At Pitpass we hold our hands up and admit that we believed Lewis Hamilton was committing professional suicide when, in 2012, he announced that he was leaving McLaren, the team that had brought him to F1 and taken him to the title, for Mercedes.
The German manufacturer had bought Brawn following its sensational title win in 2009, and while it had encouraged Michael Schumacher back to F1 never looked likely to repeat its predecessor’s feat.
However, team boss Ross Brawn, along with Niki Lauda, convinced Hamilton to leave his ‘family home’, a move that sent shockwaves through the sport.
That first season suggested that the sceptics, including Pitpass, had been correct, but then came the arrival of the new (hybrid) formula and Toto Wolff.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In a podcast for Crowdstrike, one of Mercedes many sponsors, Hamilton shed light on his extraordinary decision.
“I’d been with McLaren since I was thirteen so it was my family and I was very safe there, I was well taken care of,” he admits.
“But though McLaren had this amazing history, multiple championships, and were super-successful, I felt that I wasn’t necessarily helping build something,” he adds.
“It was already an illustrious team, it already had all that success. It had the biggest cabinet of trophies and I wanted to go somewhere where I could help, could be a big part of building something.
“When I joined this team, it didn’t have many trophies in the cabinet. It was on the way up, it was growing, it was building. There were more people coming. And I was like, I want to go somewhere and see if I can utilise everything I’ve learned in all these years, the privilege of working at McLaren, apply those learnings to a team that’s not being very successful to becoming successful.”
The Briton admits that there were times during that first season at Brackley that he questioned his decision.
“For sure there were moments when I was like, ‘geez, I don’t know when I’m going to win again’. I had to really analyse a lot of the pros and cons.
“But for me, taking the risk… Senna used to say; ‘if you’re not going for a gap, you’re no longer racing driver’. I think if you’re not taking risks in life, then you’re standing still.
“So I could have stayed there. In hindsight, if you look at if I had stayed I wouldn’t have another championship to my name. I would still be a one-time world champion after fourteen years.
“Things happen for a reason, one way or another,” he continues. “And I’m really, really grateful that I took that step, that I took that leap of faith.
“It’s thanks to people like Niki, rest his soul, and to Ross and to Mercedes for truly believing in me.”