Lewis Hamilton quits McLaren for Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton is to leave McLaren after signing a three-year deal with Mercedes that may have also have ended the career of Michael Schumacher.
The speculation that Hamilton would leave McLaren, the team that had a nurtured him from a 13-year-old kart driver, had been growing in the past month along with the driver’s demands and disenchantment with his position.
There were few teams which seemed to have both the potential and the finances to accommodate the Briton, the 2008 world champion. But Mercedes have put a three-year deal together, starting next season, worth a reputed £60million.
This was in contrast to the offer from McLaren's who instead wanted to cut the 27-year-old's salary by a third from £10million to around £6.75million which would have put him on a par with teammate Jenson Button.
The switch by Hamilton has produced the usual domino effect with the first to suffer being Schumacher, the seven-times world champion, who has been dumped by Mercedes. At this point it is not clear whether the German legend will now go back into retirement or look for another team, but there may not be a seat available in a team he would deem worthy of his status.
Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren principal, had taken a public stance that he was comfortable with the way that negotiations had been advancing with Hamilton over new contract. But it seems clear that the team had been formulating a fall-back position which sees Sergio Perez, the Sauber driver, signed as Hamilton's replacement and kept to a diplomatic response when he said that the driver had written "a huge chapter of his life and career with us", adding: "It goes without saying that we all wish him well for the future."
Hamilton had kept silent on the issue in recent days but there was speculation that he would make a decision ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix next weekend where he will attempt to close the gap on Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who is the current leader of this year’s driver’s championship.
"It is now time for me to take on a fresh challenge and I am very excited to begin a new chapter," he was quoted by bbc.co.uk. "Mercedes-Benz has such an incredible heritage in motorsport, along with a passion for winning which I share. "Together, we can grow and rise to this new challenge. I believe that I can help steer the Silver Arrows to the top and achieve our joint ambitions of winning the world championships."
The acquisition of Hamilton, who will partner Nico Rosberg, will be seen as a coup by Mercedes, whose team principal, Ross Brawn, said: "I believe that the combination of Lewis and Nico will be the most dynamic and exciting pairing on the grid next year and I am looking forward to what we can achieve together.
"Over the past three years, we have been putting in place the foundations and building blocks that are needed to compete regularly for the world championship. The potential is now there to match any other team on the grid."
Turning that potential into grands prix victories and world championships is, it has been said by those closest to Hamilton, what is taking him to Mercedes rather than simply the lure of the money that will flow in through personal sponsorships and endorsements.
McLaren have the fastest car this season while Mercedes have slipped backwards but the German team have sold Hamilton a vision of the future when they are preparing for a major revamp in 2014, when new chassis and engine rules are introduced.
"Mercedes-Benz has supported Lewis throughout his career, from karting, to Formula Three, to our successful partnership with McLaren," Norbert Haug, vice president of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport said.
"It will be a very nice moment for all of us in the team to see him at the wheel of a works Silver Arrow next season, following in the tradition of British Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix drivers Sir Stirling Moss and Richard Seaman."
The position of Schumacher is unclear, although he could fill the vacant slot at Sauber, but for the present he confined himself to a statement in which he thanked Mercedes for their "trust" and "unconditonal commitment".
"I have had three nice years with the team which unfortunately did not go as well as we all would have wanted on the sporting side," he said. "I wish Lewis well and for the team to achieve the success we worked so hard for in the build-up. I will now concentrate on the next races."
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Ferrari have announced that they are going to unveil their new car for the 2013 season on February 1st.
McLaren have announced that they will have no favouritism towards one particular driver in the 2013 season.
McLaren’s latest recruit Sergio Perez has revealed that he is not at the Woking-based constructors to make up the numbers and will be looking to challenge for the world title.