Formula One: Hamilton — Will He Go or Stay?
London. The soap opera that is Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One career reached a new pitch of melodrama last weekend at Monza where he was besieged by rumor and then won the Italian Grand Prix in faultless fashion.
On the track, he was poetry in motion.
Off it, he sometimes seemed to be a man who lives like a rabbit caught in the media headlights.
If after nearly 15 years with McLaren, the 27-year-old Briton is taking time to reflect on his future, it is not a decision to be taken in haste amid reports he may be in line for a switch to Mercedes.
Without the drive, energy and vision of his father Anthony to push him on, Hamilton might never have arrived in Formula One in 2007 as the best-prepared and most-polished talent to make a Grand Prix debut.
And without the generosity and competitive ambition of Ron Dennis, the McLaren team chief who is now the group chairman, he might not have maintained his progress and enhanced the zeal and pace that made him champion in 2008.
As he ponders his next move, when his current contract with McLaren ends, the choice is stay home — or start afresh.
It is complicated by issues such as Formula One’s future engine regulations, the respective teams’ potential to deliver success and contractual details that may or may not allow Hamilton to exploit his own image and brand value.
If, as some reports have suggested, McLaren’s offer for the future does not match his current one in terms of pay, there is also a signal that may confirm it is time to move on.
Mercedes team chief Ross Brawn guided Michael Schumacher to all seven of his drivers’ world titles with Benetton (1994, 1995) and Ferrari (2000-2004) and, if Hamilton replaced the 43-year-old German, he would partner old friend and rival Nico Rosberg, once his team-mate in their karting days.
On close analysis, indeed, there are as likely to be as many home comforts for Hamilton within the Mercedes family as he has enjoyed with McLaren where, in 2012, his friendship with team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button appears to have frayed at the edges.
This last was noticeable especially following an episode in Belgium when Hamilton posted comments on Twitter that included pictures of the two drivers’ qualifying laps along with normally-secret technical information.
McLaren, as always, forgave their ‘prodigal son’ and, superficially at least, continued to declare their ambition to re-sign him for 2013 and beyond. Yet their group body language after victory in Italy suggested more discord than normal.
Nobody has denied categorically the stories claiming that Hamilton has received, and is ready to accept, an offer from Mercedes — nor been able to claim, categorically, that he will stay with McLaren.
If he considers winning pedigree matters, McLaren can claim more wins in recent seasons than anyone bar Ferrari. Yet, this year alone, their early-season bungles in pit-stops and strategy cost Hamilton precious points and the leadership of the championship.
And if he looks at the bigger picture another factor emerges — next year McLaren will have to pay for their supply of Mercedes engines for the first time — at a cost of around 10 million Euros.
No easy choice, therefore, for Hamilton.