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Could Hamilton leave McLaren?
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Could Hamilton leave McLaren?
Posted By:   |  07 Apr 2009   |  7:05 am GMT  |  137 comments

The papers are full of the ‘rift’ between Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team over the Melbourne ‘lie-gate’ scandal. They talk of the relationship being ‘on a knife-edge’.

So will it happen? Will Lewis leave the team that has nurtured him since he left primary school? And if that were to happen, which team would he move to?

We have been here before with Lewis. He and his father Anthony were very unhappy about the politics swirling around the team during the 2007 championship, when McLaren were embroiled in the spy scandal surrounding Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan. Many things happened during that season, which took their breath away and made them wonder about whether to quit the sport. F1 is unlike any other level of motorsports because of the sheer intensity of the competition and the ferocity of the politics. Despite many years of studying for the starring role, Hamilton couldn’t believe the baggage that came with it.

And it quickly became apparent that being a McLaren driver, particularly that summer, made him even more of a target than he had imagined. The team seemed to be embroiled in one issue after another.

Hamilton’s reputation did not sustain much damage that summer as a result of the spy story, he was exonerated of any involvement, had no part in the email traffic between team mate Fernando Alonso and test driver Pedro de la Rosa which did for the team. There is no evidence that Lewis knew about the Ferrari data.

However, if you recall, McLaren told the first hearing into the spy story that the information did not pass beyond Coughlan into the organisation. With the subsequent discovery of the email traffic, they were forced to come clean and admit that the Ferrari data had penetrated deep into the company. It was a similar pattern of behaviour to what we saw from them in the days after Melbourne, initial denial, call it deception if you will, then getting caught out by fresh evidence, then grovelling apology. The two situations have significantly damaged McLaren’s integrity and reputation as a sporting institution. Hamilton was not damaged by association with the first, but definitely is through direct involvement in the second.

There were times during that period in 2007 and again in 2008, as Lewis was picking up penalties on the track, when you heard Anthony Hamilton openly wondering whether they should just get out of F1. But the raging ambition to win the world title, to fulfil what they saw as their destiny, kept them in it. Hamilton brought many of the penalties on himself, with his uncompromising approach, but somehow being on McLaren’s team seemed to make it all worse.

Now the Hamiltons are openly questioning whether they can stay at McLaren after all that has happened in the last week. They look across at Massa at Ferrari and Kubica at BMW and wonder why they are not constantly in the political cross-hairs?

Hamilton: "I'm sorry"
Malaysia has made Hamilton feel like Michael Schumacher did in 1994, when Benetton was getting hammered for ‘cheating’ over an illegal launch control system and a dodgy fuel filter. Schumacher was also banned for a few races that summer after ignoring a black flag at Silverstone. He and his manager felt that they had to get away from Benetton to stop the association of his name with cheating and that process led him to Ferrari in the summer of 1995.

Hamilton has grounds for feeling the same way now. It seems to have been established and accepted that he was ‘told’ to mislead the stewards, so should he move to save his reputation from further damage?

On top of that he looks at the team’s general situation at the moment. McLaren have built him a slow car, that’s not the end of the world, but they are likely to face some kind of heavy sanction for their behaviour in Melbourne and Sepang and that must impact on their ability to recover and move forward as a team. They have lost a key organisational figure in Dave Ryan and may yet lose their new team principal Martin Whitarsh, which would leave the ship pretty rudderless.

It would be an earthquake if he were to leave McLaren, given the history, but they are weighing up whether the team is just pre-destined to keep shooting itself in the foot and whether he’d be better off out of there.

So where would he go? Ferrari is the first name on the list, but his old nemesis Fernando Alonso has got their first. He has an agreement to join Ferrari in 2011, with an option for 2010 if Raikkonen underperforms this season.

BMW? There are several problems with BMW, first they already have Robert Kubica and may feel that they do not need Hamilton. Second they are not a team which spends big money on drivers.

Brawn? They have the fastest car at the moment, but that is because they bought themselves a big headstart by not showing up last season. They won’t be able to do that again so easily. The big teams will catch up.

However, if we get the budget cap of £30 million or more, then this will level the playing field in the favour of teams like Brawn. The manufacturers would not be able to beat them on resources alone.

I find it fascinating that the person in power to whom Hamilton appears to have turned for advice in recent days is Max Mosley. He’s clearly learned what Schumacher knew, that the best way to stay ahead of the others is to have a good relationship with the man who makes the rules. Brawn GP is important for Mosley because it is a blue print for his vision of the sport; a well engineered, lean team with customer engines. Low-cost, high quality F1.

The Brawn model is important now, just as re-invigorating Ferrari was in 1996.

If Hamilton were to join forces with Brawn, it would give the team huge commercial appeal, as Schumacher’s arrival gave Ferrari. Brawn says he is looking for ‘strong partners’ for the future. He didn’t say those partners couldn’t be drivers….

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1

OHH Some very interesting and insightful thoughts. Adding this to my bookmarks. ^_^

2

No It was Charlie not Max. Charlie has said so.

3

“uncompromising approach”? like kubica on vettel you mean? or vettel on kubica? like barrichello on webber melbourne turn 1? right, lewis is the only “uncompromising driver out there..

again this crap about lewis talking to max..if you look closely the news was reported by a tabloid (can’t remember the name – that bad the paper until the name is not good enough to be remembered, no wonder they need to resort to sensationalism)..i had the good fortune to be having breakfast with anthony hamilton when that piece of “news” came out and i can tell you that it is not true at all..never believe everything you read in the papers..

4

Not a Hamilton fan myself but, he was right to follow the team’s orders in Melbourne and post-race.

Forget all this stuff about how he should stand up for himself and does what he believes is the right call regardless of what anyone else says or thinks otherwise. If you want to excel in F1, you need to be more than just quick and clever in a car on the track, you need to be quick and clever off the track too. Especially if you want to win championships.

If a driver goes against a team like McLaren, he’s all by himself. And it’s a very lonely road to take. Fernando Alonso and Alain Prost are perfect examples of what happens when you rock the boat in a team like McLaren, never mind how good their racecraft is because even that didn’t save them…well Prost had the last laugh in 1989.

Besides, this lie-gate incident doesn’t seem so sinful compared to the times of Senna, Prost, Mansell and Schumacher. In quite some time, nobody’s driven into anybody, tried to ram anyone off the track, no fistfights and post-race clashes…I could go on.

When Hamilton said Senna was his idol, I had a bit of a laugh to myself. I’m a big Senna fan myself and I still hold that he’s the best F1 driver behind the wheel ever, but that guy was also capable of some pretty nasty things and he wasn’t the most refined character with the journalists. I’ll leave the rest to you.

5

IF this happened — Hamilton leaving McLaren — how soon would it be? Let’s say McLaren is banned for 3 races after the FIA hearing — would Lewis use this to get out of his contract and go somewhere else this year? Or are we talking about further down the road?

I’ll say that for all the credit Ron Dennis and McLaren get for “creating” Lewis Hamilton, his dad must be pretty savvy and have some big balls to stand in there with Ron Dennis, Max, etc. All credit to him.

6

I agree with GG above. If Max is touting Brawn as a good example of a low cost, high quality F1 team he is missing the truth. This is the product of a massive team with a budget ten times his £30million cap.

As for Hamilton, he has to take a large part of the blame for this mess. For a man of integrity to plead that he was only following orders is not good enough. He only had to say, no I will not lie for you or anyone else. That done, he would have come out of this smelling of roses. Instead he now just looks like a liar, plain and simple.

His image is tarnished, but so long as he can still win races, some team will take him. no mistake. F1 is not a place with high moral standards after all, is it Max.

7

Rant:
I’m quite ove the use of the ‘-gate’ suffix for anything that is considered a scandal.
Given the whole case is about lies and deception it’s kind of a tautology.
I thought ‘ligate’ referred to some sort of chemical bond

8
Paige Michael-Shetley

Here’s a scenario I’d like to throw at you:

There’s already been buzz that Mercedes would like to take control and full name branding of the team. One would also think that they are quite upset with McLaren’s senior leadership over this incident.

How about the possibility of the Hamiltons joining with Haug and other key people from Mercedes to mount a takeover of the team and a house-cleaning of leadership?

Perhaps the new team Lewis is looking for is the one he’s already on.

9

If he does indeed leave McLaren over this issue he’ll loose a lot of the respect i currently have towards him. He admitted misleading the stewards. so have McLaren. Fair enough, everyone makes mistakes. I feel that this is being blown out of proportion as it happens 9 out of 10 times the stewards ask someone for their view. but if you want everyone to forgive you for your mistakes but you’re not going to forgive the “team” for making the same mistake then that sounds a bit cowardice to me.

10

Wow…huge debate! This is the place for all F1 fans.

11

[quote]Brawn GP is important for Mosley because it is a blue print for his vision of the sport; a well engineered, lean team with customer engines. Low-cost, high quality F1[/quote]

Surely Honda/BrawnGP spent big bucks in the past year developing this car, and won’t have the same amount next year, so could end up slipping back into the mid-field.

Also not sure Hamilton Sr would be happy with another high profile, quick racer in the same team. Button may actual show Hamilton Jr up.

12

well most of your comments seem like you ve been chearleading for your man hamilton
i personally feel this would be a disgrace on himself if he leaves the team at this stage
we can clearly see now this guy is an oppurtunist who clearly wants to win each race , when his team cant provide the best machinery, well go for another one..brawn 09 , renault 10 , ferrari
what about the guys like raikonen alonso button
who have come to the sport the hard way worked on difficult cars and showed their performance and class through that

how come one man is bigger than a whole sport
here hamilton has been made equivlent to whole f1 as if he’s some god and everything will go according to his own wills and whims

i am certainly sure hamilton himself lied on that incident he was the one who told the thing to stewards and he should be the one facing the punishments coming with his crime

i have no respect for LH now he’s the most undeserving wc ever…if he ever were to learn the meaning of sportsman spirit
just look at how felipe behaved in brazil last year
perhaps its time now hamilton grow up a bit

13

Hamiliton + Mclaren = perfect combination of arrogance and pretense, match made in heaven.

Hammy has said repeatedly the last few months that he wants to stay at Mclaren for his entire career and has no plans to drive elsewhere.

Now…the first ripple in the sheen and (if true) hes considering leaving?? He owes his career to Mclaren. What a trooper.

Alas not surprising given he was more then willing to pass the buck and scapegoat Ryan.

This entire saga is illuminating but its not in fresh light…. It can hardly be surprising given the events of last year….just as James points out.

14
Accidental Mick

@Finn

“Their focus on him (Hamilton)(and their willingness to ignore, insult and alienate Alonso) in 2007 was bizarre.”

Alonso is a top-flight driver but his capacity for self-delusion is unlimited. Alonso is the only person around who thinks that Hamilton got better treatment from Mclaren.

15

It seems to be this whole mclaren sensation story is a typical case of uk newsmedia to blow things into the absurd.

Sure Mclaren will face some punishment on April 29, possibly getting suspended for some race(s), but I don’t see a team like them not finish this year with Hamilton in their ranks.

Given that this is kinda a uk blog I guess it’s normal for it to get so much attention but from an international pov mclaren was already was mentioned enough here.

16

I’m not so sure a move to BrawnGP would be the best thing for him to do. I agree, they are on fire right now, but who’s to say the budgets and facilities of the bigger teams such as Ferrari, McLaren, Renault etc won’t allow them to catch up, and pass BrawnGP once the championship moves back into Europe?

17

I like the idea of Lewis at Brawn GP. I would however question when Lewis would be moving should he decide to do so. Is this an idea for the end of this season, or could we see something develop in the next few races? What is the contract situation etc?

This reminds me of the book Lewis wrote after his first season in F1. I was never really a fan of his until I read his book. He always gave the impression that the big bucks weren’t of concern to him. It seemed to me that he wanted to race for McLaren because it was something to aspire to. He’s achieved that, won a world title along the way, but all the drama surrounding his life at McLaren must become frustrating.

As for where he’d go, I’d imagine a British team would be top of his list. Possible swap of Nico Rosberg to McLaren and Lewis to Williams? You heard it here first!

18

Isn’t this all pure speculation? I don’t think there are any substantiated reports about Lewis leaving McLaren.

19

Time for BrawnGP to secure the services of Michael Schumacher.

I see his contract as an adviser to Ferrari may not be renewed. Maybe Ross is chatting to him already, and Mr. Branson is standing by with a blank cheque.

Let’s face it with all the twists and turns we’ve had in the first 2 races alone this is not beyond the realms of possibility!

20

Hmm. Alonso was a significant part of the scandal. Nobody ordered him to do what he did with the illegal data, as much as he’d like history to be rewritten in his favor. His claims that “McLaren cheat all the time,” is an instructive comment coming from someone who participated in a scandal. Keep scrubbing Fernie, it’s not coming-off.

Right now, McLaren are the FIA’s whipping boy. They have no margin with the organizing body, or Max Mosely. Whereas other teams would get a slap on the wrist and a fine, McLaren are thrown-against a wall to face a firing squad. In this case, after mea culpas, humiliation, damage to reputation, a sacked team official, the number one driver threatening to leave as well as the team’s horrible performance on the track, the FIA have decided to pile-on and exact a full pound-of-flesh from the team. Like with the “Merchant of Venice”, however, I wonder if taking such a decision won’t create some unexpected blowback…

21

touche to that dad…

22

This was mentioned once before, but the article states as fact that Alonso is joining Ferrari in 2011, with an option for 2010. Like many others I’ve seen the rumors for quite some time, but never a definitive announcement such as what’s been relayed here. I wonder if the author is spinning his opinion (however well informed it may be) as reality, or has he done what any good journalist would do, verify the fact with sources who have direct knowledge of the situation. I’d love to hear from the writer himself on this point because if he has indeed done his homework, then Ferrari’s driver options for the future would not been as open as many think, even though I’d love to see Alonso in red.

23

If Lewis leaves F1, who would the media have to talk about in F1? Jenson Button is on what looks like a winning streak, so why is’nt he getting all the column inches? The truth is Lewis sells, winning or not. Look at the latest about Lewis wanting to leave McLaren and F1, all over the newspapers, all over the Internet, radio and television, forums up in arms in debate. You couldn’t pay for this publicity for F1. Lewis is going nowhere the big bosses will see to that.

24

“We win and lose as a team – I want to stay here for the rest of my career – McLaren are the best team,” etc etc etc (I could go on, but let’s not.)

So, suddenly Lewis and his old man are too good for McLaren. That’s a shame for them. As you say, where are they going to go? Who will be good enough for them?

And while we are on the subject, who will want them? Look at the baggage that follows them around. Will BMW want to suddenly become world championship contenders because they have the best car, or because they have the miracle boy driving it?

If they are arrogant enough to threaten to leave F1 (who knows if this is true or not, personally, I doubt it) then fine … off you go. They obviously haven’t clicked that no driver is bigger than the sport. It moves on. When “the star” leaves, it’s forgotten by the time the next grid forms up.

25

its open day on mclaren in the media, and anyone who belives all these storys on face value needs a serious reality check. maybe lewis does want to leave…ask him james. Hamilton senior was asked directly if lewis had spoken to mosley, and he said no. So, now hamilton senior is a liar, if we believed the earlier story.
i find it slightly ammusing that the media is being so fundimental on a lie, half truth, mislead…whatever you want to call it.
they couldnt give a stuff if the garbage they write is true or not.

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