The Future of Lewis
Over the past weeks I’ve been fairly inundated with people wanting to know the magic answer to the ever more momentous question of where Lewis Hamilton’s future lies. Of course the bottom line is that I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that right now, nor does Lewis Hamilton.
A question posed on Tuesday evening to my Twitter account has finally prompted me to try and give my best answer as I understand things, and it just couldn’t be squeezed into 140 characters.
@wersiben, a die hard McLaren fan asked,
“What a your thoughts on Lewis? Is the Mercedes move likely or just silly season & is it true some at McLaren want him to go?”
Lewis Hamilton’s 5 year contract at McLaren is due to expire at the end of 2012. In the period since signing that initial life changing piece of paper, he’s come through enormous transitions both as a racing driver, but equally as importantly, in his life away from the track too.
If you missed my recent article on Lewis for Pitlane Magazine, here’s the link, it talks about his first days and months as an F1 driver and how the team reacted to him.
To answer the question of a move away from his current team.
Lewis has been a part of McLaren since he was a child. Ron Dennis funded much of his early career and the enormous and powerful machine that is Ron’s F1 team, has played an instrumental part in guiding Lewis and his family through almost every area of his motor racing life. Of course the ‘big break’ at the end 2006 goes without saying but, in short, Lewis has an awful lot more than that to be eternally grateful to McLaren Racing for.
Having said all that, the harsh reality is that if Lewis does, or has indeed decided, to go, he would no doubt claim that he’s paid his dues to the team by delivering their first drivers world championship in a decade.
Having signed a deal with the increasingly famous management company, XIX Entertainment, now is exactly the time when they have to be seen to be earning their undoubted fortune. Although these guys may not be over familiar with the Formula One paddock and it’s workings, they’re clearly qualified when it comes to finding the best deal for their clients and of course, by association, themselves.
Their job, and even Martin Whitmarsh and co would expect no less, is to approach all of the top teams and hold a discussion. They will unearth where any potential opportunities may lie and don’t underestimate, if someone of Lewis’ calibre and marketing value is being wielded around, opportunities can present themselves where no one may have expected them to arise. Existing contracts or agreements can always be broken or bought out if a team’s offered something, or someone, that’s too good to turn down. Remember Kimi was paid a fortune by Ferrari to walk away when Fernando became available in 2010.
Lewis will have instructed the management team as to his goals and demands, both on and off the track and at some point they will, if they haven’t already, return their findings to him. He’s in control of his own destiny at this stage of his life and so undoubtedly, the final decision will be his.
Knowing Lewis a little, as I do, it’s fair to say that he didn’t appoint XIX by coincidence. The company, who work with global superstars such as David and Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Lopez, are huge in the world of music, fashion, movies and now sport. Lewis knows his potential value and looks keen to maximise his global exposure and therefore income. He’s dating an American pop star and as the BBC’s Gary Anderson put it recently, “spends more time in Hollywood than he ever does in Woking (McLaren’s base)”.
No one can begrudge someone the chance to cash in on a fortune of the magnitude available to him here, but I guess some would say that the line between being focused on his job as a racing driver and chasing global stardom needs to be carefully managed.
Lewis has always publicly stated that the decision on his future will be based on motor racing, he wants to win more world championships and place himself in the pitlane accordingly. On paper, you’d have to say that would be enough to sign on the dotted line at McLaren.
What may complicate things for him, could be other issues like 2014 engines.
The radical change in powerplants could shake up the grid to some extent and Mercedes, along with Ferrari, could be advantaged by having works teams as well as producing their own engines. McLaren have yet to decide on an engine partner for that season and beyond.
From a pro McLaren perspective, they have a long and successful history behind them, they always find ways to make themselves competitive and Lewis has seen this first hand.
If the global superstardom is actually more of a priority to him than he’s letting on, then someone like Mercedes has worldwide marketing power on a level that McLaren could only dream of.
I’ve no doubt there’s many factors at play, and whilst we can but speculate about the outcome, Lewis will make an informed decision and let us all know when he has. I guess the key will be on what basis he’s informed?
To try and shed light on the final part of the Twitter question about whether or not people at McLaren want Lewis to go, I can only say this.
There’s a very split camp at the team. Most of the guys on his side of the garage will obviously support him and have a good working relationship as has always been the case. As for the rest of the team, some of whom I’ve spoken to recently on this, it’s true to say there’s a growing swell of opinion that he’s outgrown the team that brought him up, so to speak. No single driver can ever be bigger than the McLaren team, that’s something Ron would never let happen and rightly so. However, stories of wearing huge dark glasses inside MTC or pulling out a mobile phone when walking down corridors, rather than becoming engaged with factory staff coming the other way, are sadly believable.
As I said in the beginning, the fact is I have no idea like everyone else, where Lewis will be racing next year. Two weeks ago I would have bet on him staying put, McLaren would paint a picture of harmony and the signature would of course go some way to winning over many doubters within the team.
Today, I see a Lewis Hamilton who looks troubled and McLaren’s contract still remains unsigned despite the recent 5 week gap in races appearing to be an ideal time to sit down and hammer out the terms. Combine that with the feeling I know exists inside some areas of the team seemingly growing, I’m now not sure enough to bet on anything.
Whatever anyone thinks of Lewis as a personality, if for McLaren or anyone else he races like we know he can, he’ll earn support and respect from within and when he brings home another championship, all this procrastinating will be long forgotten, I’m sure.