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Where will Hamilton be driving in 2013?
Wednesday 30th May 2012, 19:25 by Daniel Chalmers
Is Hamilton looking to escape McLaren? If so, where to? (© McLaren)
Lewis Hamilton could be involved in a tug of war between F1’s four biggest teams, as he makes a potentially career defining decision on his future.
The question is does he opt to stay put with McLaren or move to Red Bull, Mercedes or Ferrari? Which of those teams are actually really keen on him?
It’s very clear that McLaren don’t want him to go anywhere. The big story that emerged from Monaco is that there is a new 20 million pound a year contract offer on the table.
For Hamilton it’s critical that he makes the right decision. At the age of 27 Lewis is just entering the peak age of an F1 racing driving (considered to be 27-31) when theoretically he should be able to deliver his best performances.
Hamilton is also desperate to have more than one title to his name. For him his title winning year in 2008 seems a very long time ago now.
He rates his own ability extremely highly. Over the last couple of years seeing Vettel winning in the dominant Red Bull he probably thought to himself 'if only I had that car, I could be even faster than Sebastian'.
So to make the most of what ought to be the best years of his career, and to achieve his goals, he can’t afford to waste any time in a team that will not give him the chance of winning races and championships.
Let's look at his four potential options one by one. How realistic are they? And would they represent a good choice for Lewis?
It’s the team he has been with since he was a 13 year old boy, and they have supported him throughout his professional racing career. He knows the team inside out and back to front. The team also know him inside out and back to front.
He's had much success with McLaren, so why leave? (© McLaren).
The familiarity of the team certainly is a huge plus. After spending such a long spell with the team adjusting to a completely new team wouldn’t be an easy task.
During his time with McLaren their record for giving him a race winning car is actually pretty good. He had a winning car in 2007 and 2008. That latter year was Lewis' title year, and he was in control of the 2007 title before he threw it away in the last two races of the season.
He won races in 2010, and if it wasn't for two mistakes in the Italian and Singapore GPs, he could have won the title that year too. So with McLaren so far he has had the chance to win three titles. Overall he needs to take more of the blame for not winning three titles than his team do.
Up to 2011 McLaren have given the chance to win the title three times out of five. That’s a pretty respectable ratio in anyone’s book, particularly given the competitiveness of F1 now.
Although he hasn’t won a race this year he has been on pole three times (not that he has started there three times) so clearly the car is quick. He is also only 13 points off the championship lead. It’s very likely this year that he will have another chance to compete for the title.
However the concern with McLaren is that the team keep on making silly and costly mistakes. We saw it regularly last season, and going into 2012 the problem doesn’t seem to have gone away.
The team are also liable to producing an absolute dud of a car every now and then, such as in 2009 for example.
There is also a school of thought that under Martin Whitmarsh McLaren isn’t as well an oiled a machine as it was under Ron Dennis.
Hamilton also has to consider whether he is still motivated by the challenge of driving for the same team. Some drivers thrive under a new challenge at a new team, and can result in a new leash of life.
My verdict: Staying at McLaren is definitely the safe option and they are always going to consistently be there or thereabouts. It’s hard to see a time when McLaren aren’t in the front group.
If Lewis stays I am sure he will win another title but I can’t see him winning another three or four titles at McLaren. There always seems to be something lacking at the team. It’s been a long time since they have delivered the perfect season.
If Lewis wants perfection and a chance of three or four titles I just don’t think he will get that at McLaren, but some more success certainly.
Ferrari looks likely to replace Felipe Massa at the end of the season. Hamilton is touted as one of the potential replacements amongst many others it has to be said.
Alonso and Hamilton. Could it work again? (© Ferrari).
This would reunite Lewis with Fernando Alonso, which didn’t go so well back in 2007. Although it should be said that Alonso’s issues were more with the team than they were with Lewis. The relationship between Alonso and Hamilton has moved on considerably since then.
However as Alonso is so important to Ferrari you would think he would have a say in who his team mate is. History has shown that Alonso is much more effective when he is the clear number one in the team.
Alonso is the man who is keeping Ferrari competitive at the moment so you’d imagine Ferrari will do anything to keep their star man happy i.e. not hiring Hamilton.
Looking beyond that why would Hamilton actually want to join Ferrari?
In recent times their record for producing a quick car is poor. Since the new aero regulations were introduced in 2009 none of their cars have particularly shined. It’s been a while now since Ferrari has had the quickest car in the field.
Overall you would have to say that personnel wise Ferrari are far from being the strongest on the grid, like they were back in the Michael Schumacher era.
Although Lewis would look great in red overalls, and the lure of driving for Ferrari is always huge, this isn’t the best time to be joining Ferrari.
My verdict: In my opinion there aren’t many reasons for Hamilton to want to join Ferrari.
It is Alonso’s team at the moment and the team’s record since the likes of Ross Brawn and Jean Todt left the team isn’t very good.
With Alonso already on a long term contract I don’t really see Ferrari going after Hamilton anyway.
After a quiet first couple of years Mercedes are starting to become a fixture at the front of the grid. Arguably they also have the biggest need to have Hamilton in their team.
If Schumacher leaves at the end of 2012, Mercedes could look to Hamilton (© Mercedes AMG F1 Team).
Whilst Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher are both very competent drivers, is either of them capable of bringing home the championship for the team in a tight title battle? That’s what Mercedes currently need to be asking themselves.
With their rivals fielding such strong drivers, they ideally need to sign one of F1’s current star drivers, in order to give themselves a better chance of fighting for the title. There is no doubt that Mercedes would be very interested in Hamilton.
Mercedes definitely mean business and are in F1 to win titles. Over the next couple of years Mercedes could be pretty competitive. After down-sizing as Brawn GP, the team are now building up again as Mercedes.
Team boss Ross Brawn is one of the most talented and successful men in the recent history of F1. Bob Bell, Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa have all joined the team, and have formed a very strong technical team at Mercedes.
These changes have taken quick effect as Mercedes are already much stronger in 2012. They got pole and race victory in China, and they were the fastest qualifier in Monaco too.
Alongside Nico Rosberg, Hamilton would fancy his chances of establishing himself as the clear number one driver at the team.
Mercedes are a team with strong backing and a very talented technical team. Maybe Lewis is the last remaining puzzle piece?
The only issues are whether there will actually be a vacancy, and if Mercedes commit to the new Concorde agreement.
My verdict: Mercedes are becoming a very strong option, and providing they commit to F1 long term, I think they are going to be a permanent fixture at the front for the next few years.
Plus presuming Rosberg would be his team mate I would back Lewis to establish himself as the number 1 driver and make it his team. Lewis and Mercedes could potentially have a very strong partnership together.
However Lewis would have to be very confident to move to the team, as technically he would be gambling on a team who have yet to win the title (under their current guise).
Christian Horner may not appear that keen to sign Lewis, but there is more to it than that.
Webber has been linked with Ferrari for 2013, so who'll replace him? (© Red Bull Racing, Getty Images).
Christian isn’t the only one who wears the trousers at Red Bull. Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz will have a huge say in who drives for the team. In terms of marketing Hamilton would bring a lot to the party. Having Lewis Hamilton’s face on the side of a can of Red Bull could be a great seller.
Fielding two world champion drivers would also send a strong statement of intent to the rest of the grid.
They could also be forced into signing him too. Firstly Mark Webber may decide to join Alonso at Ferrari. Also this season at Toro Rosso Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne haven’t set the world alight (yet). Therefore it might be too early to promote one of them in 2013.
For Lewis, Red Bull certainly represents a strong option. With Adrian Newey at the team there is always a great chance that he will get a great car to drive. Just what could Lewis have been able to achieve with the Red Bulls of the last couple of years?
Also with regulation changes expected in 2014 (not that we know what exactly they will be yet), Newey will be the one that can make the most of it. He demonstrated that with the regulation changes in 1998 and 2009.
The only downside would be having Sebastian Vettel as team mate. As Vettel has been part of Red Bull for so long there is no doubt he would start with the advantage. Many think Hamilton has one over him on raw pace, although race pace wise Seb is very good at looking after his tyres so perhaps would have an advantage there.
My verdict: With Red Bull Lewis has a great chance of landing a fast car, and maybe a dominant one. I also think the atmosphere of the team would suit Lewis better than the corporate style at McLaren.
The issue for me is Vettel. If this era of fast degrading tyres continues I would back Vettel to just edge the battle. Lewis isn’t going to be able to make Red Bull his team and be a number 1 driver.
Not convinced Red Bull will go for Lewis either. It would be admitting that their young driver programme has failed, if one of the drivers at the junior team doesn’t get a promotion.
Having Lewis and Seb in the same team together could be quite detrimental too.
All in all it is a very delicate decision for Lewis Hamilton. It’s difficult to predict who he will drive for next year. He certainly has plenty of thinking to do.
When taking everything into consideration Mercedes could be the best fit for Lewis. They have put together a very strong team, and are now in a position to build very fast F1 cars over the next few years.
If he were to replace Schumacher he would have a very good chance of becoming the team leader. You couldn’t say that about Lewis at McLaren at the moment.
Plus you can be sure Hamilton would be offered a very nice salary too.
Out of the four possible teams Mercedes appear to tick the most boxes. That’s if they stay in F1 and Schumacher leaves. Both facts are a long way from being certain.
On paper you would imagine Ferrari is a definite no go. Red Bull would be a more realistic option if somebody steals Vettel from the team and they need a top draw driver to replace him with. Although it's hard to see that happening for 2013 (but stranger things have happened).
In this writer’s opinion (as things stand) Lewis will still have a Mercedes engine behind him next year, but the question is will it be at McLaren or Mercedes?