So Formula 1 is going through its own version of soccer’s transfer deadline day. I have to say I turned on Sky Sports News this morning and was pretty disappointed not to see Craig Slater reporting live from the Tesco roundabout in Brackley, Rachel Brookes doorstepping Martin Whitmarsh outside the MTC in Woking, and Ted Kravitz in scarf and woolly hat in Hinwil.
“Thanks guys, sources inside Sauber have told us that Serio Perez has just informed Peter Sauber of his decision to leave and… yes… I do believe that’s Checo’s personal helicopter flying overhead en route to Woking to ink his new deal with McLaren.”
Formula 1 managed its biggest news in the only way it knows how. A fight to see who could get their press release out first. BANG! This sport knows how to do tension!
Unsurprisingly, McLaren proved fastest… an ominous sign for Lewis Hamilton perhaps.
In confirming a multi-year deal for Sergio Perez, they took the wind out of Mercedes’ big coup. I’ve got to be honest, it was a deal that took me by surprise. I said on this very blog a few days ago that I didn’t see it happening. And I stand by that. Right up to the point that the press release plopped into my inbox (and yes that really is about as excitedly as a press release can ever truly arrive) I had huge doubts that it would happen. I just didn’t think Ferrari would let him go. Many of you had been gracious enough to inform me of potential links between Telmex and Vodafone in the South American market of which I was not aware after my last blog, and with that in mind the move had started to seem a touch more likely. But I still didn’t really buy it.
But it’s happened. I’m not sure how long it will last, but Sergio Perez is a McLaren driver as of 2013 and I’m really happy for him. He’s a great guy and a fabulous racer. I spent a lot of time with him back in the GP2 days and from his earliest races with Arden I remember being impressed with his quiet unassuming manner, and very measured, under the radar performances on track. He wasn’t in your face. He just got on with the job. And did so impressively.
Of course, the fact that Ferrari has let him go must not be overlooked. The team and its bosses are not stupid. They’ve seen what he can do. They know how good Sergio is. And yet they have allowed him out of their grasp and into a contract with possibly their biggest rivals. All of which points, as far as I can see, to one truth. The rumoured Sebastian Vettel pre-contract exists. What small niggling doubts that lingered must now surely be erased. Sebastian Vettel will race for Ferrari in 2014.
And what of Lewis Hamilton’s now confirmed move to Mercedes? Is it a good idea? Frankly I really don’t think that it is. At least not for Lewis. Sure $100million is a very attractive contract, but Lewis lives to race and to win. Will he be doing that in a Mercedes AMG? I’m not convinced. Yes, the shift in engine regs for 2014 should put Mercedes in a good position, but even the great Enzo Ferrari had to admit in his battle with the garagistes that a good engine will only get you so far. In F1 you need good aero. You need the complete package. And I don’t think Mercedes has ever had the complete package.
Ahh, but what about 2009, you ask? That magical mystical year of Brawn GP? What about that, hey?
The truth of that season rarely sees the light of day, but it makes interesting reading. The BGP001 was a great car. But it wasn’t a Brawn. It wasn’t even a Honda. It was a Super Aguri, mostly… with a dash of Dome and some sprinkles added at Tochigi and a touch of Brackley seasoning. It was the Super Aguri that never was, with a Mercedes engine shoehorned into the back.
It hit the ground running, won everything. And then its rivals started to develop their cars, starting catching up. But the Brawn never improved. It stayed at one level. In the second half of the season first the McLaren and then the Red Bull became the car to beat. The BGP001 couldn’t keep up. What had looked like a sure thing at the start of the season ended up being a much tighter fight for the championship than anyone had expected.
Why? The argument, if you choose to believe it, goes that the folks at Brackley hadn’t designed the car, so how could they be expected to either understand or provide sufficient updates to it? But they played a good game, and Mercedes was so impressed that it jumped in with both feet for 2010. But what it got in 2010 wasn’t another GBP001. Because the BGP001 hadn’t come out of Brackley. It had come out of Leafield, Maihara and Tochigi.
I suppose one must ask how that one perfect storm could have been created and yet in the three years since, the team hasn’t only failed to produce a car that could fight for the title, but has only been able to fight for one single win. Same group of people. With added expertise. Some of the best minds in the business. Two fantastic drivers. And nothing to show for it.
A case of too many chiefs? Possibly. And if so, how on earth is bringing Niki Lauda into the fold as non-executive Chairman of the Board of Directors going to help things? I just don’t know if Mercedes has got the direction it needs to take that final step and become a regular contender. Or perhaps Hamilton is that direction. Perhaps Niki’s role will be one of ensuring Lewis Hamilton “keeps his shit real,” and it’s all going to be brilliant.
When it first became clear that Lewis had found a sticking point with McLaren over a new contract in wanting to keep hold of his trophies, news of his negotiations with Mercedes was met with a cruel retort.
“That shouldn’t be a problem in his Mercedes contract. He won’t be winning any trophies.”
Harsh, but when one compares the achievements of Mercedes over the past three seasons with those of McLaren… it is not without merit.
So has Hamilton made the right choice? Only time will tell. It seems he has only truly made his mind up within the past few days. But they have been a tumultuous few days. I wonder how much a recent report in the American gutter press (TMZ) about his girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger apparently being caught kissing singer Chris Brown has played on his mind. Hamilton and Brown, better known to many around the world not for his music but for beating up his one-time-girlfriend Rihanna, have become seemingly good friends of late, with “Breezy” becoming a regular focus of Hamilton’s tweets.
If you recall it was this time last season that things between Hamilton and Scherzinger went awry, and Lewis seemed to go off the rails. He wasn’t himself at the track, away from the track. He was troubled. Those memories will loom large. They do for those of us watching from the outside. Last year we asked if he’d make a crazy decision about his future. Today we’re asking the same thing.
With such a huge decision in his career, you’d have to hope his management has been able to keep his personal and professional lives separate. But we have only one head on our shoulders to bottle up all our emotions and considerations. I just hope, with the balance of time, he doesn’t regret this decision. Because, as other journalists have already mentioned today, the big bucks move from race winning team to up and comer rarely comes good.
Of course it is a great deal for XIX management, and frees Hamilton from the commercial constraints of his McLaren contract. The path is set for Simon Fuller to turn Lewis Hamilton into a global megastar. But again, will that come at the detriment of his racing career?
I asked a question this time last year on this blog, and I ask it again today.
“Lewis Hamilton. 2008 Formula 1 World Champion. Is that how the history books will record the career of one of the greatest enigmas of the modern era of our sport?”