Following the announcement that Lewis Hamilton has signed a three-year agreement to race for Mercedes, McLaren announced that Sergio Perez would be his replacement at McLaren. This means that Michael Schumacher is on the market and that Perez’s Sauber drive is available. It will likely go to a driver with money, unless the Mexicans come up with more cash and put Esteban Gutierrez into the drive. It is a blow for Ferrari, who had Perez in its young driver scheme, but if it could not offer him a ride then one cannot blame him for taking up the McLaren offer. The fact that Ferrari did not take Perez suggests that they have other plans. A lot of people think Sebastian Vettel will go there, but I do not see why Ferrari would disrupt things. Fernando Alonso is the most complete driver in the world right now and Ferrari wants to keep him happy. I see his team-mate in 2014 being Mark Webber.
Michael Schuamcher’s future remains uncertain and it will now be interesting if he wants to continue racing for teams further down the grid – if anyone wants him – or whether he will have to face up to life without an F1 drive, which was something he found hard to do after he was eased out at Ferrari.
The Mercedes team has also named Niki Lauda as non-executive chairman of the board of the team. It is not clear what this will entail, but it gives them a famous racing name on the books.
Hamilton’s decision is an interesting and not really very logical but only time will tell whether it was the right thing to do, or whether his optimism for the team in the future is flawed. Leaving a top team to go to one with potential is fraught with risk and one wonders who swayed Lewis in his decision-making and how things will work out if it all goes wrong. Lewis will no doubt be richer and perhaps feels that he is free to be more of his own man, away from the McLaren influence that has figured so strongly in his career. That maybe so, but he may also come to realise that it was worth a lot more than he thinks. McLaren is one of the most solid teams in F1 and to walk away is quite a move.
Naturally the Mercedes statement was full of optimism about rising to the challenge and all the excitement of the new driver pairing. It is a good deal for Mercedes if they can build a car that Lewis can use to win races, but it is not going to be easy. Nico Rosberg has been Hamilton’s team-mate in the past in junior racing and he will need to up his game if he is to keep up his reputation.
McLaren announced in turn that it had signed 22-year-old Mexican Sergio Perez to a multi-year deal from the start of the 2013 season. It is a forward-looking move but there are still question marks about Perez’s ability to be a top F1 driver. This is is his chance.
“I’m thrilled and delighted to have become a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver,” he said. “The McLaren name is one of the greatest in the history of Formula 1. For more than 40 years McLaren has been a team that every racing driver has aspired to drive for – I was brought up on the great stories of Ayrton Senna’s many world championship triumphs for McLaren – and I’m truly honoured that they’ve chosen me to partner Jenson from 2013 onwards. I’ve spent the 2012 season working very hard to demonstrate my potential, but I’ve always remained humble and focused. I am, and always will be, extremely grateful to Peter [Sauber] and everybody at the Sauber Formula 1 team for their belief in me, and for giving me the chance to race in Formula 1. In fact, they gave me the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what I can do – and I’m now equally grateful to Martin [Whitmarsh] and everyone at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes for giving me the chance to take this next very big step in my career. I’m under no illusion that it is indeed a very big step – as it would be for any driver – but I’m ready for it. So, while I’m still fully focused on doing my best for Sauber for the remainder of this season, I’m already massively looking forward to working with everyone at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, and with Jenson, who’s someone I’ve long admired as a brilliant driver and a great champion.”
Martin Whitmarsh thanked Hamilton for his work with the team.
“He wrote a huge chapter of his life and career with us, and was, and always will be, a fine member of an exclusive club: the McLaren World Champions’ club. It goes without saying that we all wish him well for the future, just as it also goes without saying that we hope and believe that Sergio, too, will become a member of that exclusive club before too long.”
When all is said and done, this interlude highlights that logic has no real place in F1 driver dealings. One cannot say someone was right or wrong to do something, but in time we will find out whether the move is sensible or not. I hope from a personal point of view that things work out for Lewis because I believe he has great talent, but I am slightly worried that moving out of a top team to a wannabe team is not the right thing for a man in his position to be doing.