The news was not a shock. Eddie Jordan on the BBC website was the first to reveal Hamilton and Mercedes were in negotiations, and with each passing interview with Martin Whitmarsh or Lewis Hamilton, I never had the feeling either British party was going all in to sign on the dotted line.
The first thought that comes to mind is money. Reports are mixed as to which team – McLaren or Mercedes – offered the largest basic salary. The Telegraph pointed to sources saying Mercedes were offering close to £60million over three years, an increase on Hamilton’s current £15million a season deal with McLaren. The Woking based team, on the other hand, were looking to make economies. Ron Dennis said his contract was signed during less austere times, indicating McLaren were looking to offer the former World Champions less money. The signing of the talented Sergio Perez, backed by Carlos Slim’s billions, only adds fuel to these flames.
However, dig deeper and the basic salary was not the only financial issue. Drivers receive heavy bonuses for winning races, championships, and picking up points. Going on this season the bonuses Hamilton has picked up in the Vodafone McLaren have outweighed massively what Rosberg and Schumacher have been awarded in the silver arrow.
Then there are the image rights. McLaren are famously controlling of their drivers’ commercial deals, something Hamilton’s agency XIX entertainment would have identified as an area ripe to exploit. Mercedes will not only give him free reign to sign his own money spinning deals, but the global carmakers profile will open up all kinds of sponsorship opportunities for Hamilton. His agents will certainly earn their 20%.
However, the romantic in all of us hopes money was not Hamilton’s main motivation. We would like to think the boy from Stevenage did not think for one moment what shape his Swiss bank account would be in when signing his next contract, but let’s be realistic. Nonetheless, there are sporting reasons why Lewis chose Mercedes over the team that brought him in to Formula 1.
Firstly, Mercedes have the great Ross Brawn. He has helped his teams win eight Drivers Championships and eight Constructors’ Championships. He is an engineer and team principal that anyone would like to drive for.
Secondly, Mercedes have huge resources. While McLaren are set to become Mercedes customers – their free engine deal running out at the end of 2012 – Mercedes have huge wealth built through their car division and have one of the largest operating budgets in F1, around $300million. The problem is Mercedes expect a return on their investment, and whereas McLaren put racing first, the Daimler board constantly fret over the future of their F1 team. With Hamilton signed on, one might think that confirms Mercedes presence on the grid for the next three years, however as we saw with Honda’s abrupt exit in 2008, things can change very quickly.
Thirdly, new regulations for 2014 will see the introduction of 1.6 litre V6 turbo engines at the expense of naturally aspirated 2.4 litre V8s. There will, no doubt, be a raft of aerodynamical changes as well and this will suit the teams with the biggest budgets. Of course 2013 will see the ‘double-DRS’ system used by Mercedes made illegal, but its effect has been debated and Mercedes will need to address more urging problems like tyre wear and a lack of qualifying pace if they are to be successful.
There are also minor issues that Hamilton occasionally pointed at as sticking points, such as retaining the trophies he has won (McLaren give their drivers a replica and keep the original at their factory) and also the amount of days spent on sponsor duties.
It could simply be a case of making a change. Hamilton has been with McLaren since he was thirteen, raced 103 times for Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh, and ultimately might feel he needs a new environment, surrounding himself with new people, to stimulate him. Only one Drivers Championship, in 2008, while sat in arguably the fastest car on the grid? Easy to see why Hamilton might be disheartened with more years of disappointment in Woking.
Equally, McLaren might be glad to see Hamilton go. He has become increasingly tetchy, criticising his team when he had yet to eradicate errors from his own driving, crashing out several times with Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado (granted, they were not all his fault, but too many were), then committing the cardinal sin of tweeting his team’s telemetry data at the Belgian Grand Prix.
With Jensen Button outperforming his team mate and his amiable personality fitting in well with the team, Hamilton was increasingly coming across as the attention seeking child in the room. At Mercedes he knows he will be the undisputed number one driver, and will be alongside his friend Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton’s career choice is understandable and only time will tell whether it was the right move to make.
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This article was first posted on September 30, 2012