Hamilton flips a £60m coin

Posted: September 28, 2012 in sports
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

2012 Italian GP McLaren Hamilton


In March this year Lewis Hamilton moved from his adopted Switzerland to the casino principality of Monte Carlo, and little more than six months on, the Brit has made the biggest gamble of his career so far.

The 27-year-old has severed ties with McLaren that famously date back to the age of nine, when he told then team boss Ron Dennis that he would one day drive his cars. He did so for six years.

From 2013, he will drive for Mercedes. He will be rewarded handsomely for it – the deal is believed to be worth up to £60m over the course of his contract – but the gamble is whether it does his career any good.

Hamilton has, in effect, flipped a very expensive coin to decide his future.

He will have talked extensively to both his current employers and his future ones about their plans before making the switch, and Mercedes will have had to make a compelling case in order for him to leave his boyhood team. But whatever was said in those discussions, Hamilton is taking a leap into the unknown.

The money may have been a consideration, but it will not have been the over-riding one. Besides, Hamilton’s legacy as a multiple champion will be worth considerably more than a little boost to his paypacket right now. Hamilton has long insisted that it is championships, not cash, that he craves.

McLaren offer stability and familiarity – and, in a sporting situation where very little is guaranteed, and the margins have rarely been finer, they are the nearest thing to a sure bet Hamilton could have had.

Over Hamilton’s time at the team, there have been troughs of form and moments where the car was an also-ran – but they have been brief, and since his arrival into the sport, Hamilton is the only driver with at least one grand prix victory to his name every season.

Equally, it’s also true that since his 2008 world championship, he has spent three years outside the top three at the end of the drivers’ championship, and, as things stand this season, he is on track to miss out once more.

Hamilton likes to challenge himself, and will hope that a new team helps him find an extra gear. There is plenty in his favour – a long-time friend in team-mate Nico Rosberg, a guru of a team principal in Ross Brawn, and a team with the budget, clout and, perhaps most importantly, a supply of their own engines – to give Hamilton a winning chance. 2013 may not be an instant success, but when Formula One adopts a new chassis in 2014, the suspicion is that Mercedes will be better-placed than McLaren to adapt.

But if next year Mercedes sit where they are this campaign – occasionally competitive, but often scrapping for the last few points available on race day – then Hamilton’s notoriously thin patience could be tested.

McLaren have responded quickly and decisively – and, in the circumstances, in the best possible way.

Sergio Perez is the brightest young talent in the sport, and, given his own long-standing ties with Ferrari, they have done well to acquire him before the Scuderia swapped him for Felipe Massa.

He is still just 22, but will develop quickly alongside Jenson Button, and brings with him new markets and new financial opportunities. Perez is sponsored by Telmex, the Mexican company owned by Carlos Slim, who is worth a reported £44bn. McLaren, based in Britain and backed in the Middle East, will evolve once more.

Both sides will try to take the positives from the decision – it may yet prove that both Hamilton and McLaren find themselves better off apart.

But there is one clear loser from Friday’s news – the seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher.

The German came back to the sport in a sensational move three years ago, and apart from brief flashes of brilliance, his return has been an anti-climactic and often error-strewn one.

Despite being 43, he did not appear ready to return to retirement.

But ultimately his towering reputation and long relationship with Brawn was not enough to save him. Mercedes feel they need a player of the very highest calibre to help them make the final step forward in the sport. Schumacher was no longer that man.

Hamilton might just be. He’s placed his £60m bet.

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