Does Hamilton need to assess his future?

By on Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It is now 4 years since Lewis Hamilton burst onto the Formula One scene and so nearly claimed the world title in his rookie season. One year later, he did win the title – just. Hamilton has incredible statistics for a driver of his age: 14 wins is certainly nothing to scoff at. But out of his 4 years, he has won just the one crown. He could – should in fact – have won in 2007 and the title last year was certainly in reach of being won. Despite his age though, Hamilton has to be wary. Fernando Alonso was 25 years old when he won his second title and Sebastian Vettel is only 23 and is fixated on being the best driver ever in terms of statistics. Hamilton and McLaren have been together for almost fifteen years. Hamilton in any other car seems unthinkable. But as he approaches his fifth season in the sport, is it time for Hamilton to assess his options?

The winter just gone has not been a happy one for McLaren. The car was unveiled at the second test and immediately there were problems. Slow and unreliable. At the present time, just finishing in this Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix would probably be seen as a good result inside the team. Assuming that the MP4-26 is not capable of winning the world title – something that Lewis himself has said, as well as many observers who don’t even rate the car as being podium material – it will be three straight years without a title for Hamilton. That is simply not good enough and 90% of not winning the title is not down to Lewis. The Brit is a phenomenally fast driver and that isn’t just coming from a fan, but even anti-Hamilton fans – as much as it pains them to say it – will agree. On his first proper McLaren test in late 2006, the team was astonished at Hamilton’s adaptability and they were probably equally astounded at hoe he performed in 2007. But for McLaren, they simply haven’t hit the heights they did in 2008. Sure, they won five times in 2010 but the car was not the fastest car for much of the season. If anything, the sheer quality of the driver line-up saved them from being embarrassed by Red Bull. It’s no shame to have the second best car, but that isn’t what Formula One is all about. And therein lies a problem with McLaren. They haven’t won the Constructors Championship since 1998. That’s 13 years. In that period, they have only really had the best package once – in 2007. Without Hamilton, 2008 would not have seen them win a title and in 2009, who knows what might have happened. Despite this, in all but two years, McLaren has had either the second fastest or third fastest car. But that simply isn’t good enough for a team of this calibre. In an age where cars are fairly reliable, it isn’t good enough to sit in 4th and hope the cars in front will develop some sort of problem. There is no doubt that McLaren is a competent organisation, but as a technical team, they seem to have been lacking over the past decade. For Hamilton’s sake, let’s hope they improve. But if things don’t improve, what could happen?

It’s telling that in the same week where he signed a deal will Simon Fuller’s XIX company to manage his career, Hamilton came out and said that one title for him wasn’t good enough and that he needs more in order to attain the legendary status he demands. If, for example, McLaren have a bad season, where could he go?

Ferrari would certainly be an interesting choice, that’s for sure! Going into Team Alonso would not work for Hamilton, because the team is so built around the Spaniard that Hamilton is unlikely to be given a look in. As for Red Bull, well they like to promote from inside their own organisation and Hamilton would upset that system. Nevertheless, Vettel and Hamilton in the same team would be rather tasty, wouldn’t it? Christian Horner has not ruled out signing Hamilton at some point, but the latter has recently disregarded Red Bull as ‘just a drinks company’. Even if that is arrogant, he has a point. How long will Red Bull stay in the sport? Sure, for now they are the top dog, but if in 5 years time they slump, will Mateschitz want to stick around? The only likely alternative therefore for Hamilton is Mercedes. With Schumacher set to quit at the end of 2012, there is a free seat going alongside Nico Rosberg. But would Mercedes be a huge step up from McLaren? Probably not.

Therefore the only realistic option for Hamilton is to stick it out with McLaren. But here’s the good news: even if the McLaren MP4-26 is a dud, you can sure as hell bet that Hamilton will race it to its limits.

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