Motorsport Blog
Topic

Motorsport Blog

Hamilton set to move to Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton’s demeanour and that of his team after victory in the Italian Grand Prix bore all the hallmarks of a divorce that has already been...

Hamilton set to move to Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton’s demeanour and that of his team after victory in the Italian Grand Prix bore all the hallmarks of a divorce that has already been agreed. Minimal celebrations on the pit wall and beneath the podium, a team photo for appearances' sake with an implacable looking Hamilton and Ron Dennis declining to join in.

Despite appearances, team boss Martin Whitmarsh said after the race that suggestions that a deal was already done were "fantasy" and insisted that the door is still open if Hamilton wants to stay.

However driver contracts often get signed during race weekends and there were strong indications that the situation may have been closed out before everyone left Monza.

Hamilton looks like he is moving on, perhaps the only way he can become his own man, certainly the only way he and XIX Entertainment can fully cash in on his status, box office power and his image rights. And that is a big part of what this is about. Mercedes is one of the world's most powerful brands, while McLaren makes F1 cars and small volume sports cars. This deal will take Hamilton's name and image well beyond the boundaries of F1. If Hamilton did not want this, why would he had signed up with XIX?

Also McLaren drivers have to work within strict guidelines with team sponsors. Mercedes need Hamilton and this deal will give him greater freedom. The suggested deal with Mercedes and its sponsors is very big and so too will be the impact it will make on the competition in F1 over the next three years and the driver market in the nearer term.

Mercedes had to do this, as one of only two "works" teams in F1 they had to get a champion on board, especially with Michael Schumacher winding down towards retirement again. There is risk if they don't go on to win, but it's a risk worth taking.

Ron Dennis’ fellow McLaren shareholders were all in Monza this weekend, from Friday onwards; Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman and long time shareholder Mansour Ojjeh could be observed in discussions with Whitmarsh over the next steps in a painful negotiation with a driver whom the team has nurtured since childhood.

Eddie Jordan, apparently prompted by both XIX and Bernie Ecclestone, lobbed the grenade in on Wednesday, saying that Hamilton was on the point of signing for Mercedes. It was a final call to McLaren to improve the deal on offer or lose their man.

But some signs were there from McLaren’s side that there was not only a reluctance to meet the financial terms, but also a weariness with the whole pantomime of 'Life with Lewis.' The tweeting of the set up sheet in Spa was a symbolic watershed in a relationship which has veered off track since the wide eyed enthusiasm of 2007.

The biggest problem for McLaren is how to replace Hamilton without losing significant performance. He’s worth £25 million a year because he’s one of the fastest drivers in the world and whoever sits in the car next year is unlikely to be able to match that speed. Whitmarsh said yesterday that he does not have a Plan B.

Paul di Resta senses an opportunity, but will he be able to meet the numbers on the stopwatch that Hamilton does? And will McLaren want both their drivers to be managed by the same person? Di Resta confirmed his deal with Jenson Button's manager Richard Goddard this weekend, replacing Lewis’ father Anthony, who is suing Di Resta for wrongful dismissal and loss of earnings.

F1 is an incestuous world, with such complex intertwined relationships but there is great goodwill between Goddard and Whitmarsh. Goddard looked very pleased all weekend in sharp contrast to the careworn faces of the McLaren management.

Kimi Raikkonen is the only driver who could get close to Hamilton’s performance - he is only a single point behind him in the championship - but he seems happy at Lotus and he wasn’t terribly happy last time he drove for McLaren. His qualifying pace has yet to be rediscovered but he's racing very strongly. He would work well with Button and form a strong team, but he's come back to F1 to enjoy himself and the sponsor commitments would be a huge sticking point. Button would refuse to do more than his fair share for Vodafone, Mobil and the rest to compensate.

Speaking of Vodafone, there have been suggestions that discussions are taking place for Sergio Perez to join the team; Vodafone has been looking for years into expanding its reach in Latin America and particularly Brazil via Perez' backers Telmex and America Movil. So this could provide a strong business case for a move. However Perez is a Ferrari Academy driver so there are some hurdles there.

There have been suggestions of a trade with Mercedes on Nico Rosberg, with Michael Schumacher staying on to partner Hamilton. But one senses that Mercedes were waiting to see if they could get Hamilton signed before making their next move, and now may start gently leaning on the seven times champion to ease him into retirement.

Hamilton at Mercedes, if and when confirmed, is good news for Bernie Ecclestone, who keeps Mercedes involved and committed, despite some very rocky times between the two parties recently over Mercedes' share of the sport’s revenues in comparison with Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren. It could be Mercedes' turn to do some winning in F1.

Ecclestone has got what he wants, but is known to be suspicious of Simon Fuller and XIX Entertainment. Such a group having so much power and control over one of his biggest stars is a situation he will be monitoring carefully.

This looks like the final push for Mercedes – Ross Brawn knows what it takes to win and has followed the tried and tested formula: he has built up his technical team, they have their own engine facilities and a clear plan and now it looks like they have the driver.

All the pieces are in place and Mercedes must deliver the title in the next three years.

Fail with this group and there would be pressure from Daimler shareholders to call time on the F1 adventure.

shares
comments
Video and final guest blog: Ultimate F1 Road trip

Previous article

Video and final guest blog: Ultimate F1 Road trip

Next article

How Perez got to second place and the big gamble teams took in Monza: Analysis

How Perez got to second place and the big gamble teams took in Monza: Analysis
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish” Prime

Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish”

We’ve seen five distinct versions of Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes as he’s tried to fulfil his own ambitions while being a consummate team player – two difficult, competing missions which have been challenging to reconcile. Speaking exclusively to Stuart Codling, Bottas explains his highs and lows… and why he still believes he can be world champion.

How long can Verstappen and Hamilton keep it clean? Prime

How long can Verstappen and Hamilton keep it clean?

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have been evenly matched so far in the 2021 Formula 1 title race. Neither has been afraid to get aggressive against each other on track, teeing up an enthralling contest as the year unwinds. But how long will their battle remain clean? Jonathan Noble ponders that exact point

Formula 1
May 13, 2021
How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner Prime

How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner

The Brabham BT46B raced once, won once, then vanished – or did it? STUART CODLING reveals the story of the car which was never actually banned…

Formula 1
May 11, 2021
The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle Prime

The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle

Formula 1’s visits to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya over recent years have been met with familiar criticisms despite tweaks here and there to the track to improve racing. With the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix largely going the same way, proper solutions need to be followed to achieve F1’s wider targets

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings Prime

Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Often described as Formula 1's laboratory, the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona gave the clearest demonstration yet of the pecking order in 2021. And it's the key discrepancies from that order which illuminate who is excelling, and who needs to hit the reset button.

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
How Red Bull's deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain Prime

How Red Bull's deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain

An aggressive first corner move from Max Verstappen appeared to have set the Red Bull driver on course for victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. But canny strategy from Mercedes - combined with the absence of Red Bull's number two from the lead group - allowed Lewis Hamilton to pull off a demoralising reversal

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
The Barcelona practice times that prove Red Bull has hidden pace Prime

The Barcelona practice times that prove Red Bull has hidden pace

Lewis Hamilton led the way in Friday practice for the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix, but there was one major encouraging sign for Red Bull. However, making good on that gain will require Max Verstappen to avoid repeating a mistake that left him well down the FP2 order...

Formula 1
May 7, 2021
Why McLaren doesn’t doubt Ricciardo can escape his ‘dark’ place Prime

Why McLaren doesn’t doubt Ricciardo can escape his ‘dark’ place

Three points finishes from as many starts represents a decent opening innings on paper, but Daniel Ricciardo has endured a tough start to his McLaren career - only magnified his teammate's excellent form. Yet both he and the team have good reason to expect a turnaround soon.

Formula 1
May 6, 2021