The case for Lewis Hamilton joining Mercedes

The 2013 Formula One driver market is proving to be very lively and, as the fastest driver out of contract, Lewis Hamilton is playing a very big role. Rumours about Hamilton’s long term future have been circulating for the best part of twelve months but speculation linking the Brit to Mercedes sharply intensified over the last few weeks.

Up until recently it seemed a mere formality that Lewis would renew his contract with McLaren and any stories that suggested otherwise were just innuendo that helped his bargaining power. However, a few recent developments have revealed some substance to the rumours about Hamilton’s future and he may indeed be on his way out of McLaren.

No smoke without fire

Heading into the Italian Grand Prix weekend Eddie Jordan proudly announced to the world that Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes had agreed to contractual terms for 2013 and that a deal was imminent. Eddie is not shy about hogging some media attention with a brash headline so extreme caution is required when analysing his comments. However, they certainly shouldn’t be ruled out. Eddie Jordan has a lot of contacts in the sport and some of those include the folks at Mercedes that tipped him off about Michael Schumacher’s comeback three years ago. There is no smoke without fire so although Jordan’s place in the grapevine is unclear, it does seem there have been some very advanced talks between Hamilton and Mercedes.

Another event that triggered an avalanche of ‘Lewis to Mercedes’ stories was Hamilton’s rather subdued celebration after winning at Monza.

It is easy to read too much into minor things, and to create a story where there is none, but Lewis Hamilton was not his usual self after winning the Italian Grand Prix. Lewis wears his heart on his sleeve and rarely masks his true emotions which made his appearance at the Italian Grand Prix particularly odd.

When Lewis took a very impressive pole position in Korea last year – the only time Red Bull was beaten in qualifying all season – he looked rather forlorn afterwards and was seemingly distant from his achievement. Lewis later admitted that he was not himself at the time and that his personal life was impacting his professional one. Hamilton seemingly had the same attitude at Monza two weeks ago. There were no whoops of delight on the radio after taking the chequered flag and his conversation with the McLaren pitwall during the victory lap sounded like an office talk between two accountants. It was awkward at best.

Contract negotiations are easily the biggest off-track story for Lewis at the moment, so if anything is distracting him, surely they are responsible.

He wouldn’t be distracted if he had just resigned with McLaren, or had every intention of doing so.

It might be worth remembering a comment that Hamilton made about his contract negotiations back in August. Lewis said that he would be “business minded” about any new deal which is an odd thing for a racing driver to say. Usually drivers talk about being in the fastest car, or the most resourced team, or building something for the future. They don’t often talk about business deals.

Hamilton’s management team, XIX Entertainment, specialise in personal brand development. They do not specialise in motor racing, so working with them in a “business minded” fashion suggests Lewis could willingly ignore the sporting reasons that would keep him at McLaren.

It makes sense

There are a number of reasons why a deal between Lewis and Mercedes makes perfect sense for all parties.

The big one for Lewis is money. Mercedes will give him an open chequebook and total commercial freedom to develop his own brand and work with his own sponsors. This obviously means a lot for Lewis who is not shy about his superstar status. He has a very active public life away from F1 and the fact that he hired an entertainment company to manage him shows that his focus is not just on sport. Good on him. Lewis is doing what he wants and Mercedes is likely to give him more freedom to pursue that.

Not only is Mercedes one of the world’s most recognised brands (offering great leverage to someone like Lewis) but it is a marque associated with the glamorous celebrity lifestyle that Hamilton promotes. It is a great natural fit from a marketing point of view and that is something XIX has surely drilled into Hamilton.

McLaren simply cannot compete with Mercedes’ global exposure and have traditionally been very strict about letting drivers do their own thing. Ron Dennis once admitted they missed out on signing Michael Schumacher in his prime simply because they did not accept his personal sponsorship arrangements. McLaren’s willingness to relax their commercial restrictions will be a huge factor in Hamilton’s 2013 decision.

From a sporting point of view, the switch wouldn’t be totally nonsensical either and that would surely be the focus of any press release if Lewis made the move.

Big changes to the engine regulations in 2014 will hand an advantage to the manufacturer teams. Mercedes has the resources to prepare for the new rules and adapt accordingly giving Ross Brawn the same World Championship opportunity he had in 2009. Joining Mercedes to take advantage of the new regulations would be a handy justification for a driver to leave a winning team for one less proven.

Also, Ross Brawn is putting together quite a strong outfit, not dissimilar to the ‘dream team’ at Ferrari which defined racing for a decade. Along with Brawn, the technical team benefits from Bob Bell, Geoff Willis, and Aldo Costa – men who have contributed to 22 of the last 24 Constructors World Championship victories. Combine that with wealth of Mercedes and you have nearly all of the necessary ingredients for a new F1 dynasty. The only thing missing is a superstar driver.

It’s going to happen anyway

It is inevitable that at some point in the future, Lewis Hamilton is going to leave McLaren. In addition to seeking a new challenge, Hamilton’s marriage with the team has never been a perfect one.

  • Lewis almost split with McLaren before he even reached F1 after disagreeing with Ron Dennis over the direction of his Formula Three career.
  • In just his fifth Grand Prix with McLaren, Lewis publicly accused the team of denying him a chance at victory.
  • Six races later in Hungary Hamilton disobeyed team orders during qualifying and allegedly swore at the pitwall.
  • In 2009 some personnel within McLaren were reportedly upset that Dave Ryan, their long serving Sporting director, was made a scapegoat for ‘lie-gate’ in order to protect Lewis.
  • Hamilton is openly critical of his team and their decisions over the radio, and his focus on life away from F1 does not always sit well with those who live and breathe racing.

The recent telemetry tweet saga (although quite a minor distraction) was further evidence that a gap exists between Hamilton’s mindset and that of his team. There might not be anything wrong with Lewis Hamilton’s relationship at McLaren but the bond they share is not unbreakable.

Lots to think about

If Lewis signed for Mercedes he would have a more valuable contract with more commercial freedom and the scope to build his own brand. He would be joining a very well resourced manufacturer team that would make him their star, and he would become a major player in Ross Brawn’s new dream team.

That’s a lot to think about if you’re winning races for McLaren isn’t it?

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