F1 Shuffle (Part 2)

The ascendancy of Sergio Perez through the ranks of F1 teams is certainly a good thing, and he definitely houses a talent that Sauber’s cars cannot match, but for every driver who is lucky to make a good move, there is usually an unlucky driver who is forced out of his seat. Unfortunately, this concept doesn’t apply to the driver who vacated his seat at McLaren: 2008 World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Rather, Hamilton just made a poor career move in abandoning his seat at one of F1’s most stalwart teams as he made way to the lackluster Mercedes AMG team.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton has chosen to leave team McLaren and move to Mercedes.

It’s common for drivers to switch teams, especially when they’re offered a handsome fee to join one of the top teams, but Hamilton has done something rather odd; he’s switched from the team that is currently 2nd in the constructor’s cup down to the 5th place team. That might not sound like a bad thing until you look at the numbers; McLaren has accumulated 261 points this season. That’s only 36 points down on Red Bull, and with 6 races (including tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix), that means the team could still easily take the constructors cup. In fact, the team would have the title right now if it weren’t for crashes and a couple of reliability gremlins. Looking beyond these issues, and it’s safe to say that the McLaren is easily one of the fastest — if not the fastest — cars on the grid. And there’s also the fact that both Hamilton and his teammate, Jenson Button, are in contention for the driver’s title.

Take in what the car has provided Hamilton this season as well:
5 pole positions (would have been 6, but didn’t have enough fuel left in the car to meet regulations)
3 Victories (tied with championship leader, Fernando Alonso)
3 non-winning podiums
Points in nearly all races, barring Valencia, where Pastor Maldonado crashed him out, and 3 mechanical retirements

Hamilton driving at 2009 Aussie GP

In spite of some rough patches, Hamilton has never had an uncompetitive car since starting his career at McLaren.

Mercedes on the other hand doesn’t have much to offer Hamilton. The reincarnation of the 2009 driver’s championship winning Brawn GP (which was the re-incarnation of the Honda F1 team) has been struggling ever since its inception in 2010. Still headed by Ross, the team boasts the consistent driving of Nice Rosberg and the 7-time world champion, Michael Schumacher.
That combination may sound like the team is quite solid in its 5th position, but if you’re thinking that, you’re wrong. The team has managed to scrape up only 136 points. One victory from Rosberg, and one podium for the deeply disappointing un-retired Schumacher.

In spite of extremely deep pockets and two extremely experienced drivers, Mercedes has struggled to rise above the mid-field.

That means the team has just over half of the points that McLaren has acquired this year. Granted, neither of the Merc drivers seem to have the winning edge these days, but it still makes one wonder, why would Hamilton leave the team that has given him so much?
Certainly the team could improve between now and next year, but it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be able to compete with McLaren next year, even with Hamilton at the helm.

The cause is likely due to strife that Hamilton has been encountering with the team. In 2011, he fell off of form for a while amidst personal problems, and in the process he probably soured his relationship with McLaren a bit. I’m doubting that his high levels of performance this year have managed to fix any bridges, especially seeing as how Hamilton has knowingly done things that would upset his team, such as posting telemetry data to his Twitter account where rival teams could gather info about his car.
His general demeanor of late suggests that he has high tensions with the team. Between whatever happened last year, pit-stop problems and reliability issues this year, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to assume that things have gone wrong. There’s also the presence of Jenson Button, who is skilled enough that Hamilton can’t find the dominance he had with Heikki Kovalainen as his teammate in 2008.

Is that a good enough reason for Hamilton to leave McLaren? When you consider that McLaren gave Hamilton the financial support he needed to get started in motor sport, provided him a consistently competitive car, a world championship and still wanted to renew his contract in spit of recent skirmishes, I would say no.

He does have his arguments as to why he’s leaving. Click here for the official F1 interview. You can make up your mind for yourself if you think he’s got good enough reasons.
All the same though, Hamilton is my favorite F1 driver, and I do wish him luck with team Mercedes. Hopefully the team can turn itself around and we’ll have another highly competitive team to make the coming years even better than this one.

-Brian

Next – Part 3: What’s happening to Schumacher and drivers in danger of losing their seats.

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