There has been all kinds of speculation about Lewis Hamilton's decision to sign for Mercedes. Is it not
possible that, underneath it all, he just wanted a change after so long in one relationship? He came into F1 with a competitive car and has ever since been part of a well-oiled machine. It is part of human nature to see the grass greener on the other side of the fence. Hand on heart, few of us have not experienced that, even if we have done no more about it than to wonder.
The pretty wife, the talented kids, the nice home, a delicious meal on the table when we come home, but
By all accounts, the basic salary was not the issue. Both sides were offering a lottery win every month for three years. There do appear to be side-issues, however. One reason for McLaren's success has been Ron Dennis's attention to detail, but this can also be tiresome. When the McLaren F1 supercar was being shown to potential buyers, Goodwood House and the Goodwood Motor C ircuit were used. That is how I was able to hitch a ride in one. Of course the cars were presented immaculately, but after every test run someone was employed to wipe the inside of the exhaust pipes. You read it right, it was the inside.
Ron controls every aspect of the operation. At the end of each season, everyone hands in their team clothing and it becomes a bonfire that Ron personally lights. Trophies all go to the McLaren Technical C entre, there is a corridor about 60 yards long and on either side there are trophy cases, three deep. You cannot fail to be awestruck, it is part of McLaren's presentation. McLaren does not permit personal sponsorship deals. The main sponsors keep healthy the bank accounts of all contracted drivers. Sheer cash cannot be the issue, but restrictions can irritate.
We now know that Niki Lauda spoke with Hamilton. Niki was pivotal in taking Ferrari from the doldrums back to the top. People often forget how often Ferrari has not been among the top two or three teams. Niki secured his place in history by turning Ferrari around. His later stints with Brabham and McLaren confirmed his skill as a driver, but have never been considered as being as remarkable as his years with Ferrari.
Some have speculated that Mercedes could offer Lewis a distinct advantage if the 1.6-litre turbo F1 comes into play. So far as I am aware, McLaren has a long-term agreement with Mercedes-Benz for the supply of engines. For the Mercedes F1 team to have an engine advantage would mean that M-B would have to provide inferior units to customers.
The way engines are made today would make that difficult and, besides, it would offend the very philosophy of Mercedes-Benz. Anyone who has had intimate dealings with the company will dismiss the idea. It is possible that Lewis has seen something of Mercedes's 2013 car. Ross Brawn has been known to pull a few rabbits from the hat in his time, remember the twin-diffuser in 2009? There are currently two superstar designers: Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey and it is the nature of such people to spring
McLaren rarely springs surprises nowadays. Its strength is proven systems and engineering talent in depth. This season has been full of uncertainty due to the tyres. McLaren has won more races than any other team because of its in-depth talent. Engineers in the paddock know the score, but the wider public rarely does. I can understand Lewis's decision. McLaren is the sensible choice, but Mercedes is the racer's choice because of the element of uncertainty.
In my view, Fernando Alonso is the most complete driver on the 2012 grid, but it took a move to Ferrari for him to demonstrate that. This year's car has not been the best, but Fernando leads the World Championship and he is now etching, not merely writing, his name into history. Lewis is perhaps the quickest driver on the grid, but he cannot prove that he has the extra dimension which marks excellence from greatness while he stays at McLaren. A move to Mercedes has the potential to develop that side of him, if it exists. It offers him the opportunity to turn a so-so team into a top team and he cannot do that with McLaren.
It could be the best move he ever makes, or the worst. My feeling is that it could be that extreme and there will not be room for graduations. I am a student of stage magic and have seen performers advertise themselves as 'The Great So-and-so', but never as 'The Better Than Average So-and-so.' I think that Lewis is going for the big one, a place in history, and not merely a position on the list of Grand Prix winners and I think that is admirable. It is a decision made from the gut, not from the head. It is the racer's choice.