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As Lewis Hamilton starts his career at Mercedes, replacing Michael Schumacher, his former team believe it was all circumstantial and that the departure was their choice as much as his. Speaking with CBI, McLaren boss Ron Dennis said that the team could have kept Lewis but felt it wasn’t the right thing to do:

“Whatever people choose to do at the end of a contractual period, the professional thing to do is to be supportive of the other side,” he says. “We don’t wish him every success at Mercedes – that’s understandable, as he’s obviously going to be a competitor – but we don’t wish him anything negative.”

“I think it’s wrong to portray that Lewis left this team. At the end of the day, you end up with a situation where you’re going to separate if the circumstances aren’t right.”

He adds: “Life isn’t about one person deciding anything. It’s never that way. It’s about circumstances. Everybody says: ‘Am I bitterly this or bitterly that?’ What? I’m a realist. Did we have the ability to create a situation where we could have stayed together? Categorically, yes. Would that have been the right thing to do? We didn’t think so.”

Fair enough. I suppose the team could have ratcheted up the salary and allowed for all the contractual desire Hamilton wanted but to do so would have been a compromise on McLaren’s part if you read between the lines and make a few assumptions. Hamilton has never know another Formula One team as his entire career has been working with the Woking-based team. His victories and failures have all had a McLaren stamp on then.

McLaren, like many teams, wants the best drivers they can get but money is an object and they have a particular way in which they want their drivers contractually obligated to the team. There is little doubt they would have liked to have kept Hamilton but Dennis is right when it comes to circumstances. How much was the team willing to give Hamilton and was it more than Mercedes could offer? Also, if you believe Hamilton’s side of the story, the deal was really motivated by the thought of trying something new…something different…a new challenge. That, in itself, is worth a lot of money if a person is truly committed to seeking new challenges.

Ultimately keeping Hamilton was going to much more expensive than the team was willing to pay and witha  tight economy, that doesn’t add up. Dennis made rumblings prior to the negotiations that Hamilton would have to lower his expectations should he wish to stay at McLaren. At this point, McLaren have to field the best drivers/car they can and they feel they have that in Jenson Button and Sergio Perez. While I think a lot of Lewis Hamilton and his skill, I am inclined to agree with Dennis that there is no indispensable man. Even Ferrari survived after Michael Schumacher and so to will McLaren after Hamilton. I also wouldn’t bet against an eventual return to McLaren for Hamilton.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • hobo

    I respectfully disagree, NC. If Lewis really wanted a new challenge then this is all academic as he likely would have left unless no other team was willing to pay. So let’s set this motivation aside for the purposes of this. It may have been a factor but from McLaren’s point of view it’s not really important.

    Ron, as McLaren’s boss, seems to have felt the need to spin this in a pro-McLaren direction and that is understandable. However, his reasoning is laughable and so are the results. Maybe Lewis wanted too much money and they would have caused a rift between the team and Jenson. Maybe keeping trophies at the team is more important than winning them in the first place. But a few million dollars a year for what Hamilton has brought them is not asking too much. If you look at how much teams earn for WC points, that could go a long way to paying for both drivers right there.

    The idea that somehow Perez is going to be cost effective for the team where Hamilton was not is, at least at the moment, ridiculous. Perez may prove to be McLaren’s Massa or (and I hate to say it) McLaren’s Webber—i.e. #2—but I personally don’t see any better than that. And why the team would back an older, slower Jenson (who, we should remember, led them down a wrong development path this year) over a younger and better performing Hamilton is beyond me. And I’m not even a Hamilton supporter.

    Ferrari pushed Schumacher out and have suffered since. (Yes, a lucky Brazil and unlucky Brazil, some bad years and some close runs for Alonso is suffering considering the years prior. In my estimation anyway.) McLaren likely will be in the hunt with good cars and maybe a WDC competitor but I think in terms of the WCC and overall, they will be worse off for this move.

    • All good points, mate. I think Ron is putting a spin on it but in true Ron-speak, decisions are always ripe with circumstances. I mean all decisions can be parsed that way in a battle of words and contracts. Sure, they could have offered Lewis $100m and he most likely would have stayed but in the end, was McLaren really motivated to up the salary and relax the personal sponsor clause? Apparently not.

      I do agree that Lewis finishing at the front would be money in the bank so Perez has a lot to prove but that assumes we feel Perez is the direct replacement for Lewis. I submit that Jense is the actual Lewis replacement and to those ends, that may not be a bad choice. Given the car, Jenson can win titles so that’s good. :)

      • hobo

        I agree with what you’re saying. But if Jenson is the new Lewis then I think that they did the team a disservice as he is not quite as good in my estimation. And Perez, though I’m fine with being very wrong on this, does not seem to me to be the best choice. They could have had a lot of drivers, why they went with him is a bit baffling to me.

        I would disagree that Jense can win titles, though, as he’s been all but unable to put the MPx cars on pole.

        Enjoy the topics and discussion you provide here, as always.

        • Hmmm. I think time will tell on Perez. I think there is something special about him. He’s got pace for sure. As for Jense, it’s purely my opinion. Nothing more. I think you’re right that he’s not a direct replacement of Lewis, because Hamilton is awesomely quick. No question about it. But there is a complete package in Jenson that really appeals to me. He’s got a great head and race craft and that accounts for a lot in F1.

          • Vivek

            I think we are probably doing an injustice to Jenson. He is a world champion and on his day can be the very best. Remember how he overtook Lewis in Brazil this year? And how much feel he had for the wet there?
            This year his problem was warming up of front tyres. According to Pirelli, that wont be much of an issue next year. And as you said in a blog post, McLaren have only one person’s input this year, which may be a great advantage.
            RedBull without Double DRS is going to be losing all the qualifying advantage it had. And McLaren also have a good couple of tenths straight from altering their nose cone.

            So According to me, 2013 means Jenson + McLaren = Magic.
            He’ll be champion next year and you heard it here first.

          • hobo

            Vivek, Jenson is clearly a good driver, but my contention is that in terms of development and race pace I’d rather have Lewis than Jenson. Again, I’m not a Hamilton guy, nor a Button hater.

            Going off his best five seasons—2004 and 2009-2012—here is what I see. 2004 may have been his best year, in my opinion. In a solid car he was third behind the dominant Ferraris, but still 63pts off of MSC.

            2009, while he was champion, it was clearly the car. After 7 podiums and 6 wins in the first seven races, he proceeded to have 0 wins and only 2 podiums. His teammate (same car) had 2 wins and 3 podiums, and everyone in places 2-6 of the WDC had more podiums than him. He may have shut it down at the end of the season but following his 6th win he went 6th, 5th, 7th, 7th.

            I understand that every champion has a good car, and many have great cars. But this was very skewed.

            2010, finished 5th in the WDC despite having the same or fewer DNFs as everyone in front. Fewer podiums than his teammate. Not a horrible year but not great.

            2011, finished 2nd in the WDC, but it didn’t really matter as it was 122 pts back. Consistent year. But when someone is as far ahead as Vettel, it doesn’t really matter. Barrichello would be a multiple world champion without MSC in the way.

            2012, behind his teammate and with fewer wins and podiums than Lewis despite a 2 to 5 DNF edge. At least part of McLaren’s woes were Jenson’s doing with a wrong development path.

            Again, I think he is a really good driver. Has proven he belongs in F1 or any other top tier he wants. However, I don’t think his WDC was based on driver ability, and if i could wager on your bet I would. He won’t be WDC this year and I’d bet he won’t get a second before he retires. I’d be fine to be proven wrong as he seems like a good guy and I like that he’s on the grid. Personally I just don’t see it.

      • Cona

        Here we go again…Ron’s ego is as big as planet Earth. This kind of talk is typical of sour grapes in the air. Ron, like any other competitor, resents being the loser in any kind of situation, let alone in the whole Lewis/Mercedes saga thing, a driver which he had discovered, invested a lot of money in and nurtured throughout the years at McLaren. He thought he could have his pet on a leash and control it as much as he wanted at his own pleasure…guess what, it backfired big time, now is just his backside doing the talking.
        Throughout the years he lost Senna, Mansell, Newey, his wife and now LW. Unfortunately as the years go by he’s becoming a very sad isolated man surround by puppets he can control with a nice tight grip around their necks..
        As for Jenson, definitely he’s a World class driver,but I can only see him winning another WC, if he has a dominant car like in 2009, I cannot see him winning in a season as competitive as we have seen this year, with an Alonso, Kimi, Vettel and Lewis for that matter in competitive cars, all fighting for victories throughout the year between themselves…in the case of Perez, I hope McLaren has a good supply of front wings in stock for 2013, they are going to need it…

        • Cona

          Sorry, missed one, Alonso :)

  • We could have stayed together, but it was my choice to let them go…. Said every dumped person ever.

  • Schmorbraten

    Hamilton rejoining Mclaren – to me, the question is not if, but when. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t even see out his original contract but instead jumps into any Red Bull or Mclaren that becomes available.

  • Rik

    Perez will look better in a McLaren than Hamilton will in a Mercedes. The car plays far to much of a role in the success of a driver. Look at Hamilton’s year in 2012. He was quick in places and slow in other places (Japan for example Perez was trying to get around him in a Sauber) Even Shumacher couldn’t make the Mercedes work and he turned out to be a far better racer than Nico even though he could not get the car to qualify (he was what 50-50 to Nico in 2012) he still pounded around in the 8-12 position through out much of the year. Mercedes is not going to be able to change that over night and Hamilton cannot make that much of a difference to matter.

    Meanwhile back at McLaren, Perez will reap the benefit of McLaren having found their ass in the later stages of 2012 and he will have a damn good car under him which he will be fighting at the front in. Button lacks aggressiveness; Perez might to a degree also but McLaren will push some into him as will Carlos Slimm! If Perez can get the car to qualify well he will be a star in 2013 and Hamilton’s selfish needs will make him green with envy for leaving a faster car.

  • Rapierman

    This sounds like they departed on amicable terms. Maybe, some day, Hamilton might return if things aren’t working out. We’ll see how it goes.

  • JPS

    Do not agree with those statements !
    Perez is certainly not the good choice, he crashes more than he should, and does not seem to be the
    one helping engineers to create a better car…
    And Hamilton will be the number 1 at Mercedes, and he seemed to need that, he will help to improve the car,
    and will find a new motivation ! Maybe not so much victories at the beginning, but the feeling of a new start,
    a new challenge.

  • peterriva

    Let’s go back to the beginning of the “end of the contract” conversation. EVERY contract negotiated by an agent belongs VIA that agent. If the contract had been renewed (not torn up and renegotiated, that was never said by either side), the new agents would have asked Hamilton for their % from his % and presumably his father would have also been paid as normal.
    I think the deal here was simple, move him and start a new contract. Convince Hamilton he can sit in Schumi’s seat with the weight of Mercedes behind him… then Haug left and perhaps, I say perhaps, things don’t look so rosey for Hamilton – can you imagine Nikki Lauda advising him? (“Sit in the damn car and drive, stop whining.”).
    Could McLaren have made this “new deal” work? Sure, by paying off the previous agent – Hamilton’s dad – and there was no way Ron wanted to do that, they parted poorly.

  • raithrover

    Glorious way to kick off 2013 with some classic Ron-speak from the ubermeister himself. How did the chat go in McLaren HQ – Lewis isn’t for us anymore? Lets ditch this former champion who has delivered consistent results in variable cars for this young Mexican who has some promise but remains unfulfilled.

    I’ll have what Ron is drinking. Clearly it is a cask strength whisky.

    I don’t see the benefit in all of these messages coming out of McLaren about Lewis. It’s they who are burning the bridges with their former protégé. Why not wait until the season unfolds and then you can come out with such comments, if things are going your way. When you’ve replaced him with what many see as a rushed knee-jerk decision, the jury is out on McLaren. Not Lewis.

    • Cona

      PMSL!! “I’ll have what Ron is drinking. Clearly it is a cask strength whisky.”
      Seriously, only Ron knows which fuses are missing inside of that bold head of his…2013 will be another epic championship. I suspect Lotus will be even stronger than last year together with the usual suspects, plus a surprise or two, one definitely coming from Sauber and Hulkenberg.
      Macca & Co will have no chance against the current line of opposition driving for the rival teams, providing the level of competitiveness between the teams remains the same as last year…
      I’m afraid the final nail in the coffin for McLaren, was the brilliant decision of letting Lewis join a rival team…. :)