LEWIS HAMILTON will leave McLaren and race for the Mercedes F1 team next season after agreeing to a three-year deal that will see the Briton replace seven-time world champion MICHAEL SCHUMACHER, according to Alan Baldwin of REUTERS. McLaren announced separately that Mexican SERGIO PEREZ would partner '09 champion JENSON BUTTON in its line-up next season. Hamilton has only ever driven for McLaren but said that it was "time for a fresh challenge." Hamilton said, "Mercedes-Benz has such an incredible heritage in motorsport, along with a passion for winning, which I share" (REUTERS, 9/28). In London, Tom Cary noted that Hamilton's deal could be worth as much as $100M. Mercedes "is waiting for" its board in Stuttgart to sign off on the new Concorde Agreement, the commercial pact that binds the teams to the sport, before making an official announcement about Hamilton. The move is certain to "electrify the paddock and is likely to kick-start a merry-go-round as far as race seats for next season are concerned." Hamilton will go into the team "as a clear No. 1," racing alongside his old karting teammate and friend NICO ROSBERG (TELEGRAPH, 9/28). In Abu Dhabi, Gary Meenaghan reported Perez confirmed that he will "fill the resultant vacancy at McLaren-Mercedes." Mercedes team principal ROSS BRAWN hailed the arrival of Lewis as "testament to the standing" of the German marque. Brawn said, "The combination of Lewis and Nico will be the most dynamic and exciting pairing on the grid next year." Although Hamilton has always maintained his decision on where he would be racing would not come down to money, "it is understood Mercedes will pay him more than he was being offered at McLaren." Additionally, he will not have "more freedom to maximise his personal endorsements and sponsorships" (THE NATIONAL, 9/28).
IMPACTING THE CIRCUIT: The AFP wrote Hamilton's departure from McLaren "immediately triggered a series of other moves." Hamilton will replace Schumacher and be replaced by Perez, thus leaving a vacancy at Perez's former team Sauber, the only Swiss outfit in the sport, and a "question mark hanging over the future" of Schumacher. It also leaves Ferrari "reconsidering the identity of their favoured driver to replace struggling Brazilian FELIPE MASSA as Spaniard FERNANDO ALONSO's partner in the future, if and when Massa is released" (AFP, 9/28). The AP's John Leicester wrote Hamilton is "taking a gamble that could define his career in F1." McLaren is a team that "consistently wins races," and Mercedes believes it can become "such a team, but have yet to prove that on the track." If Mercedes is correct, Hamilton "will have made the right move." If Mercedes is wrong, however, Hamilton "will end up in F1's no-man's land, trailing other drives who are winning the world titles he so badly wants for himself." Leaving familiar surroundings behind "takes courage" and it "shows ambition." It proves that Hamilton is "prepared to test himself in a new environment, with new colleagues." Such leaps, to new jobs or to new postings "help us learn and grow," and the same "will surely be true for Hamilton" (AP, 9/30). In London, Cary wrote Hamilton's advisors, Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment, "know little about the mysteries of F1 engineering." But Hamilton will not have been "ignorant of all these facts." Do not believe those who would have you believe that "he was persuaded to move purely because of Fuller’s lust for filthy lucre." It may have "played a part — there is no doubt XIX will make more money out of him at Brackley and they may have tacitly encouraged him to make the leap — but Hamilton is a racer at heart and one with a keen sense of where he fits into the pantheon of greats." He "desperately wants more championships to cement his legacy" (TELEGRAPH, 9/29).
TIME TO MOVE ON: Also in London, David Coulthard wrote "sometimes relationships just reach their natural conclusion." You "don't live your whole life at home, even though the fridge is always full and the laundry gets done for you." At some stage, "you have to move out, grow up and become a man," and this is "that moment" for Hamilton. But "will he win a championship with Mercedes?" A win is "how he will be judged." Perhaps not considering how many championships STIRLING MOSS and GILLES VILLENEUVE won, who are "both remembered as brilliant racing drivers and iconic figures in F1 history." It is not "all about winning." It is at least as much about "the journey, about how you act and how you feel within yourself" (TELEGRAPH, 9/28). The PA reported the Mercedes Non-Exec Chair NIKI LAUDA "has revealed the role he played in luring" Hamilton to make the switch from McLaren. Lauda told BBC Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek program, "I spoke to him a couple of times, but I didn't have to convince him much. He had a clear plan and I didn't have to convince him of anything. The real discussion was, 'Why should I leave a competitive car where my life is easier in the future?' My argument was, 'If you're looking for a new challenge then frankly the Mercedes team is one.' Thinking the other way round, if Michael Schumacher could not get the Mercedes team – for three years running – up front and you next year are doing much better, this makes a huge impact on your personality and people will rate you much higher than you are rated now" (PA, 9/30). In London, Ted Macauley wrote grand prix legend JACKIE STEWART "reckons Lewis Hamilton has dropped a clanger" with his £60M ($97M) switch from McLaren to Mercedes. Stewart believes that Hamilton "owed loyalty to the team that nurtured him after discovering him karting at 13." Stewart said, "He would not be where he is today without them -- and there is a degree of loyalty which you should always have." Former team Owner EDDIE JORDAN, now a BBC TV pundit, said: "It is a big shock because everybody thought Lewis was a lifer at McLaren. His management team was probably behind the switch because they want to make him a global name, like they did with DAVID BECKHAM and the SPICE GIRLS" (DAILY STAR SUNDAY, 9/30). In Dublin, David Kennedy this is not "just about a driver who has become disillusioned with his team and wants a change of scenery." This is "a guy who has been weaned on the vapours of one of the biggest teams in F1, who was given an extraordinary lucky break when he was 13, has been nurtured, pre-programed and transplanted into the hermetically sealed world of McLaren and guided by his master's voice. Now he has "cut the proverbial umbilical cord." He has "come of age," and he is "a big lad now" who can "make his own decisions." This is like "Tom Cruise leaving Scientology." But the man who once fired his own father from the role of personal manager -- "the guided light in his son's path to fame -- is taking the next step "by extinguishing the flame of his creator." He's letting go "of the mother ship" (IRISH INDEPENDENT, 9/30). In London, Giles Richards noted JOHN WATSON, who drove for McLaren between '79 and '83, "believes that this need to develop and assert himself away from the team was a central tenet of his decision." Watson said, "When you become a McLaren driver everything about you becomes, in effect, the property of the team. McLaren are a great team to drive for but they've got limitations and I think Lewis felt those limitations were intruding into the time that he wanted to develop, from a non-motor racing perspective." He added, "Principally, I think the kid just wants to be his own person" (GUARDIAN, 9/29).
LEAVING IS A MISTAKE: McLaren CEO MARTIN WHITMARSH said, "Mercedes-Benz is a great partner of ours, and they are a great team. But anyone leaving McLaren who wants to win, I think that's a mistake because I have faith and belief in this team. Whether you measure it over the last four races, four years or 40 years, we're a fantastic team. I wouldn't advise anyone to leave McLaren if they want to win" (GULF NEWS, 9/29). Former world champion DAMON HILL said, "Lewis has been like a caged bird at McLaren. He'd been managed to within an inch of his life. I can't blame him for looking to move elsewhere. Lewis needed to leave McLaren to stretch his wings" (London DAILY MAIL, 9/29). The BBC's Andrew Benson noted Brawn has revealed that Hamilton's exit was "instigated by his representatives." Brawn said, "Lewis' management expressed interest, wanted to know what our plans were, and it grew from there. Everyone knew Lewis' contract was coming to an end this year, so things really developed from that point." He added, "Once we were able to explain what we were trying to achieve here, what our ambitions were and the things we were putting in place, I think it was the type of thing Lewis needed, or wanted, at this stage of his career" (BBC, 9/29).