Former McLaren driver turned driver manager Mark Blundell suspects that the “timing is right” for Lewis Hamilton to begin a new chapter in his career with Mercedes and predicts that the move will pave the way for the Briton’s management to take ‘Brand Hamilton’ to a whole new level.
Blundell is ideally placed to analyse the switch from both a racing and commercial point of view having driven for McLaren in 1995 and then in more recent time conducted test driver Gary Paffett’s contract negotiations with the team, in addition to the driver’s long-standing relationship with Mercedes in DTM.
Speaking on the newly-released JA on F1 podcast, in which Hamilton’s 2013 move to Mercedes is assessed, Blundell says that the unique Hamilton/McLaren journey had arguably already achieved its stated ambition with their title win in 2008, and that with the relationship becoming more fractious in recent seasons, the driver was probably ready for a change of scene.
“I think at this stage if you look at it and you look at what’s gone on over the last couple of seasons, the fairy-tale was completed when he won the world championship,” he told the podcast.
“The last couple of seasons has seen an up and down Lewis Hamilton as a man and a racing driver. I think now you’re also seeing some small chinks that were coming into that relationship and maybe the timing is right now to leave that nest that has been quite a cosy one for some time – let’s face it, [he was] 13 years old when he first joined McLaren – and move on to a different challenge.
“It really is now about a driver walking into a team and saying ‘I’m one of the best, if not the fastest man in the world in a Formula 1 car, let me see what I can do to develop the team and the car going forward.’”
Asked if he himself would have made the such a switch in the same position, Blundell acknowleged that while on the racing side it’s something of a gamble, for 2013 in particular, on the commercial side “the opportunities and the potential is far bigger”.
“McLaren is probably the most restrictive Formula 1 team in what they allow a Formula 1 driver to do,” he explained.
“Rightly so in many ways because they produce top equipment and the salaries are very, very competitive for the driver. They supply the budget and with high-end, blue chip names associated with them they don’t see why you have to go outside that circle to get extra revenue.
“That doesn’t always fit with everyone and some management companies and I think now they [XIX Entertainment] will try to build the Hamilton brand into something much bigger than what we’ve seen. It will go along with what they’ve done with Andy Murrary, with David Beckham, and we’ve seen the end product on that kind of thing.
“But is that going to make him any faster? Is that going to make him win any more grands prix? Probably not. Does that secure his long-term future? Probably so, depending on how much of that he really needed given I imagine he’s quite a wealthy young man.”
With the arrival of the highly-rated Sergio Perez, and the opportunities now present to tap into the American market for McLaren, Blundell reckons there is a flip side to Hamilton’s departure too for the team, particularly as the relationship with its current star isn’t what it once was.
“It’s difficult to quantity [the negative impact],” he said. “They’ve had great times, they’ve won world championships together, they’ve won many grand prix together. There’s the possibility of saying there’s no loss – there’s everything to gain again for McLaren with a new driver like Perez coming into the fold.
“It’s a loss on the commercial side. Lewis is a big name, a previous world champion with the possibility of getting very close to that again for this season. But it’s all about synergy and there’s an area of the chemistry that we have seen recently that is just missing some vital ingredients and I think Lewis’s move has really capped it all off.”
To listen to the full interview with Mark and more insight on Hamilton’s Mercedes move, in addition to pieces with Marussia’s Graeme Lowdon and on the late, great Prof Sid Watkins, then make sure you check out the October edition of the JA on F1 podcast, available to download now. Visit iTunes or download it directly to your computer here.