The first pieces of the puzzle…

Ted and Georgie © James Moy Photography

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.

Perez moves to Hamilton’s seat in 2013
© James Moy Photography

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.

Mercedes new dream team
© James Moy Photography

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.

Niki and his new boss, Dr Zetsche
© James Moy Photography

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?”

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35 thoughts on “The first pieces of the puzzle…

  1. Spot on analysis as usual and what most of us are thinking. You’re dead right about the Brawn – a very good friend of mine worked for Super Aguri and virtually all of 2008 was spent on the car which became the BGP001 – albeit with a Honda lump in it at the time.

    I expect Vettel and Alonso are the two happiest guys about this announcement…

  2. So in 2009 when the Brawn GP car won the title, I’l agree with you on the point that it stayed on one level except that was more down to the massive job cuts in the team at the time

    • Ron Dennis, Martin Whitmarsh and the McLaren Woking Operations will not hand Lewis Hamilton the #1 to take to Mercedes Petronas GP next year. Lewis’ effective run to the WDC in 2012 is done for, the second he signed for Merc. JF

      • Remember…..drivers title doesn’t win the team any money…..constructor’s title brings in the major cash……so the number one may not be that important! Just saying……hehehehehe…

  3. I think it is a bad move for Lewis, a fantastic move for Perez. Both drivers are exciting to watch, although Lewis is a troubled soul. I think Mercedes are no where near a champion team yet. Lotus will beat them before Lewis sees his three contract finish.

  4. Excellent post Will. Where was his father in all of this? I want to believe Ant would have been in his ear about loyalties. Sadly, I think fame has gone to lewis’ head and he (or someone) has tabloid gossip aspirations . Today, I mourn the death of Lewis Hamilton F1 champion.

  5. Hahahahaha……will, as we say in the Caribbean…..what a bachanal!! It is great that you noted Lewis’s problems on track and off track…..coincidence…..I think not! He is in the same position again……but the move to Mercedes if he goes will be interesting and only next year we will actually know how successful or not so successful he is!

    But as you said…..this is the silly season….I am waiting for the official announcement!

      • You are correct…it was announced this morning! Wow…I think Lewis has made a step in the wrong direction! But as I said earlier……next year will be the proving ground for Mercedes and Lewis!

        But Will……since we are in the silly season……Schumi to Ferrari for a possible one year deal before retirement!!?? What do you think!!?? Hehehehehe

  6. Interesting stuff about Super Aguri and Brawn, but Super Aguri was shut down in May (with no money!). Surely they can’t have designed the whole car? You sure they didn’t just come up with the double diffuser which Honda then adopted?

    • They’d started work on it at the beginning of 2007, as soon as the 2009 regs were finalised. And don’t forget what they did with a year old Honda. Super Aguri had one of the most progressive thinking design offices in F1. They just didn’t have the budget to fabricate and test half the ideas they had.

  7. I bet Alonso is the happiest man on the planet now. McLaren indirectly dumped him for Lewis and Lewis dumped McLaren. So now, McLaren are left without any of the big 3.

  8. It’s interesting that everybody writes about Lewis Hamilton as though he is a wayward child. Nobody has any respect for him. Nobody wonders whether he might have a good reason for this move. It could be that a move away from McLaren has always been inevitable, sooner or later. He has grown up with them, and everybody needs to leave home at some point. The insulting intervention by Ron Dennis a few weeks ago wasn’t what a great driver could possibly want to hear from his boss. It must have made working for Ross Brawn and Norbert Haug seem quite an attractive proposition.

    Still this year McLaren have built the best car and Hamilton should be heading for the title. If he was, you can bet he wouldn’t be leaving. But he isn’t heading for the title, and Hamilton himself has done very little wrong. It is McLaren who have made a succession of mistakes, and the unreliability on Sunday may have been the final straw. Hamilton said at the beginning of the season that he was determined to avoid mistakes, as the title would be won by consistency. It seems to me he has stuck to that resolutely throughout, but McLaren have let him, and themselves down time and again, and have tossed a great chance of a title down the pan.

    You would also have to say that the alacrity with which they have hired Perez shows that McLaren (i.e., Ron) is glad to see the back of him. Ron doesn’t like anybody who thinks he is bigger than the team, no matter how good he is. He won’t get any of that from Sergio.

    • But do you think that Mercedes was his best option!!?? Salary yes…..but competition wise……next year will tell us. But according to Will…..I am not sold on this Mercedes move. He may make me eat my words come next year…..but until then we can all just speculate.

      • The title is being won by a great driver in a mediocre car, so you don’t need the best car to win the title. At least Ferrari haven’t ballsed it up, whereas McLaren ballses it up quite often and could easily do so again next year.

        The important thing is to be happy. Hamilton isn’t happy working for Ron. He would no doubt put up with it if Ron delivered, but Ron hasn’t delivered. He suffered hugely for Ron’s errors in 2007 and 2008, lucking a title in 2008 only because it started raining at precisely the right moment. Since then the team have given him a decent car just once – now – and they are tossing the title away anyway. I think he’ll be happier with Mercedes.

        Stirling Moss never won the title and very rarely had the best car. His reputation as one of the greatest drivers of all time stems from the races he won when he didn’t have the best car. Vettel may win titles in the best car, but nothing he has done puts him on the same level as Moss. Alonso’s reputation is at an all time high, as he is proving himself the Moss of the present day. Hamilton can have a great career with Mercedes, if he can lift them. But is he as great as Alonso?

  9. Great blog once again Will.

    As you say, it’s all about aero and the engine regulations won’t have as big as an impact on the field as the 2009 regulations did.

    Very pleased for Sergio, he has earnt the McLaren drive.

    Lewis will forever be an enigma. He should have learnt more from Jenson on how to appreciate the team around you and focus on racing.

    How detrimental do you think the Spa weekend was for the Hamilton/Ron Dennis relationship?

  10. Will,
    it was totally time for Lewis to leave the nest, especially with his disdain for the multitude of McLaren and sponsor commitments. Also, I personally think he just got too comfortable (if that’s the right word) at McLaren and the it’s obvious the honeymoon has been over for some time. Some guys need a big reset in their life to grow and I think that is part of the allure of Mercedes. It will be great to see Lewis really get a proper baseline out of that Merc, which should help in developing the car. I love Nico but I think with Lewis behind the wheel the team will know exactly where the car is at. As for the advantage of Mercedes in 2014, how much of an advantage will it actually be? Aren’t we in the era of all things aero being supreme?

    Anyway, I am happy to see him forge a new path for himself and the sport and look forward to seeing Checo drive for Slim McLaren Mercedes

  11. I fear that Lewis Hamilton is following in the footsteps of Jacques Villeneuve (same team even). I often disapprove of his antics, but Lewis is the epitome of a “racer’s racer”. And I don’t buy that Mercedes is the place to be when the new engines hit in 2014. 1st and foremost – I’m not sure they’ll hit at all. The teams may push back on the grounds of cost savings. Then there’s the question of car design, and as you’ve pointed out – I don’t think Mercedes is that good at it, particularly in the aero department. Their chassis/suspension isn’t often highly-regarded either. I suspect that this may be a serious error from Lewis and I doubt he’ll handle the adversity with the same stoic approach Alonso had at Renault.

  12. So, where did the Super Agur engineers end up? Surely team principals know who the unsung heroes are if they are truly interested in winning races

  13. next year is going to be amazing to watch. I am not a hamilton fan but i think this was a good move. i think he is moving tward better people for him and new engines for everyone makes it a clean slate (in some regards) new driver/team line up new engines, new media. i am such a fan. thanks will

  14. Will Bruno Senna be in F1, Indycar or the Nascar Truck series next year in 2013? Which teams do you think are a possibility? Thanks.

  15. Little bit of topic Will but do you see Kobayashi in F1 next year and if so who with? The impression I’m getting is that he’s being shown the door at Sauber?

  16. Pingback: Lewis Hamilton in Schumacher out - Page 3

  17. Hamilton moving away from McLaren could not be avoided. So what else was there to do, where else to go? Everyone seems to berate a move for money. Since when is that an un-sacred act? Besides, how could Hamilton continue to be confident in a team that is continuously flubbing its line, so to speak? What with all the unforgivable pit-stop errors, the out-of-gas penalty, engine performance gremlins, poor pit release strategies. Pardon me, but It all looks more like sabotage than errors. Life is short, and so is a racer’s total peak time on track. McLaren and Hamilton have done well by each other. But another three or five years together? Unthinkable. Hamilton moving on is better for himself, for the sport, for for McLaren and for all concerned. No love should be lost. Now lets with Button and Perez good luck in keeping that McLaren magic going. But bet anything that all eyes will be on the Hamilton for all of next season… and beyond. Much of F1’s future drama will be played out with the Ferraris and the The Silver Arrows. Bet on it.

  18. I’ll be honest Will. I think this was a purely emotional decision on Hamilton’s part. If he approached this from a sporting, even a business perspective, McLaren would be the clear winner.

    I see a racing driver who’s prone to temper tantrums after not getting his way and now it’s Lewis who’s thinking “I’ll show them”. In many ways it’s like a teenager who rebells against his parents merely to prove a point, only later on to reconsider and potentially regret the decisions made. I can’t stand behind any racing driver who’s willing to forego an entire Formula 1 season with the hopes of being competitive after new regulations have been implemented. Today Lewis basically said he’s okay with struggling in a non-competitive car for all of 2013. In theory maybe it’s not a big deal, but it’ll be interesting to see if those thoughts still hold true next season.

    It’s funny to look back one year ago, when it was Lewis who was struggling with emotional problems and needed McLaren to stand by his side. I recall Martin Whitmarsh making all sorts of excuses for the driver in the press. Now the tables have turned and it’s Lewis who should’ve stood by his team. If the reports are true, he would’ve been handsomely rewarded as the highest paid driver in the sport by resigning.

    I think Bernie needed Mercedes to stay in Formula 1. This was the turning point in keeping them interested. It was all down to Lewis coming to the team. XIX clearly needed him to make a move to continue with their plan as well. I see a lot of parties benefitting from this move, but not Hamilton. I’ve lost a ton of respect for a driver with immense talent. He’s chosen his fame and marketing appeal over his career. I’d be more than happy to admit I was wrong if he surprises all of us with greatness at Mercedes, but I just don’t see that happening.

    I think it’s going to be McLaren who has the last laugh.

  19. It’s all good. We just have to wait and see. Perez moving to McLaren is a more exciting headline than Hamilton moving to Mercedes. Best of luck to both.

  20. I agree that Hamilton’s decision was purely emotional. What else could persuade a driver to leave one of the greatest teams in motor sports? Certainly not a cabinet full of trophies.

    Despite Hamilton’s actions in the past year or so I do feel a little worried for him. Professionally, because of this move to Mercedes but also personally as he seems very lost. Unfortunately I think the worst is yet to come and the surrounding cloud that is Formula 1 prevents him from seeing that.

  21. I’m quite sure that Lewis will leave Mercedes at the end of his 3 Year contract, if things don’t workout the way that both may have planned. Hamilton will only be 30 years old if he was too decide to leave Mercedes. If Lewis doesn’t lose any speed, he still will be highly desirable to any top team,, whomever they may be at the time…….i.e. Ferrari, Red Bull, Lotus….etc..etc

  22. Will,

    I’ve really enjoyed your recent blog posts, you’ve offered a real depth of thinking to your readers. Thank you.

    Regarding your comments about Vettel and Ferrari for 2014 (which I agree with) If you were Red Bull wouldn’t you be putting in place plans for a Vettel free future? There are a few drivers in the young driver acadamy who look like they could be the next big thing, but will they be ready for 2014? (thinking Sainz Jr or Felix)

    Do you think there is any chance Red Bull may force Webber to leave the team at the end of the year with Kimi taking his seat? I know Webber has a contract in place, but hear me out. By announcing the driver line up early Red Bull haven’t had any of the distractions the other top teams have had on who will drive for them next year. They can focus on the job in hand. Mark is not the kind of guy who would want to make a big song and dance about retiring so might prefer to do it on the quiet. Kimi maintains he does not have a contract for next year, he has shown everyone he still has the pace to run at the front and has been supported by Red Bull since his Sauber days. Furthermore his minisite is either a fantastic marketing tool for Geni & Makia (his clothing sponsor) creating hype out of nothing, or he genuinely is on the move. If he was moving the only team I can think of that would let him run (or themselves create) that kind of hype over his own future is Red Bull.

    It would be great to see Kimi in a car that really can challenge for wins and to see him go up against Vettel for a year!

    What do you think?

    More on RBR future plans, do you think James Key is being groomed, for want of a better word, at Toro Rosso in preparation for when Newey decides he wants to move away from the sport? RBR need to start thinking of the future to ensure they don’t fall back to a midfeild

  23. Pingback: Vettel vs. Alonso - A grudge match in the making - Badger GP - The F1 WebzineBadger GP – The F1 Webzine

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