With a recent move to Mercedes marking the end of a long association with McLaren, Lewis Hamilton is entering a new phase of his career. However, with one World Championship under his belt, will Hamilton prove himself to be a truly world class driver at Mercedes, or is the move more motivated by his marketability as a product? Looking at his career to date, is Hamilton making a misjudged move to a new team?
Hamilton’s 2008 World Championship built on a rapid rise through the racing world, with the driver having been involved with McLaren in some form since the age of eleven. Hamilton’s reputation was borne out of his long passage through junior and qualifying tournaments, before taking the 2008 title with a mixture of aggressive driving and consistency. However, since then, Hamilton has been eclipsed by both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, as well as by Jenson Button, and regularly finishes outside the top three drivers at the end of the season.
Considering the promise that Hamilton displayed in 2008, it can be argued that he could have achieved more – it’s difficult to judge a driver in what has been a very competitive Formula One over the past few years, and Hamilton has had his share of bad luck. He has won 20 Grand Prix races out of the 109 he has competed in, and while always in the running, has rarely posed a significant challenge at the end of the season for some time.
The move to Mercedes, a lower ranked team than McLaren, might be viewed, then, as a step in the wrong direction. McLaren are working on a new car in anticipation of the 2014 rule changes in Formula One, and seem to be moving towards a more competitive position; Hamilton’s $100 million switch to Mercedes does seem, then, to represent more of a risk for the driver in terms of dropping down into a less successful team, especially if he does want to challenge for the title in 2013.
One major factor behind Hamilton’s switch to Mercedes is arguably the opening up of his endorsement contract from McLaren, who keep a tight lid on who their drivers can partner with. Hamilton, who is represented by Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment, will now be able to earn much more by taking on new endorsements, than he would have been able to at McLaren. Although Hamilton ranks amongst the most wealthy sportspeople in the world, with around 17.9 million in career earnings to date, moving to Mercedes will free him up to earn more, if not perhaps compete as well with his rivals.
There have been cases in the past when drivers have moved teams for what appeared to be financial, rather than competitive reasons – Jacques Villeneuve moved to British American Racing in the late 1990s, and subsequently experienced a career nosedive. Commenting on Hamilton’s decision, Matt Coch simply states that ‘Lewis Hamilton has followed the money and in doing so reduced his chances of winning more championships.’
How well Hamilton will perform at Mercedes remains to be seen; take away the accusations of chasing money, and he remains one of the best Formula One drivers under the age of 30 – it’s unlikely that Hamilton won’t be able to run his rivals close in most of this year’s races. Moreover, while he may be signing over some of his best driving years to Mercedes, Hamilton will only be 31 when the deal expires, and free to move on again to another team.
Liam Ohm writes about Formula One, from industry news to the latest merchandise from www.grandprixmerchandise.co.uk. In his spare time he tries to visit as many races as possible and loves to blog about them.