It’s been a while hasn’t it, since we had a true bad guy in Formula One? Of course recently we’ve had the the frustration of Maldonado and his every increasing tally of penalties, or Grosjean and his first lap drama in Spa. Incidents like this tend to unite the community, rather than divide it.
Enter Lewis Hamilton. Since the tender age of fourteen the McLaren wonder boy, hand raised by Ron Dennis into a world of fast cars, flashing bulbs and big deals. Since the departure of Heikki Kovalainen, and his replacement by 2009 World Champion; Jenson Button, the Woking outfit became a team all Brits could have faith in. On paper it was an incredible coup, two recent World Champions, a reliable car with a competent, world class team behind it? What could go wrong?
It has been four years since Lewis’s last lap charge around ‘that’ corner at Interlagos, while the Massa family jumped for joy in the Ferrari garage. What has he achieved? Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have taken the sport to it’s current point and Lewis appears to have achieved little to nothing to emulate his past successes.
It was without surprise then, when I was rudely woken by a noisy fiance at 6.00am, that I read the initial tweets about Lewis jumping ship to the ‘real’ Silver Arrows. So began the shocked comments, voiced dismay and eventual altercations in the aftermath of his 10.30am announcement.
The problem with the Formula One fan community, is it thinks that they can make a difference. Sadly they’re wrong. This isn’t the Camp Nou, you can’t join the McLaren fan club with any hope of making the decisions. This sport is run by money and success, and the unhealthy, unpredictable relationship they share. Lewis Hamilton will not stay at McLaren just because a grandstand full of red cap wearing members of the public stamp their feet and pout. He is in this business for the wins and the pay cheque. At McLaren the winner’s champagne has gone flat, and the trophy’s – however many he can scrape out of the 2012 season, – will mean nothing if that ever elusive World Driver Championship win doesn’t come his way.
So what’s in it for him? Why not stay where he is? The money is the same, we all heard Martin Whitmarsh speak about an offer which matched Mercedes challenge. The car is good, both drivers are winning.. wait. Both drivers are winning? Ohhh.. yes, there’s a problem. Nothing like a competitive team mate to keep one of a driver’s eyes on his back. Fernando Alonso doesn’t have that problem, and look at how he’s slicing up the points. As McLaren have already proved with the nightmare pairing of Prost and Senna, two number ones isn’t really that great for business. Felipe Massa may well lose his saddle on that prancing horse, but you can damn well expect the next guy to be just as meek and helpful. Fernando will always be faster than you.
So Lewis will bounce Herr Schumacher out of Mercedes. It’s not a bad thing, the old boy’s seen better race days, and I’m sure he’d agree it’s time to drive an armchair. He can’t hurt anyone with one of those. Rosberg will make a much more suitable side-kick for Lewis, he know’s what it’s like to win, but unlike other first time winner Pastor Maldonado, hasn’t tarnished his reputation with a series of unprofessional faux pas. Nico has his head back down, working hard for his team. Lewis has worked with him before in GP2, and was practically overcome with happiness to see the German win. They’re friends already, but how long will that last?
Which brings me to the fans. I myself? I don’t give two hoots where he goes, along as he works hard and achieves. I am his fan as long as he ‘goes for the gap‘, as Ayrton Senna would say, and when he no longer tries, I will forget him as easily as I did Jacques Villeneuve. The fans seem to think otherwise, there is real-life anger and resentment at this choice. They believe him to have betrayed them, their team and their country! He’s signed for the Germans, my goodness, get the tins hats out, it’s bloody World War III! When the dust settles, and they realise that with Sergio Perez in a race winning car their Sundays are even more exciting, they won’t even remember this week.