Another GP and yet another disappointing result for both Lewis Hamilton and McLaren. Having started the year with the fastest car, McLaren’s pace has steadily dropped off. This has been most apparent in the performances of Jenson Button. He has scored just 7 points in the last 6 races and already appears to be out of the championship running. It is quite a surprise given his stellar season last year, indeed, many people had picked him as their championship favourite this time around.
Now, Hamilton is a different matter entirely. Despite the struggles with the car, he has managed to cope admirably in recent races and even won in Canada. Hamilton has always been able to push the limits of a relatively slow car, something he has had to do more than he would like in recent seasons. He is able to tip toe on the limits of grip, squeezing every inch out of the car’s capabilities. He is famed for his breathtaking overtaking maneuvers but, in recent seasons, his tenacious defending has become more and more apparent.
With the new regulations which have made overtaking much easier, Hamilton certainly seems to put up much more of a fight than most. This was on show in the closing stages of the race in Valencia, with his tyres wearing quickly and Pastor Maldonado bearing down on him he gave the Venezuelan nothing as he fought to ensure a well deserved 4th place. That he crashed out of the race with 2 laps to go was an unfortunate by-product of his gritty defence and certainly wasn’t his fault.
If I had to sum up Hamilton’s season so far in one word it would have to be ‘unlucky’. He has had bad luck with his pit stops, he was unlucky when he grabbed pole in Barcelona but was demoted due to not having enough fuel and he was unlucky in Valencia.
So, the question is, will Hamilton feel a change of team might instigate a change of luck? The driver market ‘silly season’ is in full flow as speculation as to where drivers will be next year ramps up. Hamilton holds the key to all the doors. There are potential seats at Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, whilst McLaren will of course be fighting hard to renew his contract.
Mark Webber is on a year-by-year contract and there is a growing feeling within F1 that he will take Felipe Massa’s Ferrari seat next season. If so, that would create an enticing opportunity for Hamilton. A chance to race in probably the fastest car overall this season and certainly the fastest in the previous two seasons. More importantly, Red Bull have a certain Adrian Newey in their employment and, in the last 20 years, the trend has been for his cars to be the fastest.
I think it could be the presence of Newey which might persuade Hamilton to part with the team he has been with since he took the karting world by storm as a boy. Also, Red Bull are in a position to offer Hamilton a much more attractive payment deal as Martin Whitmarsh has admitted Hamilton will almost certainly have to take a pay cut in order to stay with the team.
The presence of Alonso at Ferrari should mean a seat there will not happen whilst I don’t think Mercedes have shown enough pace potential to be able to turn Hamilton’s eye. It seems to be a straight shoot-out between Red Bull and McLaren, that is, if Red Bull want him. They already have one of the fastest drivers in the world in Vettel and there could be fears that sparks might fly between their golden boy and Hamilton.
It is widely believed that Vettel, however, has a 2014 pre-contract with Ferrari which will be a worry to Red Bull and the opportunity to bring in a driver of Hamilton’s calibre may be too good an opportunity to turn down.
McLaren will be desperate to turn their form around, both for their championship prospects this season and for the next few years after that. For without Hamilton, as Button has proved, things are about as rosy as the campsites of Silverstone.