Hamilton: Time to grow up

Now that Lewis Hamilton has made his decision, I'm reluctant to predict how he will get on at Mercedes.

I say that because I sagely offered the opinion that Jenson Button was writing himself into the F1 margins when he signed that contract with McLaren in November 2009. I mean, how could it have been otherwise for this nice guy joining a team that was built around Hamilton, a driver who, apart from anything else, was quicker on a single lap and would do Button's head in? The only conclusion to be reached by those of us supposed to know about these things (did you see what I did there, craftily spreading the guilt) was that Jenson was looking for the big fat cheque and a nice life after winning the championship.

Now look what's happened; Lewis is the one who is leaving less than a year after being hammered in a championship for the first time by a team mate. And, truth be told, even before the moment of announcing his departure, Hamilton would have come second in a secret ballot among McLaren team members over the most popular driver. There are many forces at work here and one of them could be connected with the old expression: 'familiarity breeds contempt'. Which leads nicely into a very good reason why Hamilton should head off to pastures new.

As I mentioned last week, Lewis has spent half his life-time at McLaren. He's grown up there in every sense and perhaps the time has come to leave home. It happens to us all; why should that not apply to a young driver who has been fed, watered and nurtured in preparation for the big wide world of F1?

Okay, Lewis was still living at home when he won the ultimate title in 2008. But that's no reason to say he was well-equipped to deal with the responsibilities and repercussions that came with it. If we're to continue this homely analogy, Hamilton's education has missed a lesson or two from the University of Life.

Once we've accepted that he's actually walking away from the obvious race-winning promise at McLaren, then the most interesting of recent observations came from David Coulthard, a man well-qualified to comment given his nine years spent at McLaren before moving to a very different version of the F1 image spectrum at Red Bull.

Writing for 'The Daily Telegraph', Coulthard said: "Lewis's relationship with McLaren had run its course." Then he added: "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. Become a man. This is that moment for Lewis. He is trying to take control of his own destiny. One by one he has moved out of the shadows cast by his father, Anthony, by Ron Dennis, and now Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal."

Commenting on Whitmarsh's opinion that Hamilton had made a 'mistake' and the widely held view that McLaren offer better prospects for success, Coulthard said: "It isn't all about winning. It is at least as much about the journey, about how you act and how you feel within yourself."

That final point is valid, if only to judge by Hamilton's preoccupied expression, even in the moment of victory at Monza one month ago. Damon Hill summed up that aspect of Hamilton's life in a few succinct words when interviewed by Malcolm Folley in the 'Mail on Sunday': "Lewis has been like a caged bird at McLaren," said the 1996 World Champion. "He'd been managed to within an inch of his life. I can't blame him for looking to move elsewhere."

That move has taken him into territory containing promise that has yet to be fulfilled by Mercedes. A mistake? "Sure," says Coulthard, "Lewis has taken a big gamble in joining Mercedes - but you could only say it was a mistake in retrospect."

Indeed. Which is where we came in when discussing so-called knowledgeable views on Button's 'mistake' going to McLaren. I'll shut up now and simply say Hamilton has made his move and wish him the best of luck. It's going to be fascinating, whatever the outcome.

Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.

His weekly column for was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.

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