Abu Dhabi: Former F1 driver Johnny Herbert has questioned Lewis Hamilton’s hunger following news of his switch from McLaren to Mercedes, calling it a “huge risk,” which “won’t guarantee” the one-time F1 champion another shot at his crown.
With Mercedes having just one race win to McLaren’s five this season, Hamilton’s switch has been viewed as a serious step down in class from McLaren, where the Briton won the world title in 2008 and took 20 wins in 107 races. But with Hamilton finishing fifth and fourth since his world title, and currently fifth again this season 75 points off Sebastian Vettel with three races left, he’s decided to move.
Despite Hamilton hoping for a more competitive engine for 2014 — thanks to rule changes for a revised engine formula, Herbert is still bemused by the transfer. Skeptics point to the money. It earns Hamilton £45 million (Dh264,8029 million) until 2016 plus £15 million in bonuses and frees his management to secure greater endorsement opportunities.
“I’m a bit surprised,” Herbert told Gulf News. “Lewis, as I knew him through karting, before he got into F1, had a hunger to win races. McLaren had always given him that opportunity.
“That mentality may have shifted as he’s grown up. He’s 27 now and there are certain things in his life that have definitely changed,” said the British former Lotus driver, who won three races in 165 appearances.
“I can only look at things as they stand today. Why is he moving to a team where development isn’t as strong? I’m sure Mercedes have promised him a lot of things but it’s difficult to see how situations will change. The only way Mercedes can get better is a change in infrastructure.
“A lot of people talk about 2014 when the engine changes and Mercedes will have a good engine, yes, but it’s still got to be bolted to a good chassis. As we know F1 is a whole package of things and there’s a lot of work for him to achieve the world championship again,” said Herbert.
“There’s no guarantee that Mercedes will be able to put the right car together to give to Lewis to win the championship. The flip side is McLaren can’t promise it either. But over the years McLaren have always been at the sharp end.
“It’s quite interesting for Lewis to put himself up for the challenge and I think it will be a big challenge. As to whether it ends positively we have to wait and see. But it’s a big risk with no guarantee whatsoever of Mercedes getting it right. He might regret it in a couple of years but we could all be wrong as well.”