The Prodigal Son?
Team: McLaren Mercedes World Champ Titles: 1 GP wins: 20 Pole positions: 23
With the second part of the 2012 season now fully under way and approaching its final stages, the teams are also approaching deadlines for the decisions regarding their driver line-up for next year. The talk of the paddock – and way beyond – for the last few weeks has been the alleged agreement between Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes team which would see the Brit run in a darker shade of Silver; and certainly the McLaren’s lead driver’s bounce back into form just added more spice to the gossip.
Both sides denied the allegations, spread by BBC’s pundit and ex-manufacturer boss, Eddie Jordan. Mercedes, who have announced they are waiting for Michael Schumacher’s decision regarding his future in Formula One would probably not risk upsetting the legend of racing by drawing a contract behind his back; but also Hamilton has a big stake in this team-game, considering his past and present ambitions.
“I want to race for you one day. I want to race for McLaren,” was ten-year old Lewis supposed to say to Ron Denis, the team’s principal in 1994. Only three years later he was signed up for McLaren and Mecedes-Benz for their Young Driver Support Programme, and by winning several Formula and GP2 Championships, his dream finally came true with his debut in a Formula One seat – of a 2007 McLaren car.
He was a shinning star in his first year, loosing to the Championship winner, Kimi Raikkonen, by only one point; he made up for the loss the following year by claiming the title as the youngest driver in history at the time in 2008.
However, from then it went slightly downhill for the Brit, having first lost the title to his team-mate-to-be Jenson Button (then in the one-year-stunt: Brawn GP), and not having finished the season on podium ever since his Championship year. He has struggled over car and team performance, numerously getting in trouble with the stewards (for giving false evidence at a hearing regarding team orders at the 2009 Australian GP, for instance), other drivers (note the near-legendary fiery relationship between him and Fernando Alonso) or the team itself – with the recent example of publishing a photo with confidential telemetry details on Twitter, a move that was condemned by Button, but played down by the current team principal, Martin Whitmarsh.
Then came the unpredictable 2012 season, that has brought a roller-coaster of emotions – for McLaren especially. Although Hamilton is now the only driver apart from his good friend Alonso to have won more than two races this year and is now 37 points behind the Spaniard, leading in the standings, it has also been a rocky season, with several retirements and crucial mistakes – such as some disastrous pit-stops following record-breaking ones – potentially costing him precious points. The lack of performance has many a time angered the visibly emotional Brit – maybe to the point that he started wondering whether it’s not the time to wake up from his McLaren dream.
This is how one could read his calmness after his maiden Italian GP win in Monza last week; despite the smile, he was not ecstatic as he used to be back in the old days, when transfer gossip didn’t try to distract him from the action on the grid – or put ideas into his head.
“I’ve been with the team since I was 13 and we’ve worked so hard since 2009 to try and win this championship and hopefully, finally, we’re in the position where we can,” he said at an event for Vodafone – McLaren sponsors – ahead of next week’s Singapore GP. “I don’t have a timeline. My focus is on trying to win this world championship.”
In the meantime, new speculations arose, as McLaren started thinking of a plan B in case their driver actually left – whenever he might be ready to make that decision. It is said that the revelation of a few 2012 races, Sergio Perez, could be considered as cover for Hamilton; which is an interesting posibility, considering Ferrari’s decisive “no” to the prospect of the Mexican taking place of their Felippe Massa, whose contract is also due to run out at the end of the season, and the rivalry between the two teams, now only 17 points apart in the Constructors’ Championship. At the meeting with the sponsors Hamilton rebutted he would not be distracted by all this “rubbish”.
So, it is all to play for, not only for McLaren and Lewis, but also for Massa and Ferrari, as well as Mercedes, and even Sauber and Perez – a potential mash up in the line-up for 2013, depending on individual and team results in the few upcoming races.
“This championship is proving to be so unpredictable – and I’m so grateful that we’ve got a good car and that we’re in the fight,” Hamilton said after his Italian win. The question is, what happens when that fight is over?