Lewis Hamilton has won seven F1 drivers’ World Championships; claimed 98 pole positions and has 95 race victories. However, in a recent interview with Mercedes’ sponsor Crowdstrike on the ‘Uncovering the Formula For Success’ podcast, Hamilton, as yet unsigned for 2021, shared his apprehension of the time. When Hamilton announced in 2012 that he would leave McLaren to join Mercedes the following year, he did so while being usure whether he would win a race again.
This past week recorded the 8th anniversary of Lewis Hamilton’s first day when he moved to Mercedes from McLaren in 2013. The Briton was hired to replace 7-time F1 Drivers’ World Champion, Michael Schumacher, at the Brackley-based outfit. Now as we approach the start of the 2021 F1 season, Lewis Hamilton has matched Michael Schumacher’s 7 titles and continued breaking records along the way.
For its success, Formula One though is a team sport and team’s need sponsors to survive. As such, sponsors in return benefit from having an association with a successful team. Lewis Hamilton’s recent revelations came on the podcast of one of the team’s sponsors – Crowdstrike. This cybersecurity company only started in 2011 and now is one of the sponsors for the most successful Formula One team of all time. A further example of a lot of success in a short amount of time.
The ‘Uncovering the Formula for Success’ podcast started with Lewis Hamilton, as is customary, paying tribute to those around him:
“Thank you, it’s been a remarkable journey with this team and I think what we’ve achieved, it’s mind-blowing. It’s going to take some time, still, it’s going to take months for it to properly sink in…I’m really proud of everyone and incredibly honoured and grateful to be a part of this journey.”
Due to the fact that Lewis Hamilton has driven the best car on the grid for the majority of the past 10 years, many view his success as lucky.
“I never use the word luck, of course you need fortune along the way it’s a tough business already just to get into racing…when I joined this [Mercedes] team everyone said this was the worst decision I could ever make, your career’s over and…we’ve just won seven world titles in a row.”
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and clearly Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes brought him and his team extraordinary success. Nevertheless, this success was never guaranteed and Hamilton reflected on the risk that was involved when he chose to make the leap from McLaren (the team he won the Driver’s title with in 2008) to Mercedes for 2013.
Before Lewis Hamilton joined Mercedes, there was no clear indication to think that a team which had scored a single Grand Prix victory in its past three years since making a return to the F1 grid would become the most successful F1 constructor of all time.
However, Lewis Hamilton embarked on his Mercedes adventure nonetheless because the Briton wanted to make history building a new team into something special.
“I’d been with McLaren since I was 13 so it was my family and I was very safe there, I was well taken care of, but I think, McLaren had this amazing history, they had multiple championships, they were super-successful and I felt that I wasn’t necessarily helping build something. It was already an illustrious team, it already had all that success. It had the biggest cabinet of trophies and I wanted to go somewhere where I could help, could be a big part of building something.
“When I joined this [Mercedes] team, it didn’t have many trophies in the cabinet. You know, it was on the way up, it was growing, it was building. There was more people coming. And I was like, I want to go somewhere and see if I can utilise everything I’ve learned in all these years, the privilege of working at McLaren, can I apply that, those learnings to a team that’s not being very successful to becoming successful.”
However, Lewis Hamilton fully believes that had he stayed in the McLaren ranks, he would still only have a single F1 Drivers’ World Championship to his name.
“For sure there was moments when I was like, geez, I don’t know when I’m going to win again. I had to really analyse a lot of the pros and cons. But for me, taking the risk…Senna used to say ‘if you’re not going for a gap, you’re no longer racing driver’. I think if you’re not taking risks in life, then you’re standing still. So I could have stayed there.”
“In hindsight, you look at if I had stayed [at McLaren], I wouldn’t have another championship to my name. I would still be a one-time world champion after 14 years.”
As brave a decision as it was, Lewis Hamilton also knows he has key people to thank for their guidance in him making such a bold move.
“So, you know, things happen for a reason, one way or another,” Hamilton said. “And I’m really, really grateful that I took that step. I took that leap of faith. It’s thanks to people like Niki – rest his soul – and to Ross [Brawn] and to Mercedes for truly believing in me.”
As much as Mercedes believes in him, Lewis Hamilton also believes in his team and that includes every member working so hard at the factory to give him the best car possible.
“I was really fortunate when I was younger to McLaren and I did my work experience there and I saw the people in the background making the gear ratios and finishing the exhaust…For me I understood that there is the large group of people in the background. They are all the unsung heroes…it brings so much warmth to my heart…we’ve had almost unimaginable reliability and it is down to all those people doing their job.”
Mercedes has indeed produced the most reliable car and the most reliable engine on track. Nevertheless, one cannot help but wonder whether had Red Bull Racing experienced the same reliability over the last two seasons - would the story be different?
Either way, for 2021, Red Bull Racing is certainly going to be a bigger threat to Mercedes. The Milton Keynes based team now has the might of Sergio Perez partnering Max Verstappen. As a result of this, surely Mercedes must retain the services of Lewis Hamilton if they wish to stay at the top.
Already, many an F1 fan fully expects Lewis Hamilton to claim a record breaking 8th F1 Drivers’ Championship. However, to claim such a title at Mercedes, the Briton first needs to be sat in one of the team’s cars on the grid.
As of now, Lewis Hamilton is still yet to sign a contract and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team Principal Toto Wolff told Austrian TV how the process is progressing:
“The lawyers are working hard. We don't make life easy for them, of course, when we both argue over Zoom and keep sending curveballs to the lawyers…but [Hamilton is] in America now and I'm here [in Austria]. At some point we will finalise it. It's how it is with negotiations. You always come from different corners, but that's quite normal.
"We have a really solid basis in our relationship. We have celebrated great successes together and want to continue doing so in the future. But sometimes you have to talk things out in detail, and that took, or still takes us, some time…It [should be sorted] before Bahrain at the latest – you have to sign something at some point!” he said.
“We know we want to race together. And now we have to negotiate the contract,” Wolff concluded.
As talented a driver as Lewis Hamilton is and as brave he was in his decision making all those years ago, the 7-time F1 Drivers’ Championship title holder clearly appreciates the difference Mercedes has had on his career. For without a Silver Arrows beneath him – what a very different future it could have been.