F1: Lewis Hamilton breaks his silence on shock move to Mercedes
PERHAPS it was the altitude. Maybe it was the fresh perspective gleaned from 28 floors up in Tokyo’s Conrad hotel.
Whatever it was Lewis Hamilton broke his self-imposed silence today to offer an illuminating insight into the reasons behind his impending move from McLaren to Mercedes, describing it as the “toughest decision” of his career but ultimately one that he felt compelled to make.
Hamilton had taken a metaphorical back seat when the move was finally confirmed last Friday.
As Mercedes trumpeted their new signing, and McLaren unveiled Sergio Perez as his replacement at Woking, the 2008 world champion remained hunkered down in Asia where he had stayed on following the Singapore race two weeks ago. The 27 year-old did not even succumb to the siren call of Twitter, a medium to which he had been drawn like a moth to a flame in recent times.
Today, though, as the rain poured down over metropolis below him, Hamilton poured forth on every aspect of the saga, admitting he had “swung like a pendulum” back and forth as he weighed up the pros and cons; revealing he finally made up his mind for good while lounging poolside in Thailand last week; and confessing, intriguingly, that he had yet to hear from Ron Dennis, McLaren’s executive chairman and the man who oversaw his rise from preternatural karting talent to F1 world champion. Emotions on both sides are clearly still raw.
“It has been very, very stressful,” Hamilton conceded. “I’ve been with this team since I was 13 and met Ron when I was 10. My dream back then was to race for this team. It was a little bit like a pendulum because one moment I would think, ‘Let’s go for it’, the next I would think ‘I’m going to stay’. That’s why I took my time; because I wanted to make sure I stuck with one of [those feelings].”
Despite Eddie Jordan’s claim that a deal with Mercedes was struck weeks ago, Hamilton insisted yesterday that he only made up his mind last week, after his retirement from the lead in Singapore left him 52 points behind Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in the drivers’ championship.
“It [the DNF] made no difference,” he said. “I had kind of already had the feeling a few days before but it stuck with me and this time I didn’t have any swinging back.
“Then I got to Thailand and it was incredibly peaceful and I just sat by the pool and thought for several hours.
“It was important to do it on my terms. I wasn’t gong to be pushed and rushed, although there was a lot of pressure.
“Martin [Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal] had been asking me when I was going to do a deal since China last year. I had a couple of deadlines, I didn’t meet any one of them. It was really, really tough but once I made the decision I was so much more relaxed.”
Whether he will remain so relaxed at Suzuka this weekend remains to be seen. The dynamic within the McLaren garage for the final six races of this season is going to be fascinating to observe, as they strive to win both championships while having an outlaw for an in-law.
Hamilton said he did not anticipate any issues. “At the end of the day, my mechanics will be upset because they have worked their asses off for me, but at some stage they might decide to go and work for another team,” he pointed out.
Dennis is another issue. Does he feel betrayed by his former protégé? “I don’t know, you will have to ask Ron,” Hamilton said. “When I spoke to Martin I said that the plan was not to burn bridges. I don’t feel as though I am going out of McLaren through the back door. I am going out the front door, happily.
“The way I look at it is that I am walking over that bridge and down a different path. If that path brings me back, who knows? I think I will always have McLaren in my heart.”
Hamilton, who grew in confidence as the interview wore on, ended by trying to explain the rationale behind his decision, presumably a similar explanation to the one he gave Whitmarsh when he plucked up the courage to make the “hardest call” of his life last week.
“I could have stayed and it would have been easy,” he said. “There was no unrest with McLaren. They are an incredible team. They have the best facilities by far. The factory is untouchable and it will get even better because they are building the new wind tunnel at some stage. They have got incredibly intelligent people. They’ve got everything, really, so in fact they should be winning more.
“I had two offers on the table which were very, very similar. One had slightly fewer [PR] days but it was not about the offer. Martin asked me what more they could have done. I said, ‘To be honest, Martin, it is about the challenge. It is a step that I want to make.’
“I don’t know what is going to happen. I just know that everyone has to experience these things, working with new people and in new environments.
“That is just part of growing up. It’s my last step of independence I guess.
“It wasn’t about Ross [Brawn, Mercedes team principal]. It wasn’t about Niki [Lauda, Mercedes-Benz vice-chairman]. It was about Mercedes, a team which has not been that successful over the last couple of years.
“I know some of the greats have gone from a great car to not such a great car and have helped to develop a winning team. Michael [Schumacher], for instance, went from being a world champion to Ferrari. We haven’t really got any other driver in Formula One who is known for that. I hope that one day someone can say that about me.”