Red Bull clearly expect whoever is in their second car to support Vettel. They let that second driver be competitive enough to make a challenge for the title if something should happen that prevents Vettel from making his own championship challenge – like Michael Schumacher’s accident at Silverstone in 1999 – but until then, they are very much expected to take on a supporting role.
Now, that is understandable in any team when a driver first joins. The established driver is just that: established. He knows the team. He knows how they work. He knows how to get the most out of them. A new driver doesn’t have that advantage, and he needs to learn it, so he will naturally be a little slower to begin with. The difference is that at Red Bull, that new driver is expected to remain in the support role long after their first season is complete. And I think that would be a source of conflict if ever Lewis Hamilton joined them. He’d get the team a lot of attention, but it would still be the Sebastian Vettel Show, and that would not sit well with him. It would probably be twice as bad for him, since he was not a part of the Red Bull development program. He wasn’t found by Red Bull’s talent scouts, so for him to come in an trounce Vettel (as so many people expect him to do) would make a mockery of the entire Red Bull driver program.
Lewis Hamilton needs a team that he can lead from the outset, or at least from as soon as he is comfortable with them. I just can’t see that happening with Red Bull. They’re like the mob – one big, happy family, and that’s not something Hamilton can simply step into. But far too many people see “Red Bull is fast” and “Lewis Hamilton is free” and put two and two together – thinking it will be a match made in heaven – blissfully unaware that they’ve managed to get a total of five.
Speed is one thing, but it’s not the only factor. Cohesiveness is critical; the best team and driver combinations are the ones that mesh together seamlessly. Just look at Alonso and Ferrari – the car hasn’t been the best, but Alonso has two wins, scored points in every race, and is leading the championship. I can’t help but feel that mixing Hamilton with Red Bull would be a case of oil and water – or worse, water and electricity.
I think Hamilton needs to move on from McLaren. They’ve been good to him, but I think he needs a new challenge, the same way Button left Brawn at the end of 2009; he’d been with them since 2003, and felt it was time for a change of scenery. I can see Hamilton doing the same. I think he needs a new challenge, but I don’t think breaking the harmony of another team is it. On the other hand, taking a smaller team with plenty of untapped promise – like Williams or Mercedes – and getting them to the front of the grid is exactly the kind of thing he could throw himself at.