Lewis Hamilton has taken a gamble but it's a necessary one, says David Kennedy
It's a fascinating study in psychology and filial obedience, the decision of Lewis Hamilton to leave McLaren for Mercedes in 2013.
This is not just about a driver who has become disillusioned with his team and wants a change of scenery. This is a guy who has been weaned on the vapours of one of the biggest teams in F1, who was given an extraordinary lucky break when he was 13, has been nurtured, pre-programmed and transplanted into the hermetically sealed world of McLaren and guided by his master's voice, Ron Dennis.
Lewis rewarded McLaren in turn with a world championship in 2008 -- their only title in 13 years. Now, with the possibility of clinching a second, he exits. He's cut the proverbial umbilical cord. He's come of age. He's a big lad now. He can make his own decisions. This is like Tom Cruise leaving Scientology.
But the man who once fired his own father from the role of personal manager -- the guiding light in his son's path to fame -- is taking the next step by extinguishing the flame of his creator. He's letting go of the mother ship.
His prodigious talent will carry him to stage two in his career with Mercedes. Money wasn't the lure, it was the combination of Ross Brawn and Mercedes that had the alchemist in Hamilton frothing at the mouth. The possibility excites him to prove he can bring a team up by the lapels à la Schumacher, who he's replacing. In conjunction with the genius of Brawn, they could become one of the most dynamic partnerships since the Brawn/Schumacher days of Benetton and Ferrari where, between them, they won seven drivers' and seven constructors' titles over ten years.
It's a gamble for the British driver. But it's a necessary one. Hamilton needs to be challenged. In some ways he was deprived of a childhood so this is his first flush of youth. Only by leaving McLaren can he flourish. He's grown on a diet of artificial fertiliser for five years and although he's in peak form, he's hit the buffers with the team itself. He partially sabotaged his career by tweeting confidential telemetry data at the Belgium GP which incensed his masters. He redeemed himself with a fine win in Italy and, like a recalcitrant child coming home from school with straight As, it silenced the McLaren lambs.
But McLaren without Hamilton will be bereft. They've signed the talented Mexican Sergio Perez (Sauber's lead driver) as Hamilton's replacement, a decision that was enhanced by his bringing sponsorship from Telmex, a company owned by the world's richest man, Carlos Slim. It's a match made partially in heaven because Vodafone is rumoured to be scaling back its title sponsorship with the Woking team. But there will be heavy hearts at McLaren at the letting go of their golden ticket.
The Hamilton/Mercedes alliance is unlikely to be an overnight sensation so the test of Hamilton's mettle will be his capacity for endurance should the road to victory take a circuitous route. Niki Lauda joins the management board and there's a powerful design team beavering away in Brackley. Mercedes is fully committed and, with the signing of a first-class driver in
his 27-year-old prime, it's what they needed to square the circle.
Nico Rosberg will be out to prove he's no slouch against the might of Hamilton and he'll have familiarity to assist him. However, he was disappointing this season having been out-qualified by Schumacher eight times to six, although he's accumulated more than double the points of the German with stronger finishes. Rosberg will be the least of Hamilton's concerns in his new job.
So, as the 2013 jigsaw begins to fall into place, everyone can focus on the remaining six races of 2012 where 150 points are up for grabs. Hamilton was cruelly robbed of victory in Singapore last Sunday and any recurrence of gearbox or other mechanical problems will surely scupper his title hopes.
Ferrari and Fernando Alonso have a conundrum. They need to find something radical to lift the car closer to the front. Alonso's Fred Flintstone efforts are exhausting him. Testing restrictions are thwarting Ferrari's endeavours. They can't continue to depend on reliability or strategy to outwit their adversaries.
Vettel, Raikkonen and Hamilton are all playing consort, vying to catch a disadvantaged Alonso. It's hugely frustrating for the Spaniard to be in a slower car and he'll be mindful he's enjoyed a great finishing record. Is his luck going to run out in the closing races? Japan next weekend is followed by Korea a week later. It may not be mathematically possible for anyone to wrap up the championship by then but you don't have to be familiar with Newton's law of acceleration to know that some have more of it than others.