Sitting here in the Suzuka media centre, with jet lag having kicked in, I find myself with some quiet time to reflect on the last few days and the big news that has taken up so many column inches.
The Lewis Hamilton story is, of course, the big story in the sport right now. I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single person in Formula 1 who believes it will play out well or bring Hamilton the levels of success he craves, but that’s not to say it won’t happen.
The simple fact of the matter though is that Hamilton had to move on. He had to get away from McLaren. Edd Straw wrote a wonderful piece on Autosport.com this week about how Hamilton’s move was akin to any youngster growing up and leaving home. It is a rite of passage, an essential and defining moment in any young person’s life. It’s the moment at which they learn to stand on their own feet.
Hamilton’s relationship with McLaren has been strained for some time. For over a year now we’ve asked what’s up with Lewis and questioned where his head has been at both on and off the track. Perhaps this move to Mercedes will finally bring him the peace he needs and allow him to flourish. Without the parental constraints of McLaren, perhaps Lewis will become the man he was always destined to be.
The thing is, Mercedes was the only real option available to Hamilton. We now know it was Lewis who approached Mercedes, not the other way around. We know that Hamilton had discussions with Red Bull in Canada last year. So it doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots. Unhappy at McLaren, he went to speak to Horner. Nothing doing at Red Bull so maybe he tried Ferrari. No luck there, so he went to speak to Mercedes… and hello, what’s this? A glimmer of interest? A possible route out of McLaren?
The wheels were certainly greased by Bernie and, via Bernie, Niki Lauda who we understand managed to convince Hamilton, when the Brit started to have doubts over the move, that it was in fact the right one by appealing to his emotions over his sensibilities. He was sold on the concept of taking the team and doing what the great Michael Schumacher could not. If Hamilton could turn Mercedes into a world championship winning outfit, his reputation and his standing would be immeasurable. He could do what Schumacher did at Ferrari. He could create something magical.
That was the pitch. And it worked.
So Hamilton will be a Mercedes driver. For how long nobody knows. Give it three years and he’ll still only be 30. Easily of an age where a move to another big team could be on the cards.
But by that point will his stock have risen or fallen?
A move from McLaren to Mercedes for big bucks and the emotional draw of creating something unique sounds an awful lot like a line we, in the UK, were fed about another of our great sporting icons. We heard it when David Beckham left Real Madrid, the greatest soccer team at the time in the world, and moved to LA Galaxy.
Ever since then, Beckham has missed the competitive level of European soccer, taking loan spells at AC Milan, and flying back to the UK to train with Arsenal and Tottenham… just to keep his eye in.
But brand Beckham has soared. He is a global megastar. And, just like his XIX Management stablemate Hamilton, perhaps this is the bigger picture. Whatever. For the time being at least, the line remains that it is all about the emotion, and about creating something nobody else has been able to do. And good luck to him.
The Perez story remains, for me, a far more interesting topic however.
I’m still not 100% convinced it’s the greatest move for McLaren. Sergio is a good driver. But is he great? Does he have the potential to be? It’s questionable. Excluding the obvious examples of your Alonsos and Vettels, there exists a short list of drivers who anyone in this paddock would place above Perez in the ultimate pantheon of overall ability and talent. It’s a list that is made up of drivers who would have been just as free to move to McLaren as was the Mexican.
I don’t believe for a moment that di Resta would have been a serious consideration for McLaren. Everyone keeps banging on about it, but as I have already said it makes no sense politically. Having both drivers managed by the same person would have handed a huge chunk of power away. There is no way, in my mind, that McLaren would have so brazenly opened themselves up to being taken hostage. Taking both drivers from the same stable makes no sense. Ironically, and on that basis, had di Resta still been managed by Anthony Hamilton he may have stood a better chance of the seat.
Hulkenberg remains the big loss for McLaren here. He would have been the perfect foil for Button and a potential future team leader for McLaren. Because, as many in this paddock are now asking themselves, do you really see Perez as a team leader? Very few do.
All of which leads us to one fairly eye-opening conclusion. McLaren maybe didn’t take the best driver available to them. With rumours of Vodafone jumping ship, have they taken a driver because of the personal sponsors he could encourage into the McLaren fold? I don’t for a moment think that Telmex has paid for the seat, but there’s every chance that the company, and Carlos Slim, could follow Perez and become a McLaren sponsor.
Also, think about the fact that McLaren is ramping up its road car division. Signing Perez is a smart move from a sales perspective, too.
So has McLaren signed Perez for the bigger picture? To sell cars and bring sponsors into the team? And if they have, isn’t that quite a sad reflection on where we’ve got, and where McLaren is? I mean, when was the last time commercial considerations played a bigger hand in the signing of a driver at McLaren than out and out talent? Philippe Alliot to keep Peugeot happy? You’d have to go back pretty far.
As with every big move, you could spend a lifetime pouring over the detail, asking yourself why. Ultimately only those who have made the decisions truly know the reasons behind them.
But you can bet that this sport’s pair of two-time champions have allowed themselves a wry smile over the last week.