London: An offer from McLaren which would have made Lewis Hamilton the best paid driver in Formula One was still not enough to prevent the Briton joining Mercedes, team boss Martin Whitmarsh said on Friday.
While no figures have been divulged by either party, British media reports have suggested the 2008 world champion could be in line for a salary of £15 million a year at Mercedes.
Asked whether McLaren had done everything to convince the 27-year-old to stay, Whitmarsh indicated to reporters on a conference call that money was not the main issue.
“We didn’t agree terms with Lewis’ management therefore Lewis and his management team have decided to go elsewhere,” he said.
“We have made a financial offer which is better than anyone in Formula One, other than himself, receives today, and that is something that I am comfortable with.
“I know we made a very, very big financial offer, bigger than I believe any Formula One driver is enjoying today,” he added.
Hamilton has been with McLaren, or backed by McLaren, throughout his career through the junior ranks and into Formula One in 2007 although Mercedes were also the team’s partners and co-owners at that point.
McLaren have not won a constructors’ title since 1998 but have been regular challengers whereas Mercedes have just one win, in China this year, after taking over the title-winning Brawn GP team in 2009.
Asked whether he felt Hamilton was making a mistake, Whitmarsh replied: “I wouldn’t advise anyone to leave McLaren if they want to win. But I’ve got to respect Lewis’ decision and really wish him well.”
Friday’s announcement of Hamilton’s switch for 2013, on a three-year deal, ended a long-running saga that has obsessed the paddock since the start of the season.
Yet Whitmarsh said the breakthrough had happened suddenly in the last few days after Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prfix, where the body language from McLaren and Hamilton appeared to indicate he would be staying put.
“We found out finally two days ago,” said Whitmarsh, who took a telephone call from Hamilton who was somewhere in Asia. He added that he believed he was the first person the driver had told.
At that point, McLaren moved swiftly to secure Sauber’s Mexican Sergio Perez as Hamilton’s replacement. The team had been closely monitoring his performances for some months, he added.
Hamilton’s departure breaks up the ‘dream team’ of him and 2009 champion Jenson Button but Whitmarsh said there were some sponsors who wanted a less British feel to the line-up and that had counted against other candidates such as Scottish driver Paul di Resta.
“For some of our partners to have a European and a Latin in our team is very appealing,” he said. “You’ll never please everyone, of course, but…clearly we have a broader appeal now.”
Perez has been backed throughout his career by Carlos Slim Domit, eldest son of the world’s richest man and head of telecoms giant Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex).
Whitmarsh said he had spoken to Slim on Thursday and the Mexican had been very supportive of Perez moving to McLaren despite the team having telecoms company Vodafone as their title sponsors.
Vodafone do not have a presence in Mexico.
“They (Telmex) understand that we have a partnership with Vodafone and they are respectful of that. We have selected Sergio because we think he is one of the best talents in Formula One,” said Whitmarsh.
“There are a lot of people who have supported Sergio and they are excited by the prospect of Sergio joining a great team like McLaren and they did not want to stand in his way and we are grateful for their support in the past.
“Going forward, we have got an exciting young Mexican who can add a new dimension to this team and to the sport.”