If, as is being reported, it is confirmed that Lewis Hamilton has moved from McLaren to Mercedes, it will be a leap of great faith in the German-owned operation, but may be a decision that the British youngster will one day regret.
With the exception of Ferrari – which is in any case a very different case – most manufacturer teams do not do well in F1 and the team that Hamilton joins failed to win consistently during its time as the Honda team. As an independent team it came up with a clever gizmo that helped Jenson Button win the title in 2009 but since then it has been pretty average.
The one exception to that is probably Renault in the 2005-2006 period, although that was in many ways a manufacturer team in name only and its demise was caused by team members so desperate not to lose the Renault link that they resorted to cheating to achieve their goal – which was, of course, a complete disaster.
There are plenty of other examples of factory teams that failed to deliver, because the demands are simply different and the F1 environment seems to work best for manufacturers when they are engine suppliers only. If Mercedes decide to blitz F1 with money, as they did in the 1950s then perhaps they will be impossible to beat, but can the firm afford such excess?
Lewis Hamilton does not know much about racing history and so cannot learn from the mistakes of others. Perhaps he thinks that if it fails he will at least have the consolation of earning loads more money and being a bigger star, thanks to his hustling management that will sell his image here, there and everywhere. That might make him an international celebrity on a bigger scale than he is, but it will not make him a racing legend.
Perhaps Mercedes will pull it off and then Hamilton will look clever, but I fear that this will be a move similar to James Hunt joining Wolf; Emerson Fittipaldi joining Fittipaldi, Jacques Villeneuve moving to BAR or Niki Lauda’s ill-fated move to Brabham. History relates that you do not leave a winning team in F1 unless it is to go to another proven winner…