Passing the torch

 
 

With Michael Schumacher retiring for a second time, Seán Craddock examines whether his return was a mistake and if Lewis Hamilton can live up to the German’s legend

Michael Schumacher has announced that he will hang up his Formula One helmet at the end of this season. It’s not the first time he has retired from the sport, having left behind a legacy of seven World Championships, 91 race wins, and 67 pole positions in 2006. He will be replaced at Mercedes by Lewis Hamilton, who has left the McLaren team that has supported him since he was 13.

In 2010, Schumacher joined reigning champions Mercedes and was reunited with Ross Brawn, who had been technical director at Benetton and Ferrari back when Schumacher raced for them. There was a lot of expectation on him to add to the impressive stats which he is so famous for. To date, he has only managed to add to his pole positions when he qualified fastest in Monaco earlier this year. It doesn’t look like he’ll be getting any results in the remaining five races.

Schumacher was an icon to many of the drivers on the grid, and drivers below Formula 1, when they were younger. Drivers like Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hülkenberg grew up watching the dominance of a fellow German. So was his return a mistake given how disappointing the results were; he had left on such a high, should he have kept it that way?

In hindsight, it’s easy to say that it was a bad idea, but even before his return there were signs that he might not be competitive. At 41 years old he was the oldest driver on the grid and returning to such a physically demanding sport after three years was always going to be a challenge. The biggest challenge however, was to adapt to the changes to the sport.

The younger generations of drivers are able to adapt their driving styles to cope with new cars. When you’ve driven the same way for over 20 years, like Schumacher has, it’s more difficult to change. Having the young Nico Rosberg in the same car didn’t help. Before his return, Schumacher had never been beaten over a full F1 season by a teammate.

He has only managed 191 points in his three years back, compared to the 324 of Rosberg. He has been on the podium only once in a car that Rosberg proved is capable of winning. This isn’t the Schumacher that should be remembered and idolised. When he left in 2006 he had won seven races in the season, a feat that wasn’t repeated until last season.

Schumacher will always be remembered as one of the greats of the sport, even if his records are eventually broken, which won’t happen anytime soon.

Lewis Hamilton is the man taking Schumacher’s place at Mercedes, having spent his entire F1 career at McLaren. The 27 year old Englishman is looking for a fresh challenge in his career and even though McLaren tried to hang on to him, in the end he found the Mercedes deal more appealing.

Over the past year, it’s been clear that Hamilton has wanted a change. He got rid of his father as his manager, and hired XIX Entertainment; a company which also manages Andy Murray and the Beckhams. These are the names that Hamilton wants to join. He wants to be the name in motorsport.

McLaren have always limited their drivers to what they do commercially. Unless it’s one of the team’s sponsors, generally they won’t be allowed promote a product. At Mercedes, on the other hand, Hamilton has the chance of being a brand ambassador for one of the biggest car brands in the world.

In terms of racing, McLaren are more likely to win races; but that’s another reason to bring about this move. Hamilton wants to prove himself in a slower car. When Heikki Kovalainen was Hamilton’s age he joined a brand new team which was uncompetitive; some would argue he’s been racing better than ever before now.

If Hamilton can get the most out of a slower car it will give him more confidence in himself and push him to do more. He has already shown what he can do with a fast car; untouchable some days in qualifying. If he can help Mercedes develop their car to deliver consistent results, they can challenge for a title.

Hamilton has been close to winning the world title almost every year that he’s been in Formula 1. It would be surprising if Mercedes have a championship winning car for Hamilton next year. In 2014 there will be new engine rules and if they can get it right there’s no reason why Hamilton can’t win multiple world titles with them.

It’s similar to what Schumacher did when he joined Ferrari in 1996; a team that hadn’t won multiple races in six years. They built the team around him and re-wrote the history books. Hamilton has already shown that he can perform at the very top; he is more than capable of turning a team around and getting them back to winning ways.

The biggest losers in this move are McLaren. They can’t afford to lose such a fast driver to a rival team. It has been 14 years since the constructers world title went to the team from Woking, and the way things stand now it may be another while before they claim it again.

Advertisements