McLaren confirm Hamilton departure
McLaren have confirmed that Lewis Hamilton is to leave the team and Sergio Perez will partner Jenson Button in 2013.
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 24/03/13 1:39pm
McLaren have confirmed that Lewis Hamilton is to leave the team for Mercedes at the end of the season.
After months of speculation, Hamilton's departure for Mercedes was made official with the confirmation that 22-year-old Sergio Perez will switch from Sauber to partner Jenson Button in 2013.
But the promotion of Perez into the sport's elite pales alongside the news that Hamilton has decided to leave McLaren, who have backed his career since the age of 13. Not since Michael Schumacher - who Hamilton will replace at Mercedes next season - opted to quit Benetton for Ferrari has F1 witnessed such a stunning transfer.
"It is now time for me to take on a new challenge," said Hamilton. "I am very excited to begin a new chapter racing for Mercedes.Together, we can grow and rise to this new challenge. I believe that I can help steer the Silver Arrows to the top and achieve our joint ambitions of winning the world championships."
The 27-year-old has signed a three-year deal, believed to be worth approximately £45m over its duration, and though he will replace Schumacher as Nico Rosberg's team-mate next season, it remains to be seen if Hamilton's appointment will signal Schumacher's second - and permanent - retirement from the sport. The seven-times World Champion reacted to news of Hamilton's switch with customary defiance on Friday and, although unlikely, it is certainly feasible that he could replace Perez at Sauber.
For the time being, however, the focus remains on Hamilton and the wisdom of a decision that will be widely considered a gamble.
In a statement, McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh declared: "Our thanks to Lewis. He wrote a huge chapter of his life and career with us, and was, and always will be, a fine member of an exclusive club: the McLaren world champions' club.
"It goes without saying that we all wish him well for the future, just as it also goes without saying that we hope and believe that Sergio, too, will become a member of that exclusive club before too long."
Though the team are putting on a brave face to the news, Hamilton's departure will be a shattering blow to their morale - not least because of the heightened expectation in the past week that he would, after months of speculation predicting his exit, ultimately decide to stay.
Equally painfully, there appears to be no logical reason for Hamilton's departure given that McLaren have won three of the last four grands prix - and would have won all four but for Hamilton's retirement from the lead of Sunday's race at Singapore. By pertinent comparison, Mercedes have won just a solitary race since returning to the sport as a fully-fledged team three years ago.
Yet Hamilton has cut an increasingly disenchanted figure at McLaren in recent months and the lure of a fresh challenge at Mercedes has seemingly proved irresistible. Although it is understood that McLaren were willing to match the remuneration package on offer at Mercedes, it's thought that Mercedes were prepared to give the 27-year-old greater commercial freedom.
A critical sporting factor may have been at play too. "Engine performance in 2014 could be such a large determinator in how fast your car is such are the reg changes," observed Sky Sports F1's David Croft as he reflected on the news. "To drive for a team that manufactures their own engines [which Mercedes will do] could be advantageous."
In the immediate term, Hamilton could yet depart McLaren as the reigning World Champion and his interactions with the team will be as closely scrutinised in the Suzuka paddock next weekend as they have been for the last two months.
For their part, the team have pledged to give their former protégé - as he must now be considered - their full support over the remaining six races of the season.
"We remain absolutely committed to fighting for, and providing every opportunity to both Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton to contest, the 2012 drivers' and Constructors' World Championships," a McLaren statement declared.
Nonetheless, it is hard to believe that Hamilton's exit will not result in a weakening of resolve, although McLaren's own hopes of landing the Constructors' Championship for the first time since the turn of the century remain largely dependent on Hamilton's form over the remaining half-dozen events.
For the time being, they still need him as much as he needs them - a temporary marriage of convenience that, in less than two months' time, is now certain to end in a painful divorce.