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Why Mercedes could be a great move for Lewis
Thursday 13th September 2012, 20:12 by Daniel Chalmers
Team-mates in 2013?
(© Mercedes AMG F1 Team)
Many say Lewis Hamilton moving to Mercedes wouldn’t make any sense, but on further investigation it actually makes plenty of sense.
Clearly on current form a move to Mercedes is a huge no no. McLaren have been consistently quicker all season long. However that doesn’t mean that will be the case in 2013, 2014 and beyond.
The Brackley team are working their way towards being very formidable. Everything is now in place to take that next leap to start winning races regularly and challenging for championships. Lewis could be the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
They have been rebuilding ever since Mercedes took over what was Brawn GP in 2010, which came out of the ashes of Honda after they withdrew from the sport.
Brawn GP winning the title in 2009 was an incredible fairytale story. However it needs to be put into perspective. That car was built with millions of Honda dollars. The development of the car started way back in 2007, as the team decided to focus on the substantial regulation changes coming in 2009.
They then had to complete the 2009 season with limited funds, and many employees had to be made redundant.
These limited funds and redundancies had an impact on the design of the W01. Brawn GP had been taken over by a manufacturer giant but they had scaled down and effectively become a smaller team.
Ross Brawn has been building the team back up ever since, and has made some very strong appointments over the last 18 months. You could say he is building a dream team just as Jean Todt did at Ferrari back in the mid 90s.
At the beginning of 2011 Bob Bell joined the team as a technical director. He was the man behind Fernando Alonso’s triumphs at Renault in 2005 and 2006.
Later in the year Geoff Willis joined as technology director. Willis worked alongside Adrian Newey at Williams in the 90s, a period where they were very successful. He has also had stints with Red Bull and BAR/Honda. He is one of the top aerodynamicists in the sport.
Aldo Costa also joined from Ferrari as Engineering Director. Brawn worked with Costa during the glory days at Ferrari. Costa also played a key role in keeping Ferrari competitive in the immediate aftermath when the likes of Brawn, Schumacher and Rory Byrne left their roles
Then of course let’s not forget Brawn himself as team boss. He is one of the most decorated men in Formula 1. He won championships with Benetton in the mid 90s. He was then an integral part of Ferrari’s utter domination of F1 from the early to mid 2000s, as technical director.
He is not ready to retire from the sport yet, and would love to win again with Mercedes. If there is anyone who can turn Mercedes into champions then it is Ross Brawn.
The team have a very talented group of people in place now. Of course the question that will be asked is: if this technical team is so good then why are the team still off the pace?
When new people are brought in and new structures are created success is never instant. When Ferrari started putting their dream team together back in 1996 it took till 1999 to win their first championship together. After that the floodgates opened and the rest is history.
The same could apply to Mercedes. It should also be remembered that Willis started work at Mercedes last October, and Costa last December. That’s well after the time work would have started on the W03.
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Therefore the 2013 car will effectively be the first challenger all the pre-2012 signings will have been involved with right from the very beginning of the process. That could be very important.
Mercedes have already shown flashes of speed in 2012 (even though the current championship position is disappointing) including that victory in China. Significant upgrades being introduced at the flyaway races could yet bring a few more strong results this year. The key technical appointments are already having an impact.
Another important factor which makes Mercedes a very attractive proposition is the huge set of rule changes in 2014 including changes to the engine, KERs (which will then be ERS) and the gearbox regulations. This will be the biggest set of regulation changes since 2009
The new engine rules are the most significant aspect of the changes. 2.4 litre V8s will be replaced with 1.6 litre turbocharged V6s.
This is a massive regulation change which will make engines much more of a variable in car performance in 2014.
With the current freeze on engine development there isn’t that much difference between the performance of the engines. It’s not the decisive factor in championship battles at the moment.
Will being in a works team provide an advantage in 2014?
In 2014 there will be a battle to develop the best engine in a way we haven’t seen since the engine freeze was introduced. It’s very possible that one engine manufacturer could do a much better job than the other.
Think back to McLaren and Honda in 1988 as a example. It was the most powerful engine in the field that year. It was one of the main reasons McLaren dominated that season.
Mercedes have been top dog in the engines department in recent times. They will be feeling very bullish that they can get the advantage with the new engine regs. They are certainly ones you would put money on to do the best job
In 2014 being with a works team could be a massive advantage. McLaren will have to pay for a Mercedes engine (persuming they stick with Mercedes engines) in 2014, and they will merely be a customer.
Mercedes will very likely be optimising their engine for their own car. They will know everything about their engine long before their customers do, so will be able to design and build their 2014 challenger around it. They will be working closely with the other departments at the team throughout the manufacturing process to optimise the whole package.
Adrian Newey says engines could decide 2014 form. He told Autosport: "In 2014, you will have the variation in engine performance."
He added: "That means the engine power unit itself, which is not only the internal combustion engine but also the various recovery systems bolted to it.
"It is possible that one manufacturer will do significantly better than the others, at which point you might end up with that manufacturer's cars at the front of the grid.
"You could end up with an engine manufacturers' championship."
Brawn admits driving for a works team could be an advantage: “I don't think teams are going to have a worse engine because they are not a works team."
He added: "But inevitably there is a closer involvement with how the engine is created and developed, so that is a fact."
When it comes to major rule changes recent history shows you want to be on a team with either Adrian Newey or Brawn. Looking back to 2009 they were the two men who made the most out of the new regulations.
It’s also worth pointing out that McLaren on the other hand didn’t do a great job at adapting to the new regulations.
For Hamilton joining Mercedes would represent a new challenge. A fresh start at a new team can really re-energise a driver. Things can go stale if you stay at one team for too long.
Lewis has also been accused in the past of being mollycoddled and spoilt at McLaren. Driving for a new team is his chance to show that he can win with a different team. He would be out of McLaren’s shadow after all these years. He would be able to become his own man.
Another key factor that he is not the number one driver at McLaren, thanks to their equal drivers policy. Button appears to be the preferred driver at the team these days.
If he were to replace Schumacher at Mercedes, you would have to fancy Lewis’s chances of being able to impose himself in the team alongside Nico Rosberg. He would have a great chance of establishing himself as the clear number one driver.
If he replaces Rosberg and joins Schumacher it could be a different story however. However Lewis, entering the peak period of career, would surely fancy being able to beat a 44 year old Schumacher.
Brawn could also be the right man to extract the best out of Hamilton. He is used to working with world champions. He was responsible for all seven of Schumacher’s world titles, and Button’s title in 2009.
There is also a sense that Mercedes want him more. McLaren don’t appear willing to meet Hamilton’s wage demands or be less restrictive on his sponsor activity. Those aren’t signs that the team really want him to stay
Mercedes would be willing to pay Lewis more money, and there would be fewer restrictions on his sponsor activity. They really need one of the top three drivers in the sport to increase their chances of winning the championship.
Overall McLaren are likely to still be a very strong option for Lewis in the short term. However in the long term Mercedes could well be the team that’s more likely to be the place for the 2008 world champion to win three or four more titles.
It’s the long term which Lewis has to focus on as he makes this very finely balanced decision.
Mercedes now have the right people, great facilities, they have the budget and the 2014 rule changes could tip the balance more in their favour. It might just be the perfect time to be a part of it all.
Lewis wants to cash in and he wants to win. Only he knows what’s more important to him, but at Mercedes it’s very feasible he could get both. He certainly won’t get both at McLaren.
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