Now that the dust has settled – in some quarters at least – we can take stock of the bigger picture. Lewis Hamilton is a Mercedes driver for 2013, Sergio Perez is his replacement at McLaren, and Michael Schumacher is out of a drive, at least as far as we know. It was curious that no mention of Michael’s future was made when Mercedes announced Hamilton’s signing. This means that he is either yet to agree terms to take a management position there – as has been much rumoured – or that he is negotiating for a drive elsewhere. The fact that Mercedes has announced Niki Lauda in a management role does indicate that there may not be room for Michael in such a capacity. So, what is left for us to know?
First, there’s how Sergio Perez will fit in at McLaren. By all accounts the Mexican is a good choice: young, fast and eager to progress, he should be a decent team player and, if he has sense, will learn a great deal from the vastly experienced Jenson Button. That Perez has been nurtured by Ferrari during his career will have left McLaren management much amused: Maranello big-wigs insisted Perez was ‘not ready’ to step up the plate. Their opposites at McLaren clearly think otherwise. The last time a youngster took a step up to McLaren was when Heikki Kovalainen made the jump. It was a none-too successful affair, and Perez will do well to study just what went wrong. As an avowed fan of the Mexican’s – I believe he has frequently punched above his weight this season – I wish him well, and admire McLaren’s choice. After all, they could have gone with a safer pair of hands, and there are risks attached to taking on such a young talent.
There is, then, a set available at Sauber. Who goes there? Peter Sauber, one of the sport’s true gentlemen and a race to heart, has publically stated that should Schumacher become available he would offer him a seat. Are we to take that with a pinch of salt, or was he being genuine? Probably the latter, but it is difficult to see Michael taking what is perceived as a step back (even if this year’s Sauber has generally had the legs of the Mercedes.) However, the two go back a long way – Michael raced for the Sauber-run Mercedes endurance team – and if Michael wants a swansong season, it could be that he will take the plunge. More likely, it has to be said, is that Jaime Alguersuari will take Perez’s place at the Swiss team.
Then there’s Ferrari: Felipe Massa’s form has been the subject of much discussion, and there are still many who believe the Brazilian is in the closing stages of his Maranello career. There are equal numbers who are certain that Ferrari will give him one more season. I think the latter is the most likely scenario, especially now that Perez has been allowed to slip through their fingers. There are other options – discussed here – but the suggestion that Michael may return to Maranello are hard to take seriously.
F1 is a fast changing world and one can never write off the unusual; Hamilton’s switch to Mercedes, while much written about, was written off as fantasy even by some of F1’s more experienced commentators. The problem with getting too deep into the sport is that you end up looking out from the inside; sometimes, it is better to keep some distance, and look at things from a more abstract point of view. There are still those, also, who are insistent that Hamilton has made the wrong choice, and they tend to base their opinion on the relative lack of success of the Mercedes team so far. It would have been easy to dismiss Vettel’s move to Red Bull in a similar manner, and look how that turned out. Ultimately, we have no idea whether it was the right move or a blunder until we see the results. History never tells the whole story.