A few weeks have passed since it was confirmed that Lewis Hamilton will leave McLaren for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season. Today Jenson Button admitted that he would be a “big loss”, while Hamilton has addressed the mountain he will have to climb next season with a Mercedes team which has failed to score points in the last three races.
“The team loses a very fast driver, a guy that’s achieved a lot with the team, the last guy to win a world championship for the team,” said Button in the Abu Dhabi paddock this afternoon. “It’s a big loss but things change and you learn to move on and adapt.”
Button, like many within McLaren, is unsure exactly how to evaluate his new team mate Sergio Perez, who hasn’t performed particularly well since his promotion was announced, apart from a surprisingly quick qualifying lap on Saturday in India, which gave him 8th place on the grid.
McLaren has evaluated Perez and sees potential in him, as Martin Whitmarst explained during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend. His three podiums this season were achieved with impressive pace and consistency, but those two qualities are not always present in the Mexican and the spotlight will inevitably fall on qualifying pace in particular. With no major rule change for next year and Pirelli continuing to supply tyres, qualifying at the front will be as vital as it is today in order to mount a challenge. There are some question marks over Perez’ outright pace and qualifying consistency this is the area where Hamilton will most be missed.
As for what lies ahead for Hamilton in his move to the Brackley based team which Button left in 2009 when it was called Brawn GP, he said,
“He’s (Hamilton) as quick as they come but sometimes it’s not that easy to win Grands Prix and to build a team around you and also to help a team achieve great results.”
Time will tell. Hamilton addressed these questions himself today, admitting that the competitiveness of the Mercedes at this stage doesn’t look very encouraging, but he is clearly looking at three years rather than next year, “It doesn’t worry me,” he said. “I’m really excited to go there. I feel fantastic about the decision. I’m massively excited about working with new people. It is a fantastic team. I know they have lost their way a little bit at the moment but I’m going to go and help them find their way.
“I already knew how big it (the job ahead) was. I really thought about it hard, and I could see how big it was. Perhaps it’s growing as a task, but I’m excited about it.”
Hamilton wanted a fresh challenge and that combined with the greater commercial freedoms at Mercedes swung the balance in favour of the move.
He will evolve as a Grand Prix driver through this process, but one thing he will need to acquire is a forcefulness in driving his new team forward to produce a better car and develop it. That behind the scenes pressure from a driver is what winning Grand Prix teams thrive on.