For those of you who follow Formula 1, you know that the ink is drying on Lewis Hamilton’s highly publicized move to Mercedes GP. Hamilton, who has been supported by Mclaren’s young driver development program since he was 13 years old is moving to the German works team for a three-year 100 million dollar contract. Since entering the sport in 2010, Mercedes have under-whelmed the competition by only scoring one race win. Mclaren, on the other hand, has been a staple in the championship title hunts in Formula 1 for the last forty years.
People have been saying that Lewis is only interested in moving to Mercedes, due to the extra sponsorship money that he will be receiving in his new contract. Signing for Mercedes provides him with the access to his own image rights back, giving him the ability to make personal sponsorship deals that he was unable to make at Mclaren.
Those in F1’s inner circles have been commenting on how Hamilton’s move signals his loss of focus as a racer, and one of the single greatest mistakes in the 2008 World Champion’s career.
But is it really? I’ve had some time to think about it and if we take a look back in Formula 1 history, we can reflect over a similar situation with a young Michael Schumacher in the early 1990s.
In 1996, Schumacher made the move from championship winning team, Benetton, to a faltering Scuderia Ferrari. Having won the title twice in the last two years with Benetton, Schumacher was enticed over to the scarlet red cars, in the hopes of molding the struggling team into series champions.
It wasn’t a smooth progression for the driver or the team. Through 1996 and 1999, although Schumacher was constantly in the hunt for the title, he did not win a Driver’s Championship during that time. The main cause was a car that wasn’t up to the task. Ferrari would constantly let him down through technical retirements through a lack of development or rookie mistakes determining race strategy.
However, with each mistake, the team learned how to improve. Ferrari used that time to go through through a massive internal reorganization. Through Schumacher’s recommendation, they hired Ross Brawn as technical director and Rory Byrne as chief designer. Byrne, Brawn and Schumacher revolutionized the car’s development path year over year. From the production side, Ferrari also centralized their car development operations under one roof in Maranello, formerly having production challenges by having engines developed in the UK, while their chassis were being developed in Italy.
Once they got their house in order in 2000, Ferrari’s championship run really took off. We all know how Schumacher and Ferrari dominated over Formula 1 for the next five years, giving Michael a total tally of seven driver’s titles.
Coming back to the present, ironically Hamilton is replacing Michael Schumacher is his move to Mercedes GP. A team that has Ross Brawn as technical director and other genius minds such as Bob Bell and Aldo Costa. The team is still developing, but with the minds that they have backing the car’s development, mixed with Hamilton’s natural driving talent, Mercedes may turn into a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.
I’m not sure how Hamilton’s skills are when it comes to providing the right feedback which helps to develop a car. However, he can drive the wheels off of whatever he’s given and that’s a huge help to get an understanding of the underlying baseline performance.
It definitely will not be an easy or quick project, but evolving from mid-pack to top team has happened before in Formula 1. One only needs to look at the rapid progress of Red Bull Racing as a proper case-study of a team that’s climbed from being mediocre to meteoric. However, in racing is never a sure thing that a team will become successful. How that success is determined is based on the caliber of the driver line up and the level of financial investment put into the team. For Mercedes, nothing less than being champions will do. So the climb will be steep, even with drivers like Hamilton and Rosberg carrying them.
Whenever a top driver changes teams, it causes a massive shakeup among the fans so people are likely to put alot of un-needed back press on Hamilton over the next few weeks. (Remember, how Jenson Button moving to Mclaren was supposed to be a big mistake for the Frome man in 2009? Glad I didn’t make a bet on that being a bad fit for him.)
Hamilton will just need to be patient, and grow with the team as they learn to work with each other. His move from Mclaren also shows that Lewis is wanting to break free of the shadow of the team that has fostered his development from the age of 13. At some point, children do just want to leave the nest, and in my opinion this contract move is Hamilton’s way of putting the final stamp on his need to be independent.
So give it time, and we’ll see who’ll be laughing in the end.
(Plus the idea of a Alonso, Vettel, Button and Hamilton four way battle will be EPIC. Bring on 2013!)