercedes is the team Button left because he said “I want to win another championship”. He left Brawn late in the day, so he knew Mercedes/Brawn/Haug and the Petronas investment was coming. He knew that the elements were coming in place to make a frontrunning team, he knew the team personnel knew how to build a winning car, and to win races and championships. But he still left, because he thought McLaren was a more likely prospect for wins. It said a lot when Brawn turned up for Jenson’s 200th race celebrations and said “I wish he was still driving for us”. He’s a clever boy, and he’s learned from bad career decisions in the past. I think he may well smile a wry smile watching Lewis leave.

    What about McLaren? They’ve lost a star asset, they know that. Button is a phenomenal driver, but only under the right circumstances. He’s the only teammate to beat Lewis, and that says a lot. But he’s not going to put that car on the front row every possible time. He’s not going to fight his way up in the first 5 laps every time when he’s down the grid. They’ve got Perez, and I think they’ve made the right decision there. He’s good enough to have been given the chance, and I don’t think he’ll crumple under the pressure like Heikki did. He can win races, and he can win unexpectedly. But for the next few years, McLaren are going to worry about Saturday afternoons.

    I think McLaren might actually be in a very strong position next year for the constructors. Two fast, reliable drivers who will always bring home the points and aren’t likely to stick it in the wall, or have a fit. For the drivers’, they’re more precarious.

    Mercedes? Well, Mercedes are going to be very dependant on how fast and reliable the car is next few years. Unlike today’s flurry of action, they’re going to be reliant on one man for that. Ross Brawn. Lewis Hamilton is not the man to bring together a large team of people and get them working together as a unit with an eye on tedious details.

    • Jake (@jleigh) said on 28th September 2012, 13:57

      @hairs great analysis! I’m not sure Lewis will need the leadership skills of Schumacher, I think that can come from Brawn. That and the motivation that will come from seeing Lewis get more out of a car than they have ever seen before will be enough I think. I personally am incredibly excited about the prospect of a Brawn-Hamilton tie up. Brawn has always had the greatest of respect for Hamilton (comparing his performances to those of Schumi in his hay-day), and I believe the two of them together could achieve great things.

      Even if they don’t however, and the car isn’t quite up to it, I still believe Hamilton’s reputation as a driver will be advanced from a move to fresh ground.

    • I’m not sure Perez is reliable driver to bring home the points regularly.

      • ??
        Have you been watching this year?

        • David-A (@david-a) said on 28th September 2012, 16:42

          @mw I assume @eggry has been watching this year. Perez has been stunning at times, but hasn’t yet scored points in 3 consecutive races. So while I (and obviously you) can see him producing on a regular basis, @eggry has every right to be unsure. Perez will no longer be in the sort of environment where a few great performances would be more than enough.

    • Maksutov (@maksutov) said on 29th September 2012, 17:34

      very good post, i agree with this:

      Mercedes are getting one of the 3 best drivers on the grid, so they must be over the moon. Hamilton is one of the few who will drag a rubbish car further up the grid than it belongs. He’ll do things that the BAR/Brawn/Merc crew haven’t seen a driver do, and may well inspire them. But is he a leader? Can he build a team around him, and grow them? There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. Unlike Schumacher, Lewis is a driver who has to ask the team what to do more often than not. Schumacher is probably the greatest “team builder” ever, and even in a diminished state I don’t think Lewis has the natural capability he has in that area. It requires a different skill set to working out how to drive the car quickly, and what is making the car slow. It requires determination, long term vision and political diplomacy. None of those are Lewis’s strong points (and it doesn’t mean he should be judged negatively because of it).

      Lewis will have to work on these elements. So this will be a true test of his strength and character as a driver. Lets see if he’s got what it takes, if he “is” the real deal or will this bring out his true colours to the surface (and i don’t mean that physically ).

  2. Funkyf1 (@funkyf1) said on 28th September 2012, 13:47

    I think quite a few people will be surprised by the results Nico achieves if he gets a car of the calibre Lewis currently drives. Saying that he won’t be as challenging as Button teammate wise is a big call. Personally I hope you eat your words on that comment. Britney will hit it one more time at least :)

  3. A WDC within the next three years? Impossible to say definitively either way, but stranger things have happened and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise…

    Part of it depends on Mercedes – is the parent company really committed to F1 for the longer term and can the team make better use of its resources than it has done so far? In 2010 Mercedes could at least point to having to recover from the huge staffing cuts imposed during the team’s season as Brawn. But, by any stretch of the imagination, the team has under-performed in the last two years. It has a decent budget and good facilities, (but so did Toyota) and it has some very good people (as do Caterham) but those don’t guarantee success. Regardless of the length of Hamilton’s deal, we’ve seen major manufacturers fail to run the course before – will Mercedes’ board really tolerate further years in the midfield if that’s what transpires?

    But a big part of this depends on Lewis himself. There has been a step change in his driving in 2012 following from the careless errors in 2011. He needs to step up to the mark at Mercedes and prove he can provide leadership to the whole team, as well as driving very quickly. He needs to look at Michael Schumacher’s time at Ferrari for his model – not just in terms of the results achieved, but the part Schumacher played in achieving them. He was relentless in giving Ferrari everything he had, and Ferrari responded in kind. I struggle to think of a single occasion where Schumacher blamed Ferrari for problems or poor performance and that won him a lot of respect. For all his faults, Schumacher was such an effective leader at Ferrari that the team looked utterly directionless in the years after he left – at least until they signed Fernando Alonso.

    Even then, Schumacher failed to win a WDC for Ferrari until his fifth attempt although Alonso has a reasonable chance of doing so on his third chance. Hamilton needs to take this as a chance to reinvent himself, form new, more effective relationships with his new team and gives it everything he’s got – on and off track.

  4. Kimi4WDC said on 28th September 2012, 13:58

    “Rosberg, who has won once in 122 starts, is likely to be a less challenging team mate than Jenson Button.” – now thats funny, cheers.

  5. tobinen (@tobinen) said on 28th September 2012, 13:58

    It’s possible but will he? Who knows. Impossible to see in to the future

  6. Kimi4WDC said on 28th September 2012, 14:15

    “Will Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes bring him another world championship by 2015?” – hopefully this is not going to be Hamilton’s approach after three years, as we see, more experienced drivers more concerned with getting maximum points from every race and that is reflected in their standings.

  7. This is a very very brave decision by Hamilton and he needs to be applauded for it. Not only is he cutting his umbilical cord, he is going to an under-performing team. If he wins the championship in any of the three years, it is going to be a great victory and definitely more deserved than his 2008 title.

    But does Hamilton have the mental make-up to build a team around him and then take it to the top up? I haven’t seen too much of evidence apart from the 2009 season for this. When Michael moved to Ferrari in 1996, he took a lot of technical staff with him and built the team around him. Not once in 11 years did he launch an attack on his own team. Even when Alonso moved to Ferrari in 2010, he had some staff move with him and he was able to get the Scuderia to love him and make him no.1. Hamilton probably has no one move with him to Mercedes and I am not sure if he has the human element in him to make him a darling of the team.

    I have always thought Hamilton to be someone who thinks that F1 is just turning up on a Sunday and driving fast. Mercedes will make him realize that it is not so. I am not sure what Hamilton will do once he realizes that though. Either he will start working hard to make Mercedes better or he will jump ship to NASCAR (like Montoya).

    • Maksutov (@maksutov) said on 29th September 2012, 17:58

      Not only is he cutting his umbilical cord,

      haha.. good one.

      Not once in 11 years did he launch an attack on his own team.

      That is excellent observation, not one that I have seen many people do here. And it is actually 100% correct.

      I agree with rest of your your comment, very good analysis. This is why (as I also posted above), I think this move will be a massive test for Hamilton. Given that he is regarded as one of the best by many, well in that case, if he wants to be remembered as such (or a legend – to which he is nowhere even close yet), then he must do something exceptional. And funny enough that you compare him to Montoya, I was actually thinking about that exact same thing a few weeks ago. There is a very high chance of this happening considering his personality. Maybe Hamilton gets sick of the hard work and decides to follow his celebrity lifestyle. Either way, this will certainly separate good from the best.

  8. bosyber (@bosyber) said on 28th September 2012, 14:21

    I voted yes, though I’d have taken a “why not” option.

    It is hard to tell; in the end. But asking the same question about HAM had he stayed at McLaren, my answer would tend to be: Maybe, but if he/they can’t do it this year, what will change in the future to make that happen, because it doesn’t look much like it so far; there has always been something weird, even in 2008.

    At least HAM now changed something, it might not work for him, or it might, I think on the whole it is probably good to take a different step. And maybe either or both of the parties will profit from that chance and we’ll see a 2014 WDC fight between Perez and HAM.

  9. Tifoso1989 (@tifoso1989) said on 28th September 2012, 14:29

    I really don’t know what to say, after all Lewis is the master of his own destiny , but in my personal point of view i don’t think that Lewis Hamilton would win the WDC with Mercedes in the next three years ,Mercedes isn’t a winner team i feel that Lewis is the victim of his own management , that was clear that the money was behind this move & as for the “2014 engine regulations ” most people forget that Ferrari another Manufacturer maybe the best in the business of engine building is now clearly ahead of Mercedes there’s no guaranty that they will be the Benchmark in 2014

  10. Not with Alonso, Vettel, Raikkonen already established in their teams..

    This move has left other teams in the dark, with the spotlight firmly stuck on Lewis and Mclaren and Mercedes.. Sponsors won’t like that..

    We might see Massa leaving Ferrari yet :)

  11. andrewf1 (@andrewf1) said on 28th September 2012, 14:42

    i wish people would stop with this ‘And he can kiss goodbye to that McLaren F1 LM he was promised if he won three drivers’ titles with McLaren’ – right, big deal, as if THAT’S WHY Hamilton would want to win 3 WDC’s.

  12. andrewf1 (@andrewf1) said on 28th September 2012, 14:42

    i wish people would stop with this ‘And he can kiss goodbye to that McLaren F1 LM he was promised if he won three drivers’ titles with McLaren’ – right, big deal, as if THAT’S WHY Hamilton would want to win 3 WDC’s or stay at McLaren for that matter.

  13. Grubschumi said on 28th September 2012, 14:52

    I think based on the last three season Mercedes will not develop a car allowing Hamilton to fight at the front. They have to get over their tire issues that has plagued them for the past three years.

    That said Rosberg Vs Schumi this season has been closer. Rosberg made his points advantage in the two races Mercedes were strong and Schumacher retired in both. China and Monaco he got 43 points over Schumi and leads him now by 50 points. Schumi regrettably for him in the races he has beaten Rosberg the Mercedes has only been good enough to get 7th and that is only with a few retirements upfront.

    I really doubt Mercedes and I would be frightened of having a moody, dare I say arrogant Hamilton. He is a very good driver but you also need a very good car. My prediction is this will turn to tears for both parties including a very tense, public and bitter rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg Who has has beaten Schumi on points for pretty much 3 seasons.

    Hamilton gets moody when beaten by his team mate and can start resorting to backhanded insults as he does with Jenson. Recently he stated he does not feel he has learned from Jenson This after Witmarsh said they both learn from each other. He is going to need patience and it will be so hard for him to see Vettel, Alonso possibly Kimi amd worse yet Button fighting it out for the championship and he is not in that fight.

    This is a real big gamble and I don’t care what Brawn and Lauda say their job is to sell it to Hamilton whether they believe what they say or not.

    • “Hamilton gets moody when beaten by his team mate and can start resorting to backhanded insults as he does with Jenson. Recently he stated he does not feel he has learned from Jenson This after Witmarsh said they both learn from each other.”

      When was this? Did I miss that? Surely the Journalists would have whipped that up into a storm and created the impression Jenson and Lewis were going to have a bare knuckle boxing match in the paddock, fenced in by a ring of tires, if Lewis had said that??

  14. Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 28th September 2012, 14:52

    My eyes bugged when I saw the news. I did not expect this at all. Though I’m psyched as the past year has made me a big Perez fan.

    But man… why can’t we have an “I don’t know” option in the voting? This is such a tough call! It could easily teeter either way.

  15. Might as well toss a coin on it……
    Looking at the result at the moment we all did that.
    F1 is getting very competitive and Mercedes and McLaren both have had issues, but McLaren always seem to pull the performance out the bag in the end.
    Could that be down to Hamilton maxing the car, like Alonso does? Well I firmly believe Hamilton will have the upper hand over Rosberg and that he always gets the most out the car. So, going by that I reckon that Hamilton would have a decent chance at a title with Mercedes.
    But then that could just break the Mercedes more…
    Oh, it’s just too hard to say. Where’s that coin?

    • Francuis (@francuis) said on 29th September 2012, 9:43

      Now at least the argument if “Hamilton is as good as Alonso of dragging a 3rd or 4th best car up the grid” will be settled. I don’t think he will be consistent at all. Both in car reliability or in driver consistency. Outstanding performance here an there, but that will be it.

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