Mercedes F1: Hamilton In, Schumacher Out
(4 October 2012)
After much speculation, Lewis Hamilton has made the decision to accept the offer of a three-year contract beginning in 2013 to drive for Mercedes-Benz in F1, thus ending his fifteen-year spell with McLaren which began when he was still karting. Mercedes will lose Michael Schumacher, who has confirmed that he is retiring from the sport for a second time.
But for the gearbox problems that prevented him from winning the recent Singapore GP, he would be closest to current leader Fernando Alonso in the World Championship standings. His whole demeanour has been so much more relaxed this season, as if he had finally conquered the gremlins that appeared to affect him and his driving for whatever reasons in 2011. There is no doubt that he would have won at Singapore had it not been for the reported technical failure.
I feel that he has made the right decision in deciding to join Mercedes-Benz. It is no secret that his management company wants to establish him as a global brand, on which a continued contract with McLaren could have imposed restrictions. He had the opportunities with McLaren's backing from his early years that young race drivers could only dream about, but I feel that he has repaid them in full.
Having Lewis as a driver will certainly generate considerable enthusiasm and cash from the Mercedes board next year and for him personally I am sure it will provide a new incentive and challenge with regard to his career. When he became part of the McLaren F1 team, he was very much the new kid on the block as far as his team, the motor racing public, and his then team-mate Alonso were concerned. It must have been a considerable shock to the latter when this impression was soon dispelled.
With a new team, a new car to help develop, plus the enthusiasm and the financial backing that the company will supply, it will open up a new and exciting era for him for which he will be fully prepared.
As for Schumacher, this seems to be the end of the road for a great champion. My feeling is that he should not have made his comeback in 2010, and that the writing has been on the wall for some time. He has shown that he can be quicker than Nico Rosberg, but Rosberg, an up-and-coming driver aged 27, has a lot of ambition and will recover quickly from any disappointment, feeling that he may win next time.
Schumacher, aged 43 and with seven World Championships behind him, is unlikely to react the same way. To someone in his position, a disappointment may lead to the feeling that he will never win again.
Rosberg will be staying with Mercedes for next season as Hamilton's team-mate, and the news is that he will have parity with Lewis within the team with the latter's full support. I personally rate Nico very highly, and I am sure that since we have not seen the best of him yet, he will complete a very strong combination.
McLaren has also announced that the replacement for Lewis in the team is to be Sergio Perez, a very fine young driver. There has been much talk recently that that he might be asked replace Massa at Ferrari, but apparently they have said that he is not yet experienced enough.
Not experienced at what, one must ask oneself? Surely not being able to conserve his tyres, which he has shown his ability to do from his first Grand Prix. One also only has to observe his driving from behind the wheel on television to see that he is already streets ahead of the majority with regard to driving technique, precision, and timing.
How would he react to the announcement over the driver's radio that his team-mate, although behind him at the time, was faster than him, with all the implications that might arise? It might be a problem to persuade him to agree to that in his contract, and a problem for his team-mate which the latter may have foreseen if he didn't.
While on the subject of McLaren, one has to consider Jenson Button. Jenson seems a very decent guy and is deservedly very popular with the team. On his day he is a fantastic driver, but his performances do seem to blow hot and cold, affected it would seem by from reports of having problems with car set-up. If past experience is anything to go by with other F1 drivers, it would not take much more than half a day to sort out.
Unfortunately, however, there are far more fashionable and expensive ways of tackling these problems in motor racing involving earnest and genuinely gifted engineers pouring over telemetry printouts in order to analyse with their drivers what is happening to their car on a lap. The only problem is, of course, that they can tell the driver what is happening, but they can't tell him why.