Believe it or not, 2012 is Lewis Hamilton’s sixth season with the McLaren team. It feels like yesterday when Hamilton made his outstanding debut season, and shocked the motorsport world by nearly winning the driver’s title as a rookie. His first two seasons with the team were incredibly successful, and he created a bond between he and the team that looked unbreakable. Now, however, Hamilton seems quite fed up with the simple errors being made by his team. The bond created by Hamilton in his first two seasons, and even prior, when he was in the McLaren Young Driver Program, seems to be weakening by the Grand Prix these days.
Look at it from Hamilton’s point of view; he has every reason to complain. The combination of a high-quality team such as McLaren and a driver like Lewis Hamilton should not be hampered by tedious errors. Hamilton should be winning races, chasing after the title. Instead, he loses several positions due to slow pit stops, or starts a race from the back of the grid due to a fueling miscalculation in qualifying. The Hamilton-McLaren duo isn’t enjoying the nearly flawless success that it did in the early days of its birth.
When asked about his future with McLaren, Hamilton has been very cautious to make any definite statements. He does not skirt around the question, but leaves us with vague answers concerning his future. When asked whether he might wait until the end of the season to decide on a new contract, he answered with a simple, “Possibly. Possibly.” He claims that winning most important to him now, and he can deal with another contract later. This behavior, combined with speculation and connections to several other teams, leads many to believe that his future with the McLaren team may not extend much further.
This begs the question of whether a possible separation is mutual, or if it comes from either Hamilton or McLaren. Both Hamilton and McLaren would have excuses as to why they may wish to separate. In my opinion, Hamilton has reason more so than McLaren. This reason is simple. As stated before, Hamilton has a winning car in a top-notch team, and should therefore be fighting for victories. The team has let him down and somewhat restricted his title chase so far this season.
McLaren on the other hand, have a reason in that Hamilton has been the target of the media for quite a long time, and sometimes he reflects negatively on the team. He has criticized the team’s form, and their overall campaign. Jenson Button, on the other hand, reflects positively on the team, and is quieter about the way he expresses frustration. McLaren could be seeking another Button in their team. After all, several people said that after the 2011 season, Jenson Button was the number 1 driver in McLaren.
It is possible that the separation could be caused by an external force, meaning that Hamilton has been offered a seat at another team. The most likely vacancies for Hamilton would be Mark Webber’s Red Bull seat, Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes seat, and less likely but still possible, Felipe Massa’s Ferrari seat. There has been much speculation and several connections from Hamilton to other teams on the grid, which could mean that Hamilton has been offered a tempting contract from another top team, causing a weakening of the tie between he and McLaren.
The delay in the decision for a new contract is most likely due to Hamilton’s side of the equation. Although Hamilton can be outwardly critical of the team, or even of his own driving, he is a world class driver, and McLaren don’t really have enough of a reason to drop of him. In fact, they are rumored to have made an offer for another 5-year contract with Hamilton, showing their interest in keeping him. Hamilton does not seem to hold the same interest, unfortunately. He is not as enthusiastic about staying on with McLaren, and the ending of the current contract, combined with possible offers from other teams, has provided Hamilton with a window through which he can shift the path of his career. When commenting on Mark Webber’s speculated move to Ferrari, Alan Jones stated that a move to a new team can breathe a “fresh air” into a driver’s career, which could be exactly what Hamilton is seeking.