The backlash had to come. This is Great Britain after all. But Lewis Hamilton didn’t exactly endear himself to his nation towards the end of 2007 – and I’m not talking about his failure to win the World Championship. Within his first year of superstardom, Lewis complained of press intrusion while being photographed at celebrity shindigs with pop stars and models, citing the pressure as his reason for emigrating to Switzerland – which also just happens to be one of the world’s most popular tax havens. Just the sort of behaviour to wind up the quick-to-judge British press and public – and this, rather than what happened on track, might well have been the deciding factor behind his runner-up placing in the BBC Sports Personality award.
Not that Hamilton will be losing sleep over any of this, of course, and rightly so. The backlash should be remembered as a minor career blip in years to come, and anyway he will have other things on his mind at the moment, like finishing the job he started so emphatically last year. He also has the security of a new five-year McLaren contract worth anywhere between £35-70 million, depending upon which newspaper you read. ‘Living the dream’ indeed.
But forget the amount he earns and how little tax he will pay. What’s much more interesting is the timing of his new deal. Given the circumstances and context, Hamilton’s long-term commitment to McLaren-Mercedes should not be taken for granted.
The turbulence endured by the team during the past year has been severe, and it is no secret that Ron Dennis has taken the brunt of the punishment personally. As you can read in Nigel Roebuck’s excellent new column in this issue, it appears to be a matter of time before Mercedes becomes the majority shareholder in the team. When (not if) that happens, McLaren as we know it will change forever.
That Hamilton is willing to commit during this time of relative uncertainty is evidence that his ties with the team go way beyond his relationship with Dennis, which was strained last year during Lewis’s rapid development from a grateful rookie to a super-confident title contender. Also, it should be noted that the team is not dealing with a naïve boy – in fact, that hasn’t been the case for years. Lewis and his father areshrewd racing people who know exactly what they are doing, and exactly what can be achieved in the coming years, both financially and in terms of results.
That’s why we should not take it as read that Lewis Hamilton will be a Mercedes (McLaren) driver until 2012. Contracts guarantee very little in this world and, rather than providing security for Hamilton, the deal is more of a comfort blanket for his team: if McLaren fails to deliver cars that are championship contenders for the most gifted driver on the grid, he will be as ruthless as he has to be.
Hamilton dressed in Ferrari red one day is an image that would be a dagger to Dennis’s heart. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.
There’s never been a better time to ‘go green’, as the world’s oldest motor racing magazine grows bigger and better. Now we’ve got more good news. A month after announcing Nigel Roebuck as our new editor-in-chief, I’m delighted to herald another major signing – and no, it’s not Kevin Keegan.
Gordon Kirby has over 35 years of experience as a frontline journalist, covering the great years of Can-Am, Formula 5000 and Indycar racing, and joins our line-up as Motor Sport’s first US editor. Gordon remains as fired up and passionate about the sport in North America as he always has been, and he’s buzzing with ideas. Read his first monthly column on page 34.
You’ll also notice a few more developments in this issue. The content remains the best you’ll find in any motor racing magazine – and there’s more of it, too. I hope you enjoy it. Please do contact us, by letter or e-mail, to let us know what you think.