Sam Michael believes there are no hidden motives behind Lewis Hamilton leaving McLaren and that the driver’s desire to take on a new challenge simply outweighed everything else, even the chance to continue driving a proven race-winning car.
The McLaren sporting director gave his assessment on Hamilton’s momentous decision to swap Woking for Mercedes from 2013 while looking back on some of the major talking points of the season alongside a panel of fellow experts in the December edition of the JA on F1 podcast (click here to download).
When Hamilton’s three-year Mercedes deal was made public at the end of September both the financial elements of the move, plus speculated frictions between Hamilton and the McLaren hierarchy, were the aspects of the story most keenly focused on, even if the driver himself stressed he had been most drawn by the challenge of helping build up a team into a world champion.
Reflecting on the move in the podcast two months on from the announcement, Michael paid tribute to McLaren’s departing star and acknowledged Hamilton’s desire to try something new after such a long association with one organisation.
“I think the whole team gets on very well with Lewis, and we still do. He’s a great guy,” Michael said. “He’s a fantastic racing driver; he’s possibly the quickest driver on the grid at the moment in terms of pure natural talent.
“Lewis has been associated with McLaren for 17 years, and he’s been contracted for the last 13 plus – that’s a long time with one place and I think it simply comes down to that.
“There is nothing deeper than the fact that he wants to move on and grow and do different things with his life and that’s more important to him, even though he steps out of a winning grand prix car right now.
“He wants to take on the challenge of developing another team and bringing them up, a team that’s not winning races at the moment, and it’s something that he wanted to do.”
But while acknowledging the level of talent McLaren is losing to Mercedes, Michael stressed that the team would quickly look forward into its new era.
“Of course it’s a loss to McLaren but just like if anybody leaves, whether it’s a driver – there have been some very big, famous names leave McLaren before in terms of drivers – and you don’t dwell on it,” he said. “You move on quickly because Formula 1’s all about change management.”
That change over the winter will see Mexican hotshot Sergio Perez arrive at Woking in January in Hamilton’s place and during the course of the podcast, Michael spoke of his admiration for the 22-year-old’s performances in 2012.
Talking about which of Perez’s results impressed him most, Michael said: “His drive in Malaysia and then again in Montreal, but also Monza. The way he came through the field in Monza, another couple of races [sic. laps] and he would have been fighting Lewis for the win.
“Just the way that he drives around world champions is fantastic.”
You can hear more from Sam Michael, including his views on the likely 2013 title protagonists, along with leading F1 journalist Mark Hughes, FOTA general secretary Oliver Weingarten, F1′s top photographer Darren Heath and our very own James Allen in the end-of-season JA on F1 podcast, available to download via iTunes or directly here now.
Also remember you can still order a signed copy of the newly-published JA on F1 2012 yearbook – The Year of Living Dangerously, which charts the story behind Hamilton’s Mercedes move along with all the other key events from the season intercepted with race reports and stunning imagery. Click here to visit our online shop.