Hamilton to Mercedes: more questions than answers

This morning it was finally confirmed that Lewis Hamilton would move to Mercedes-Benz AMG, leaving the McLaren stable which has nurtured him since a young age. The motivation for the move is thought to be multi-faceted, but include Hamilton’s concerns over salary and sponsorship, both personal and team. The Anglo-German team will pay Hamilton a similar amount to what he has been paid in recent years by McLaren, but will leave scope for the Englishman to shape his own brand image.

On a purely sporting level, however, the motivation for the switch is unclear – and many questions have been raised. Wnat kinds of guarantees – if any – has Hamilton been given about Mercedes, particularly with regard to its continued presence in the sport and its performance levels? On the latter point one might hazard there could be a performance clause in the contract, perhaps specifying that the team will be in a position to challenge for the championship in 2014. These kinds of promises – if indeed they have been made – are rarely kept, because the premise is false. They simply cannot promise that, because it is impossible to envisage a car’s speed relative to its as yet non-existent rivals.

Like McLaren, for instance. What makes Hamilton think that Brackley’s prospects are better than Woking’s? While both teams (in shape if not in name) are relatively recent championship winners, car performance is notoriously fickle and difficult to predict one year to the next. Hamilton may have had some justification in looking elsewhere when the MP4-26 started to lag in the mid-early season, but since, McLaren’s famed ability to develop a car mid-season has brought it right back to the front. Mercedes, despite fanfare in the off season, have won once. They do not look like winning again at the moment. But worse: will the decision also have harmed Hamilton’s prospects for this year’s championship? Martin Brundle on Twitter opines that Hamilton will have to be ‘excommunicated’ from any developments, which probably won’t help. Even if the championship is a long shot, the Englishman is still in it – this year. He may look back with a great deal of regret.

And then there’s what Hamilton will find even if he does get a quick car. Nico Rosberg is a race-winner; he has consistently had the bragging rights over one of the greatest drivers ever (who perhaps isn’t that much worse than he used to be). Will Hamilton be undisputed number one? Might Rosberg’s working relationship with the team not confer an advantage, especially in the short term? Might the team then resent the newcomer if he demands favouritism but is initially slower?

Many wags hold that Hamilton’s only weakness is his temperament. One imagines a nasty situation where nothing goes right for him on track, with a lack of competitiveness and a string of retirements all he has to boast from a year at Mercedes, and his motivation saps completely. Of course, all the smiles and celebrations at the moments gleam with new-marriage optimism, but until some of these questions are answered, Hamilton is entitled to look forward with some trepidation.

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