Lewis Hamilton is in a particularly enviable position in 2013: he has moved to a team in which he is not expected to win the World Championship, at least not this year. Therefore, there is almost zero external pressure to perform. If he wins the title, he’ll be hailed as a hero. If he doesn’t, then nobody will criticise him – he’s not expected to have the car to deliver a title this year anyway.
In many respects, Hamilton is in a similar position to that of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari in 1996. Schumacher had left a top team and gone to Italy to rescue the struggling Ferrari team. It was clear that Schumacher would not challenge for the title that year, and he didn’t, but he also put in some inspired and brilliant performances, particularly in Spain where he dominated a sodden Grand Prix and made the other drivers look like amateurs. Schumacher may not have won the title, but his stock certainly went up as he was recognised for his supreme skill in a difficult car.
Hamilton has similarly moved from a top team (McLaren) to one that was not a title challenger last season (Mercedes). In the last three seasons, the works Mercedes team has won just a single race and never looked like producing a title-winning car. Hamilton has arrived at the team as part of a shake-up intended to deliver championship glory to Mercedes. At the earliest, he and the team are expected to challenge at the front in 2014, when new engine regulations are likely to benefit teams like Mercedes that manufacture their own engines. So this season is dedicated to development, to making sure the pieces are in place for a title challenge next year.
But Hamilton, much like Schumacher back in 1996, is a racer. He is acknowledged as perhaps the quickest driver in Formula One today, and can always be counted on to give his all on the track in pursuit of results. Hamilton does not like coming second. So we can expect him to push with everything he has for victory in 2013.
If Hamilton and Mercedes to triumph against the odds in 2013, it will be a great story for Formula One: the return of one of the great names of motoring to the top of the racing ladder, along with the second title that seems inevitable in Hamilton’s career. On the other hand, if as expected Hamilton and Mercedes have a strong but ultimately unsuccessful season, it will all be accepted as part of the development plan.
Lewis Hamilton believes that newly crowned triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel is likely to make it four in a row with another championship win in 2013, and cited the skills of Red Bull designer Adrian Newey as a major factor in that expected success.
Vettel is only 25 years old, and yet his stats are already staggeringly impressive: Three championships, 26 wins and 36 pole positions from only 101 races. At the rate he is going, Vettel could even challenge the achievements of recently retired legend Michael Schumacher.
Formula One is an extremely technical sport, which places massive emphasis on car competitiveness. Schumacher’s three difficult years with Mercedes have shown just how difficult it is to achieve success in an under-performing car. Vettel has had the quickest car, or close to it, for his three championship-winning seasons, and much of that advantage is down to Adrian Newey.
Newey has been designing winning cars for over 20 years, at Williams, McLaren and now Red Bull. His input at Red Bull has transformed the team into a powerhouse with dominance similar to that of Ferrari ten years ago. And Newey has shown no signs of leaving, which bodes well for Red Bull.
When asked by Sky Sports News about next year’s championship, Hamilton was clear about his expectations for Vettel and Red Bull:
“It’s going to be hard to beat Sebastian next year,” Hamilton said. “I think Sebastian’s going to have another amazing car.
“The car he had this year was fantastic. It’s going to be an evolution of that next year.
“Adrian only seems to get better with age; I think he’s going to do something pretty special next year as well.”
While Newey is likely to produce a good car again, he has acknowledged that it will be difficult to find aerodynamic gains with the current stable regulations:
“It is increasingly difficult because there are no real regulations changes compared to this year and it will be the fifth season since the 2009 rule changes… The field is converging and you can see how competitive it is in the fact that we had eight different winners this year,” Newey told Autosport.
Hamilton has not talked up his own title chances, largely due to the lack of pace shown by his new team, Mercedes, in the 2012 season. Mercedes won only won race, in China, and had a thoroughly uncompetitive end to the season. So it comes as no real surprise that Hamilton would deflect attention from himself by predicting more success for Vettel. Better to be the surprise winner than to forecast glory and then taste defeat.
Mercedes could have a very strong 2013, according a tweet from prominent Formula One journalist Peter Windsor yesterday afternoon:
He could well have a point. Mercedes do have a significant budget, certainly one of the largest on the grid. A focused off-season could use those financial resources to make up much of the performance gap to the front-running teams. Added to that is the stability in the technical regulations, which limits the progress of the top teams who have already come close to maximising their aero development. And when the cars become very similar aerodynamically, the difference in performance becomes a combination of driver and engine.
Mercedes have secured the services of Lewis Hamilton from 2013, which will certainly provide a boost to the team. Hamilton is arguably the quickest driver in the field and will get the maximum available performance out of the car. Ross Brawn has already stated that the team’s aim is to win races next season. Hamilton forms a crucial part of that plan.
The Mercedes engine is widely reputed to be the most powerful on the grid. Strong performances for the Mercedes-engined cars at tracks that require power (Monza, Spa, Shanghai) confirm the Mercedes power advantage. With engine development still frozen for 2013, there is very little the other engine manufacturers can do to make up the deficit, which puts Mercedes at an immediate advantage.
Mercedes are very much the unknown for next season. They should be running at the front, but so far the team has struggled. Inevitably that struggle must end and, if Windsor is right, it could be as soon as the coming season.
After weeks of speculation, it has been confirmed by Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team that Lewis Hamilton will drive for the Silver Arrows alongside Nico Rosberg in 2013. The move ends Hamilton’s long association with McLaren, and also heralds Michael Schumacher’s departure from the Mercedes cockpit. Hamilton’s seat at McLaren will be taken by Sergio Perez, the team confirmed this morning.
In Hamilton’s six seasons at McLaren, he has won the 2008 World Championship, taken 20 race victories, stood on the podium 48 times and secured 24 pole positions. He is regarded, rightly, by many as being the quickest driver on the grid, and is always a good bet to be competitive, regardless of the quality of his car. Mercedes have found themselves a driver who will almost certainly deliver World Championships.
Hamilton has taken an important step by leaving McLaren. His association with the team started when he was a teenager, and he has been nurtured through the ranks by Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh. It is now time for him to leave the proverbial nest and create his own place in Formula One, without being forever thought of as a McLaren driver. McLaren is a great team, but Hamilton is more than just a team member. He has the potential to become a truly great driver and needs to start building his own legacy.
Michael Schumacher’s future has yet to be announced by either himself or Mercedes. While it is clear that he will not be driving for the Silver Arrows past the end of 2012, no firm indication has been given of an intention to retire. In recent weeks, there has been speculation that the seven-time World Champion could move to Sauber to replace McLaren-bound Sergio Perez, but that is just a rumour at this stage. It has also been suggested that Schumacher could move into a management role at Mercedes. With the wealth of experience he has at the top level of motor sport, Schumacher would certainly continue to be an asset in the team, even out of the cockpit.
Although 2013 is now decided for Hamilton, for the moment he needs to remain focused on 2012. He is a massive 52 points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso, but history has shown that as long as the title is mathematically open, anything can happen. With six races to go, Hamilton can still win the championship. That being said, will McLaren give full support to a departing driver? Or will they look to 2013 as their title year?
Lewis Hamilton currently lies second in the championship, 37 points behind Fernando Alonso with seven races remaining in 2012. If Hamilton is to win the title, he will have to produce a strong finish to the season. And he is setting himself up for precisely that.
Hamilton’s charge for the title effectively started in Hungary. Although he had already won a race before that (in Canada), the Hungarian Grand Prix was the first in a series of extremely good results for McLaren and Hamilton. In the last three races, Hamilton has won both times he has finished. The other race (at Spa) was won in dominant style by team-mate Jenson Button while Hamilton was taken out in the first corner by Romain Grosjean.
Yesterday, Hamilton put his McLaren on pole for today’s Singapore Grand Prix by almost half a second from Pastor Maldonado. Button was six tenths off the pace of his team-mate, underlining the level at which Hamilton is performing. Championship leader Alonso starts the race down in fifth place, and will have his work cut out to minimise the potential damage to his championship lead.
If Hamilton and Alonso finish this race in their starting positions, Alonso’s lead will be reduced to just 22 points – less than a race victory – with six races remaining. While Hamilton has no way of guaranteeing that Alonso will not score more points, he is putting himself in the best possible position to challenge for the championship, regardless of Alonso’s results.