Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

This May, 2012 file photo shows Mercedes Grand Prix driver Michael Schumacher of Germany, left, and McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain during a news conference at the Monaco racetrack. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher is going to leave Mercedes at the end of the season, to be replaced by Lewis Hamilton. (Luca Bruno/AP Photo)
This May, 2012 file photo shows Mercedes Grand Prix driver Michael Schumacher of Germany, left, and McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain during a news conference at the Monaco racetrack. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher is going to leave Mercedes at the end of the season, to be replaced by Lewis Hamilton. (Luca Bruno/AP Photo)

Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes a risky gamble Add to ...

When Mercedes announced the signing of Lewis Hamilton last week, many immediately questioned whether or not the 2008 world champion had made a terrible mistake.

The 27-year-old Briton signed a three-year deal to race with Mercedes beginning next season and will leave the only Formula One team he's ever known in the process.

More Related to this Story

Although rumoured for weeks before it was made official, Hamilton's departure from McLaren still landed with a bit of shock.

Nevertheless, only three months ago during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend in June, Hamilton told the Globe and Mail that he couldn't “imagine not being with McLaren.”

He now won't need his imagination once the 2012 season comes to an end.

His departure will end a long history with McLaren which traces back to his days as a young karter when the then 10-year-old famously approached team principal Ron Dennis at the annual Autosport Awards and boldly told one of the most powerful men in F1 that he would drive for him one day. Three years later Hamilton was a development driver for the team and his dream came true in 2007 when he made his F1 debut with the famed team.

Success came instantly, with F1 rookie Hamilton battling for the championship with teammate Fernando Alonso and Ferrari's Kimi Räikkönen, which was decided at the season’s final race. Räikkönen won the title by a single point over the McLaren pair, who tied for second overall.

A year later he was champion, but things have not gone as swimmingly since. McLaren, along with the rest of the F1 field was caught off guard by Brawn Grand Prix's (now Mercedes) development of a double rear diffuser in 2009, which gave its car a distinct downforce advantage over the rest. Jenson Button, now Hamilton's teammate at McLaren piloted the Brawn to an easy title. In the past two seasons, Red Bull found extra speed in its car, which Sebastian Vettel drove to consecutive championships.

This year, Hamilton remains in the title hunt mathematically, but realistically he has a steep hill to climb to become a double world champion in 2012. With six races to go, he's fourth overall in points, 52 behind leader Alonso, who is now with Ferrari.

The good news is that McLaren looks to have the quickest car as the season winds to a close. The bad news is that outscoring Alonso by more than two full race wins over six starts (drivers get 25 points for a victory) seems unlikely, and with Vettel just 29 behind the Ferrari driver, beating both to the title becomes improbable at best.

Although he will probably arrive without the 2012 championship, don't feel too bad for him: It is thought that Hamilton will earn $100-million over the three years. Going to Mercedes will likely also allow him more freedom to pursue personal endorsements, something that was a bit difficult with the almost obsessively image conscious McLaren team.

Many drivers with the team accept McLaren's more strict mindset because the trade off is often a car that gives its drivers an opportunity to battle for the world championship.

Hamilton's experience was no different and his success with the Woking, England-based outfit is plain to see. In addition to his 2008 world championship with McLaren, he has 20 wins, 24 poles and 48 podium finishes in 104 starts. He has finished out of the points just 26 times in his six seasons with McLaren.

And McLaren itself has a long history of success and championships, with a total of eight constructors' titles, 12 driver's championships, 180 wins and 153 poles in 717 starts since the team made its debut at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix.

Although the team has only won one world driver's title in the past decade, McLaren is usually a team to beat to win a championship.

Leaving a McLaren team that's a perennial title contender to one with potential is a gamble and certainly one that hasn't worked out well for other world champions who willingly abandoning the outfit after taking a title with the famed F1 outfit.

Emerson Fittipaldi surprised many with his decision to leave McLaren at the end of 1975, a year after winning the world championship. He never won another race, driving another five seasons with only two podiums to show for it. Meanwhile, James Hunt took the 1976 title for McLaren.

It was a similar story with Alain Prost, who took three championships with the team before leaving for Ferrari following the 1989 season. While Prost battled arch-rival and former teammate Ayrton Senna down to the wire in his first year with the scarlet team, he was dumped by Ferrari before the 1991 season finale and replaced by Gianni Morbidelli. Prost ended up taking a sabbatical in 1992. In his defence, He did return with Williams in 1993 and take his fourth world title.

Three-time champion Senna also departed the outfit following the 1993 season to join Williams. Tragically, he died in his third race with the new team when his car went off at the high speed Tamburello Corner during the San Marino Grand Prix.

In fact, Räikkönen is the only driver to have left McLaren and won a title since Prost did so two decades ago. He raced with the Woking outfit from 2002 to 2006.

Although he didn't win his titles with McLaren, 2012 points leader Alonso is looking to become the second driver in the past decade to win a championship after leaving the team. He raced with McLaren for one year in 2007.

While the odds seem to be against Hamilton, he'll certainly be hoping to be in the same position as Alonso sooner than later when he begins his time with Mercedes next season.

But with Mercedes winning just once since it returned to F1 competition in 2010 compared to McLaren's 16 victories in the same period, there will have to be a massive turnaround of fortunes for Hamilton to be farther ahead than he is today.

Pricy Doubleheader?

The IndyCar Series announced its 2013 schedule over the weekend, which include three "doubleheader" event where two full-length races will occur on both Saturday and Sunday.

One venue for the new format will be the mid-July race on streets of Exhibition Place in Toronto.

While great for the fans who get to see two full races for the price of one, team owners may not be as excited. Toronto tends to be a bit of a demolition derby with several millions of dollars worth of crash damage every year.

Running two full distance races on its narrow concrete wall-lined track may leave owners with a big bill or the series' only trip to Canada in 2013.

The Toronto race takes place July 12-14.

*****

2013 IZOD IndyCar Series Schedule

March 24: St. Petersburg, Fla. (Street course)

April 7: Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala., (Road course)

April 21: Long Beach. Calif. (Street course)

May 5: Sao Paulo, Brazil (Street course)

May 26: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, Ind. (Oval)

June 1: Belle Isle Park, Detroit (Street course)

June 2: Belle Isle Park, Detroit (Street course)

June 8: Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth (Oval)

June 15: The Milwaukee Mile, West Allis, Wis.  (Oval)

June 23: Iowa Speedway, Newton, Iowa (Oval)

July 7: Pocono International Raceway, Long Pond, Penn. (Oval)

July 13: Toronto (Street course)

July 14: Toronto (Street course)

Aug. 4: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (Road course)

Aug. 25: Sonoma, Calif. (Road course)

Sept. 1: Baltimore (Street course)

Oct. 5: Reliant Park, Houston (Street course)

Oct. 6: Reliant Park, Houston (Street course)

Oct. 19: Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, Calif. (Oval)

*****

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

In the know

Top videos »