Sam Michael on Hamilton’s departure and why McLaren won’t dwell on it
Posted By: James Allen  |  10 Dec 2012   |  10:19 am GMT  |  154 comments

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.

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There were many incidents in 2011 for Lewis and not all of them were his fault including clash with Massa at Monaco – so yes I agree he was frustrated on occasions along with being parked behind Red Bulls the whole year I dont think its quite as simple as many detractors would have you think. The incident at Canada was very clear to me, Jenson knew he was there and just moved over & blocked him- in those conditions it was the same as being pushed. I’m not saying Lewis is an angel but I don’t agree with half the stuff he was ridiculed for last year- but agree it was his worst season- even then Jenson was barely a match. With all the MP4-27 failures whilst Lewis was winning a GP this year Jenson would be lucky to see half the points- and if people can’t see this- I feel very sorry for them.

Only just beating Reuben’s in 2009 who was close to retiring was not something I would be too excited about. – No disrespect intended to Reuben’s.


Norbert Haug to leave Mercedes. Still keeping to my prediction that Mercedes will not last long enough in F1 to see out Lewis’s Contract.


even alonso says that hamilton is the quickest driver in F1 ….and with his new found maturity [ doesn’t feel he must win every race ] expect to see him regularly on the podium in the improved 2013 mercedes ..a win even ?….not unless his luck changes

other forecasts for 2013?

big mac produce a reliable car to button’s taste and button WDC

massa with confidence restored embarasses alonso

grosjean retained and matches kimi


It was inevitable that Lewis would leave Mclaren. Its unrealistic to think that he would stay there till the day he retired from Formula One. And there’s no reason to think that Lewis’ intentions in switching teams are anything but genuine. Despite losing a great talent one wonders if Martin Whitmarsh didn’t heave a sigh of relief and happily throw his Prilosec in the dustbin now that he won’t be having the regular and frequent dramas that have played out during Lewis’s tenure. That said, I expect that we’re going to see a transformed Mercedes team in 2013, they have the means and the talent to move up the pecking order and will have no more excuses for their mediocre results. With fewer changes in specifications and a season of lessons learned about managing the Pirellis, I think Ross Brawn will come out swinging with a car that is competitive and winning strategy to go with it. However it must give Hamilton a moment of pause to leave Mclaren and go to a team with which a 7 time world champion said he learned how to lose.


What a load of rubbish! The team have lost LH the average points you have so delicately put down on paper. You are kidding yourself if you honestly believe the crap you have written!


Sam Micheal is not only trying to kid us he is kidding himself! Of course MCL won,t dwell on it, they never do.Maybe that is the problem, they need to take a step back and look in the mirror. A lot of the top management are responsible for some catastroffic mistakes this season so when one of them makes a statement, who listens or cares what they think!!


Whitmarsh has been and will be punished severely for trying to drag Hamilton down to the low level of Button.

I don’t care much for F1 any more because of DRS and lack of mechanical grip, but I sure do look forward to seeing Button fall flat on his face and Hamilton making a world of difference to Mercedes…

If it weren’t for Hamilton’s move to Merc, I would have zero interest in F1 next year… and this is the honest truth.


Eh? I think you’ll find that Button is a better driver than Hamilton, which is why Whitmarsh got rid of Hamilton and kept Button – he wasn’t worth the hassle 😛


Just looked at total points scored and average championship finishing position since JB joined mclaren. They should be happy it wasnt JB that left.

Points: JB 672, LH 657. Ave championsp position: JB 4.0, LH 4.3

And thats including Jensons 1st year getting used to the team. And I’m not including the previous year, 2009, when JB won the championship!

Just saying coz hes exciting to watch and fast on 1 lap it dont make him more attractive to teams.

Mike from Colombia

Difference is…JB has never been perceived as a real contender for the championship during any of these years. Hamilton was – in 2010 and 2012.


although the numbers show that…they only paint half the season…eg Schumi with allhis victories and stats people still remember some of his on track ‘foibles’ ….in the same way that in years to come people will look at the stats surrounding Seb whilst always remembering the gossip surrounding ‘that car’

.statistics, statistics and all that.


Hi James,

something a bit off topic. Do you think the FIA will release a circuit for next year in order to have 20 GP’s. I know Austria is keen and it could be an F1 first for an F1 team to have a home Grand Prix- as the Austrian Grand Prix is now known as the Red Bull Ring.

Also James, how will other teams react to this if it is part of the 2013 calender?


They will be fine . They’ve raced there before (well most of them) . After all mclaren and Ferraris sponsors sponsor Grand Prixs


2013 looks like it will have so many “sub plots” that it may well be a very interesting season irrespective of the racing !

– Can Button be a real No.1 ?

– Is Sergio the real deal ?

– Can Seb do it again ?

– Will Mercedes continue to be Mediocre ?

– Can Lewis keep his cool if Merc continues to struggle ?

And further :

Was it a sponsor-requirement that Sam Michael paint his face to match the colour of his vodafone t-shirt (above photo) ? Or was it a problem with the tanning machine in the McLaren Motorhome ?


On another note James, what’s happening with Jaime? I thought he was all set to announce an F1 drive? Seems like that may have fallen through….

What a waste of talent.


Still waiting to hear who has the Force India drive


The fact that Ferrari finished higher than McLaren should cost Whitmarsh his job. The McLaren was miles ahead on pace.


I believe Mercedes decided quite some time ago that there was something fundamentally wrong with the 2012 car that prevented its development throughout the season. It was not a bad car at the start but it just did not improve at the same rate as the competition and was left looking ordinary.

From the results of the last third of the season it looks like they gave up trying to improve the beast and concentrated on work that would benefit the new 2013 car.

My money is on this new car being a big improvement over the current model and will get better over the season. It would be a dream too far to be on the Red Bull race pace from the start but up there with the Ferrari would be a great achievement.


I’m another that will follow Mercedes in 2013. First Lotus then Mercedes – I don’t care for the other 3 they are too big and too political and way too smug. Raikkonen and Hamilton are the best racers this century and as good as the others are – they are not pure racers like these 2 and this is why their fans tend to be passionate because they keep us on edge of our seats and they don’t like the BS politics that Fernando & Jenson , and even Vettel are so smitten with.

I was almost ready to back Mercedes but as soon as they signed Schumi I was a bit deflated . I think they will improve this year and I think Lotus will make small gains too- whether its enough Im not so sure. But I also see Mclaren going slightly backwards before going forwards in the 2nd part of 2013. By which time I reckon Perez will be beating Button on a regular basis. I really hope Perez goes his own way on car set up be wise this will be crucial to his success.


although I agree with much of what you are saying, but I think saying that FA, SV and JB are the only drivers in the paddock that ‘like’ the BS politics as you put it, then I’m affraid you are mistaken. In the paddock the work place of F1 drivers and teams and everyone associated with it you play the game so to speak ….just like in every day life, office /work place politics…everyone plays the game….Hamilton may not (appear) to like it as much as some others but to say he doesnt do it too is a bit much.

Also not sure about Perez beating Button on a regular basis (time will tell)…with the amount of time JB has been in F1 he’s a very shrewd driver…think of him like Alain Prost…a very fluid driver. I personally think that although McLaren have openly said they don’t follow RB and Ferrari’s belief of No1&No2 drivers they (McLaren) have got one Former WDC and Perez…who do you think they will favour?

But as I said at the start….only time will tell…what ever happens, can’t wait for 2013 to start.


IIRC, Mercedes pulled out of Mclaren ownership because Merc wanted to slot Nico with Lewis. RD shot that down, so Mercedes sold out their shares and bought Brawn. FF a couple years and Merc poach Lewis to slot with Nico. What was RD thinking??? He loses the Merc $$$ and the face of his team, just to keep NR out??? Seems pretty dumb to me, but what do I know…


@ OJ ‘

It ain’t about the price tag…’ Have you heard of Jessie J, Lewis?

err sorry you mean to tell me Vettel with the massive drinks company backing him, Schumi, Button or anyone else for that money isn’t in it for the money?? Please…I think folks are so used to seeing / hearing about Hamilton being at McLaren for so long when he moves they suddenly think its only for the money……. How about the fact mentioned above by Matt W….i.e. that McLaren have only won 1 WDC in the last 10 years (or is it more..think last MacLaren WDC before Hamilton was Mika in 99) ?

As a Hamilton fan and somone who grew up watching the red and white Marlboro sponsored McLarens tearing around I can accept that both McLaren and Hamilton have made mistakes…last year mainly Hamilton and this year mainly McLaren. I for one loved the pairing and am sad to see them part ways I will still continue to support Hamilton…II mean come on;

Brawn + Schumi = ?

Brawn + Button = ?

and now

Brawn + Hamilton…

sure it won’t happen straight away but it will happen (and yes I know there is the Newey factor but lets remember its not just him its the team of engineers and designers under him, who we all know move around the teams) watch this space!!!


I enjoyed the podcast – would love to hear more about some of things that were hinted at:

1. What Alonso is really like in the paddock

2. Why Romain was quicker than Kimi those few mornings…

Prob can’t get an official answer 🙂 but perhaps some contributors might be able to help??


Why does everyone seem to criticize Jenson Button? He isnt Lewis Hamilton and has a more of an Alain Prost style of driving at times, but he uses his head when racing. You don’t win 6 races and a championship by luck. As for Perez, all he has done since he got the Mclaren drive is crash a lot. If this continues in 2013, I dont expect him to see out the season with the team. Mclaren have done it before with Montoya and Andretti


You seriously comparing Prost with Button? This is madness!


Kimi4WDC, Look at his car control, unexciting yes but he uses his head, he has a Prost mentality, I never said he was Prost


Unfortunately for button he’s not a particularly exciting racer – he’s incredibly competent – but that upsets a lot of the macho contingent who think that only driving into walls shows true courage.

Sad to say if button won the WDC next year too many fans would be screaming that it was ‘all the car’ whereas if Lewis won it would be ‘him dragging Mercedes up!’ and vice versa – if button loses it won’t be the car, just his poor race skill – whereas if Lewis fails it will be ‘an expectedly shoddy 2013 car – this is just a warm up year!’

Not that I think button could care less about this tbh. It’s just the sort of fan mania that clouds accurate assessment.


+1 at this. Button excels at being the smoothest driver possibly in F1 – and on the right tyres that pays huge dividends. He’s also one of the more strategic, at reading races and weather. But he’s not exciting as some others are.

I happen to like him, in part because I seriously started to watch F1 in 2009, which was his year. And what I saw was a journeyman who had shown flashes of brilliance in karting and occasionally in the unreliable BAR, and even challenged Ferrari in an outclassed car. Who had to wait until into his 30s to finally find his maturity and his break, and who – incredibly even to him I think – won his WDC. I expected him to totally be destroyed by Lewis at McLaren – but the points say otherwise…and given what McLaren started his contract at, he was an absolute bargain per point scored. This year the tyres simply didn’t suit those that drive smoothly and who can’t heat them, and JB suffered. Still had three wins and some podiums. Next year’s tyres are supposed to have a wider window, we know the McLaren is fast, and JB should still be near the top of his game – even if he isn’t that exciting. He doesn’t get my vote as the best driver on the grid (Alonso), but he’s probably the one I’d most want to go drinking with….

Colombia Concalvez

McLaren is gonna feel it, Lewis was the backbone at McLaren or the works horse if you like. I simply cannot see Button keeping McLaren at the front with his limited skills, every year he has moments where he is invisible same as in 2010 where he was a very large part of that year invisible, in 2011 the first half he was invisible and again in 2012. In Brazil he only drove well because he drove Lewis his set up and not his own and even Horner says that McLaren is weaker, i also was reading a comment from Helmut Marko saying that they won’t look at McLaren because they don’t see McLaren as a threat so next year will be a make it or brake it for Button to be honest the prospects don’t look to bright in my opinion


Some good points but please can someone tell me how is it that all the “experts”, other drivers,team principals say LH is one of the fastest drivers as well as the biggest car manufacturer in the world. Yet there are still people writing in and saying Button is quicker.I just cannot see how any right minded person would want JB instead of LH?? I was a Mcl fan but think the team have seriously messed up this season both on and off the track. When I say that they did JB no favours either. The team I believe have started to believe their own Bulls*^t. To listen to Sam Micheal on the podcast is almost unbelievable. After millions of pounds have been invested in a team they managed to forget to put enough fuel in the car!!!Operational mistakes cost the team the chance to win the WDC for BOTH drivers coupled with JB,s inability to quallify at the front. Good luck to LH next year Mcl are finished and he is better of without them.


Well I have to agree with you that McLaren messed up big time this year when they could have won the drivers championship with Lewis. Their apparent inability to get the set up right on Jenson’s car cost him dear with no points in quite a number of races. So McLaren failed on setups, failed on operational matters, and allowed reliability issues to impact on the teams performance. If it were a school report one would be reading must try harder, but in reality they should get real, and work more cleverly. Somehow I think they are too corporate, and unless they modify their approach they will not be good enough to win another championship as Red Bull have raised the bar with the way they operate.


I will be following Lewis at Mercedes next year, and I hope the car is decent, and I think there is a good chance it will be as the Mercedes team has been expanded and developed. That said I will also be keeping an eye on how McLaren are doing. – They make great looking cars, but they have not necessarily been fast. This year has been different with failings in that team pulling Lewis back out of contention in the championship, indeed possibly winning it had they had all their ducks in a row. As for the Lewis-Jenson partnership I prefer to think of it as 2-1 to Lewis, as overall points tally is misleading with relative position being more important. That said I think the Pirelli tyres have badly reined in Lewis’s performance, and had we been on Bridgestones Jenson would have been somewhat further to the rear. Drivers must be allowed to race that’s what it’s all about not a tyre conservation and strategy contest which merely protects the car in free air at the front.


I think button would have fared better on bridgestones actually – his famous ability to conserve tyres was lost with the ‘made to degrade’ pirellis. As many pointed out the pirellis have been a bit of a lottery for everyone. There’s no benefit in conservation or aggression – either might work or fail at any given race weekend.


The point about the tyres really is that the chasing car is at a disadvantage with the dirty air produced by modern aerodynamics. DRS has been introduced to try to counter the problem, but the damage is done to the tyres in the run up to the overtake to be close enough for DRS to be effective. It’s absolutely ludicruous to run high deg. tyres with modern aerodynamics. – Just plain silly! There’s no doubt Jenson did very well in the second half of his second year at McLaren, but the car was still not good enough to take on Red Bull. In that second half Jenson performance was up, and Lewis was down in the dolrums which perhaps is a bit misleading in any comparison. This year had McLaren not made the mistakes they did, and not had the reliability problems then Lewis perhaps could have won the championship with more wins (possibly 7/8/9) than Sebastion eventually managed. It’s very unfortunate for him, and its proven just how good the Red Bull team actually are.

Tornillo Amarillo

I think everybody can do well in a Sauber car, but it’s not the same in McLaren or Ferrari.

So it is a big challenge for Checo and maybe a happy year for Hulk.


‘It ain’t about the price tag…’. Have you heard of Jessie J, Lewis?


Hi James

It looks like my copy of your book is being shipped (by GP Legends) to an old address. I’m pretty sure I filled in current address. Who to contact?



f1 is all about the big guns, ecclestone, mosley and dennis. one of them once said, “if you put a gun to my head, you better have a bullet in it and you bllody well make sure you oull the trigger.”

mclaren and ferrari tried to break away remember? and during their arguments, one was coincidently exposed with protitutes, the other mugged and beaten up by thugs while another faced a £50m fine.

i can’t wait to see the outcome of next season.

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