From the start of 2013 F1 Season Lewis Hamilton became a driver for the Mercedes AMG F1 Team. It was a shock to many as Hamilton stated on a number of occasions that he would never leave the McLaren F1 Team. Hamilton was part of McLarens Driver Development Program and started his career with the F1 Team in 2007 although had a close relationship with the Team Principle Ron Dennis from 1995. Unlike most F1 Drivers Lewis was given a competitive car for his first race and finished third. He went on to finish runner-up that year because of a rookie mistake in China which cost him The Driver Championship. The following year he was champion becoming the youngest driver to win the title at that time. The Lewis / McLaren duo looked like the perfect fit and according to the media Lewis was going to be the next Michael Schumacher one of the greatest drivers the sport has ever seen winning 7 Driver Championships.
Schumacher joined Ferrari in 1996 making him the highest paid F1 Driver at that time. It is reported that Ferrari paid him €45 million over a two year period! Why pay him so much? Well Ferrari hadn’t won a Driver Championship since 1979 and Schumacher had taken the 1994 and 1995 Driver Championship with the Benetton Team. At Ferrari Schumacher went to work and started building a championship winning team around him but he needed help. Help came in the form of Ross Brawn Schumacher’s Technical Director at Benetton. Ross joined and the rest is history, he won the Driver Championship in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. In 2004 Forbes magazine listed him as the second highest paid athlete in the world earning €60 million.
Oh and one more thing team orders played a huge role at Ferrari. Schumacher was the number one driver and his team mate was only there to help his chances of winning. This included getting his team mate to slow down in order for him to pass and to block his competitors. This was an imperative role in his championship success.
So getting back to Lewis, it was announced on the 28th of September 2012 that he was leaving McLaren after six years and only one Driver Championship. Hamilton signed a three year deal with the Mercedes-Benz works team. It should earn him over €50 million until 2016 plus a possible extra of €20 million in bonuses.
Why did Lewis leave McLaren? I believe Mercedes have given him permission to build the team around him. Like Ferrari, Mercedes have had a poor run of results since entering Formula One. They are regarded as one of the best selling luxury automakers in the world and considering the sport has a global television audience of around 500 million they need to start winning races.
Asked if he wanted to imitate Schumacher who went to Ferrari when it was uncompetitive and helped to turn the team around Hamilton said,
“That’s it exactly. I don’t feel like any of the drivers are doing that nowadays. I could take the easy route and stay here and cruise on with a great team (McLaren), a great car, making decent money. But that’s not what I want to do. I want to go and struggle. I want to go and help a team that is struggling to get to the top and start winning. That’s going to be the coolest, the most satisfying feeling if we do get there and if we don’t, I’ll only be 31 at the end of it….”
It took Schumacher four to five years to turn Ferrari completely around. How long will it take Hamilton only time will tell? One trait Lewis doesn’t have though is patience unlike Schumacher. In an interview Whitmarsh (McLaren Team Principle) suggested that “Hamilton’s decision to quit McLaren may have been made in anger following the 27 years-old retirement from the lead in Singapore in September – Its is always bad to make a decision in the aftermath of a bad race” (Telegraph.co.uk). At McLaren he was constantly on the radio complaining to the team during the race and had two Twitter gaffes, one about his team mate and the other about his team telemetry! Can an impatience 27 year old turn a famous multimillion euro German marquee F1 team around? The answer to this question is not what or how but who? Ross Brawn is his name, the man who took Schumacher to 7 Driver Titles, won the F1 World Championship with his own team Brawn GP and now Technical Director at the Mercedes AMG F1 Team.
What does he need? A team mate who is going to help his chances of winning? During the last race in Malaysia Hamilton’s team mate Rosberg took to the team radio and stated, “I’m so much faster than Lewis. Let me get past him”. Rosberg was ordered not to pass Lewis but after being thanked for his actions by Brawn he pointedly stated, “Remember this one”.
Hamilton and Mercedes both have a lot riding on the next three years. One thing is for sure it won’t be easy but having Ross Brawn in his corner is a blessing!