Substance or silly season?
Is Lewis Hamilton moving to Mercedes? Sky Sports F1's Johnny Herbert offers his take on the story that's the talk of the Monza paddock.
Last Updated: 06/09/12 4:37pm
It's always an interesting situation for a driver when you're coming to the end of your contract because you're always looking for the best place for the future. Is it in the team I'm with, or is it with a competitor? And then you've got to try and work out what is more important to you.
For me - and from things Lewis has said - World Championships are important to him. He doesn't want a career in Formula 1 of only just winning one; that is something he has actually said in print. From that point of view, at this present time and historically, McLaren are very good at developing a car.
They can develop a bad car to be a pretty competitive car but they lose out at the beginning of the season and don't win a Championship. Or like this year, where they started off with a pretty good car but had mishaps - not with the car but through the team - and Lewis has lost a lot of points. But at this point in time here in Monza, I would say they arguably have the best package.
Rumours blow hot and cold. This is an interesting one because it's come from a very dark and cold place - it wasn't really on anybody's radar. Mercedes have not had the best of times in the last couple of seasons. Michael Schumacher is there with Nico Rosberg but Michael is the one who, I feel, went there to win a World Championship.
That hasn't materialised. This year and last year they didn't develop very well. This year, they started strong and probably, realistically, they're now in the same position they were in at the start of the year. Everyone else has moved on, which is why we don't now see them at the front very often.
Looking elsewhere from a driver's point of view, you'd be looking at Red Bull but there's nowhere for him to fit there. There's Ferrari, possibly with Felipe moving on, but I don't see Fernando Alonso wanting Lewis back. Lewis wouldn't want to go there unless it's with equal number one status but I presume that's a done deal with Fernando, so that's not going to happen. I don't think that would be the right move for him; although they're leading the Championship, they're not competitive as such, so why would you want to go there?
Lotus is doing very well this season but is it the right place for him to go into? It's a very different situation in a brand new team. McLaren adore and love him; he's been there since he was 11-years-old. Why would you want to leave?
His management are probably going to look at it in a very different way, which is giving him the option to move to Mercedes, which will probably be about money of course. But again, he'd be going to a Mercedes who have been disappointing. Have they got the hunger? The right personnel? I don't know. McLaren, you always know, will do.
Is there any way that it could come together? Going back to my driver's point of view, I'd rather stay in a team that would give me the chance of winning the World Championship. That team is McLaren.
The twist to it is what happens in 2014, because that's when new engine regulations come in. Mercedes will be working very hard on their engine and that's where, technically, Mercedes are very good. McLaren has a Mercedes in at the moment and they're doing the best of the Mercedes-powered cars.
The engine is a very strong part of the whole package, but what's also important is what it's bolted to. If you have the best engine and you don't have the best chassis, you're not going to be able to win. So it's another risk: even if you're looking to the future, to 2014, is it going to happen with Mercedes? You could then argue that McLaren might not get it right. That's always the argument, but historically they always have.
The positive, then, is what McLaren always seem to achieve. He's the spiritual number one given that he's been there for so long, he's had a fairly dominant year over Jenson, who's had his troubles but after we saw the speed once again (in Belgium) we know he's there.
You always know that when Jenson's on form and when Lewis is on form, it's very tight. Does he see that as a threat? I can't see Lewis being that way inclined, as it's a good thing to have someone pushing you. That seems to work out - they seem to get on from what we see, although it was disappointing that Lewis' data thing came out. An element of gamesmanship might come into it but I don't think that's something that disturbs Lewis so much.
But again, what does he want? From what I hear, it's World Championships with Lewis. If it's being packaged in a way that it's money and 'the branding of Lewis' somewhere else, then I don't see that being the right thing.
£60million? (Mercedes' offer to Hamilton, according to newspaper reports) Even if it's £200million, I can only go back to Lewis having won the World Championship a single time and saying beforehand that he wants to be remembered for winning more than one. He's got enough money anyway. It's having the opportunity for yourself for a World Championship. He's not doing it for money. But it's not just Lewis; his management are possibly thinking about it in a different way. I don't know if that's the case or not. Bernie will be in the thick of it, as he always is.
Where do Mercedes go from here? They've got Nico, who I always thought was their future but in recent times it's Michael who's got the upper hand. Maybe they'll look at that and think 'maybe Nico's not the one. Maybe we need someone else'.
XIX Entertainment, Hamilton's management team, have been speaking to other teams anyway, we knew about that three or four races ago. It's a bargaining tool, even if you do it with McLaren. There'll be gamesmanship there too - the driver and his management playing the money card. Lewis is a racer but what I don't know is whether he's being sold a different package of things, that might not change his future earnings but will change his future success.
Only a couple of years ago he was talking about how much media stuff he does - but that goes against the brand. He doesn't want to do that but now he wants to go across and do this Lewis Hamilton branding thing? To me, that's a bit of a contradiction.
I think he's staying at McLaren. Even if you go to 2014, it's going to be down to what chassis you have at the same time. It's not a guarantee at that point that Mercedes will have the best engine. They have a lot of clever technology and engineers and they've produced a very good engine so far, but there's not guarantee you're going to get the full package. It's all about the full package.
If you want to argue, you can say that they haven't had the best package in the last couple of years at McLaren. But they've always been at the sharp end and Mercedes haven't - and that's the difference.
Johnny was talking to Sky Sports' Mike Wise at Monza