March 11 2014 Latest news:
Michael Bailey, Formula One correspondent
Thursday, October 4, 2012
No doubt about the one and only story to dominate Formula One since it broke, and until the cars start qualifying in Japan on Saturday.
"If you win one race and then you are nowhere, that’s not what we want… We are at the front, gaining experience and holding our competitiveness"
It’s been some time since we had a drivers’ switch as big as the one confirmed last week: Lewis Hamilton ditching his boyhood team from next season and stepping into Michael Schumacher’s seat at Mercedes, with Sergio Perez switching to McLaren.
And to think, even without all that I was already looking forward to the prospect of next year.
Never mind 2013, it certainly stokes up the remaining races in 2012.
That will be what everyone watches out for this weekend – the dynamics between Lewis, current McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, Perez and then Mercedes, as well as beyond.
• GW – Alain Prost: The French four-times world champion got to drive the Red Bull RB6 and Renault R30 this week – and could be in line to help test Renault’s 2014 engines.
• BW – Michael Schumacher: May find himself being retired by Hamilton’s Mercedes switch; Jenson Button: Will be hurt by a five-place grid penalty in Japan for a gearbox change.
Hamilton has the experience and, at 27 the time on his side, to play the long game. That is exactly what he hopes comes off with his new three-year deal at Brackley.
It’s not about the money, say Mercedes – as they would. Maybe not in terms of his contract, but the offer of a higher international profile will lead to more of it in the end.
And arguably, it’s not about the championship next season.
No, Lewis is playing for 2014 – when new engine rules should shake up the field, and when Mercedes plan to be the sport’s leading light.
In fact, if you listen to Mercedes motorsport chief Norbert Haug, you’d think it was always supposed to be a Merc, rather than a McLaren, for Hamilton.
“Lewis is not a new guy for us – we learnt Lewis via our partner McLaren,” he told Autosport.
“We financed him 50-50 with McLaren in his junior career. In Formula Three Lewis won 15 of his 20 races, all with Mercedes engines. All his Formula One victories were with Mercedes engines. And we have been paying for his retainer with McLaren.
“He’s already a member of the Mercedes family. He knows us, he trusts us. We have signed him now and now we need to present ourselves on the racetrack.
“That’s what we’re not currently doing in a good enough manner. You can trust us that we are working on that very intensively.”
Maybe the announcement was always planned to come after the race in Singapore – but given the gearbox failure that all but ended Hamilton’s drivers’ title hopes, there might be more to it than simple coincidence.
In a way, there is more to it now anyway. There will be more eyes watching intensely every move by every party – both on and off track – as the fall-out, and maybe reinventions, starts to take to the public arena.
We can all have a stab at who we think the winners and losers are now – and some will win or lose before others.
But this is Lewis’ move and for the final answer on that one, we will have to wait another 18 months – whatever happens in the preceding 17.
• Firstly, as Formula One heads to Suzuka it’s worth taking a moment to think about how much of the season is still to run.
South Korea, India, Abu Dhabi, a return to the USA at Austin’s new track and then the season climax at Interlagos – that is a lot of action on the horizon.
It certainly puts into context the fact it was in Japan last season that Sebastian Vettel won his second successive title – admittedly it was with four races to go, but still far too early for a competitive championship to end.
Even though this time around things are far closer, you can easily argue Fernando Alonso could take a seriously big step towards repeating Vettel’s ultimate result – and in turn, close in on becoming only the ninth driver in F1 history to earn a third title.
Even optimistically, it is only a select band who can now stop the Spaniard and his Ferrari. Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen are outsiders; Vettel – gunning for an even more impressive third-successive title – is the main man to stop Alonso.But with one retirement and two finishes outside the top five so far this season, it may be beyond Vettel’s influence anyway.
• Meanwhile, what on earth are the Greek government playing at?
It’s hard to imagine a least irrelevant thing to attempt than getting Bernie Ecclestone on side – certainly not with a view to the betterment of your country.
For the betterment of Bernie, perhaps. But not Greece.
As reported elsewhere, the EU financial trouble spot – you know the one: crippling national debts, civil unrest and an entire continent banking on its fiscal health – has somehow managed to unblock €30m for the construction of a circuit capable of hosting an F1 grand prix.
One planned for Xalandritsa, near Patras, at a final cost of €94.6m with a private company looking after the project.
The country’s latest set of spending cuts totalled €11bn.
I’m not sure now is the time for a Formula One bid…