Can Hamilton do a Schumi by reviving a struggling team?

The official announcement confirming Lewis Hamilton’s departure from McLaren has finally brought to an end speculation and gossip regarding his future with the team. The fact that Hamilton hadn’t extended his contract during the summer was a clear indication that he was unsure about extending his stay in the team with which he has been associated since the start of his Formula One career. With Hamilton joining Mercedes from next year, both he and McLaren will embark on a new era.

Hamilton has shared a strong bond with McLaren since 2007, when, even as a 22-year-old rookie, he enjoyed equal status as that of his teammate Fernando Alonso, who had joined the team on the back of his brilliant back-to-back championship winning feat. That the team bosses backed Hamilton even if it meant it antagonised a star like Alonso at the end of that acrimonious year, showed what Hamilton meant to the team.

After missing out narrowly on winning the championship in his first year, Hamilton made amends in 2008 and became a world champion. It was the first time that McLaren had won the title since Mika Hakkinen in 1999. Expectedly, the Hamilton-McLaren combination was expected to win more titles. However, the exact opposite happened. Hamilton has not only had a title drought since then but in the past three years, he hasn’t even finished second best.

This year too, he has had a season of fluctuating fortunes. Mechanical failures and some pit stop mistakes have cost him points which could prove decisive in this year’s championship.

Hamilton's decision to join Mercedes — a team that has failed to deliver for the past three years is a brave one. AP

Just last week in Singapore, the gearbox failure in his car meant he returned empty handed in a race he should have easily won. Perhaps, the fatigue of being with the same team and not winning anything since 2008 seems to have played a big rôle in Hamilton’s decision.

Also, unlike 2008 and 2009, Hamilton has had to contend with another talented driver and world champion as his teammate for the past three seasons. Many had predicted that Jenson Button would get overshadowed by Hamilton in the team. On the contrary, Button has not only been as good as Hamilton, but last year, his performance was several notches above his
teammate. The fact that Hamilton was no longer the number one driver in the team, could have been one of the factors that could have had an indirect bearing on his decision.

At Mercedes, he is clearly the star driver, though the team has announced that both Hamilton and Rosberg will enjoy equal status.

Of course, Hamilton could have continued driving for McLaren as the team was keen on retaining him. His decision to join a team that has failed to deliver for the past three years is therefore, a brave one. Yet, at the same time, he now has an opportunity to change the fortunes of a struggling team. If he wins a championship with Mercedes, it will greatly exalt his status, something that happened to Schumacher a decade or so ago.

Before joining Ferrari in 1996, Schumacher was a double world champion with Benetton. His decision to join Ferrari was a bit surprising since the Italian team was not a title contender in the mid 1990s. However, Schumacher led Ferrari to an unprecedented championship run from 2000 to 2004. It was this chapter that made the German driver the greatest of all time. Also, Schumacher was the last driver to have won the championship with two different teams.