The rumour mill has been grinding excitedly in the last few days with speculation that Lewis Hamilton will leave McLaren and go to Mercedes. No less a figure than Eddie Jordan, he of the mangled syntax and questionable sartorial sense, has staked his reputation on the claim. But would Hamilton really leave his alma mater?
On the plus side there are a number of persuasive arguments. Firstly, Hamilton has never hidden his desire to be a bigger brand than simply a racing driver, and partnership with Mercedes would suit that agenda. The Stuttgart marque’s moniker is after all synonymous the world over with quality and finesse.
Secondly, there is the team mate. Nico Rosberg and Hamilton were old pals and have still managed to retain a semblance of a friendship in the F1 paddock, an environment that rarely sings Hamilton’s praises with united voice. Hamilton would love to think that he can beat Rosberg in his own car, and would fancy his chances.
Thirdly, there are the resources, and the potential at the team which remain largely unrealised. Mercedes is in rude health as a manufacturer and with Ross Brawn at the helm, a man whose CV includes resurrecting and bringing championships to not one but two separate teams, all the pieces of the puzzle are there. That their double DRS has not yet worked is a gamble that did not pay off, so the argument goes, and they will come good devastatingly soon. They are proven winners in the hands of Rosberg.
So much for the ‘pull’ factors; there are also ‘push’ elements. Hamilton has seemed to grow weary of McLaren’s lack of consistency, and seems to think that the harder he tries, the less it seems to go his way. Even if they do not share some views that he is a prima donna, McLaren are no longer inspired by Lewis; the relationship has a staleness to it. Publishing telemetry on Twitter is not McLaren’s idea of a good thing to do. Ron Dennis, one suspects, might have been less lenient than his successor.
But then there are the negatives. McLaren have won the last two successive races, of which Hamilton won one. That is not the kind of win record with which Mercedes can compete. The Anglo-German squad have won but one race in their modern incarnation, and frankly do not look like winning another. Hamilton would probably have to write the next two years or so off as character-, car- and team-building – patience and forbearance that his critics might say he does not have.
Hamilton seems to realise this, too.”I want to win,” he is quoted as saying today by Autosport. “You always want to win every year you can compete: that is why us drivers exist and why teams exist. It is just making sure you are in the right place to do so.” That seems to point to McLaren rather than Mercedes.
Moreover, there are no guarantees that the marque will stay in the sport as a manufacturer. They have none of their dealership rivals – VW, Audi, BMW – to take on and beat on this grid, and are yet pouring vast numbers of Euros into the project. Norbert Haug must feel the heat under that collar. F1 is a results business, and there haven’t been many. Boards are capricious and can act.
So very simply, McLaren look like the least worst option for Hamilton, unless he feels like some very hard work. Or he could wait til Mark Webber goes and hop into a Red Bull for a year or two, to see how Sebastian Vettel would like that. Ultimately, fans want to see the best drivers in the best cars fighting it out, and a move to Mercedes by one of the big three would in all likelihood relegate Hamilton somewhat. But these days, very few people have any idea what the man from Stevenage is going to do next.