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10 Years Ago, Lewis Hamilton Made One Of The Greatest Ever Sporting Gambles

10 Years Ago, Lewis Hamilton Made One Of The Greatest Ever Sporting Gambles
By Eoin Harrington
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10 years ago on Wednesday, the F1 world was stunned when Mercedes announced that 2008 Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton would be joining the team from 2013 onwards.

Irish ex-team principal Eddie Jordan had broken the news as a rumour few weeks prior, but most among the paddock couldn't fathom that Hamilton would actually leave the McLaren team he had been with since the age of 13.

What's more, even in a poor season, 2012 saw McLaren win seven races to Mercedes' one - not the most glowing endorsement of Hamilton's new employers.

But, 10 years on, it remains one of the greatest calls in F1 history. Hamilton joined Mercedes a one-time world champion and 21-times race winner. A decade later, he is seven-times champion of the world, and 103 times a Grand Prix winner.

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes move stands the test of time

At the time, Lewis Hamilton was widely questioned for joining Mercedes. The team were born from the ashes of Honda's departure from the sport in 2008. Running for one year as "Brawn GP", they miraculously won both world championships, before being bought out by Mercedes for 2010, with an all-German driver lineup of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.

The Mercedes factory team somewhat underwhelmed, however, winning only one race during their first three years in the sport, with Schumacher retiring in 2012 at the age of 43 with just one podium finish from his time with the team.

They were solid, and on an upward trajectory, but by no means anywhere near being title challengers.

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That is why Lewis Hamilton's decision to leave the proven winners of McLaren was questioned so widely at the time.

One man who swam against the tide when analysing the move was Irishman Eddie Jordan. Jordan had claimed weeks previous to the official announcement that a deal had been signed, though Hamilton and Mercedes denied the move at the time. When it was made official, Jordan told the BBC he thought Hamilton could have a similar impact on Mercedes as Schumacher's at Ferrari in the 90s:

Michael Schumacher transformed Ferrari when he went there, and they were certainly lacklustre before he arrived. I think Hamilton will make a big, big effort at Mercedes.

It is a big shock for Formula 1 in the context that most people felt he was a lifer at McLaren. He was nurtured and brought on by Ron Dennis and the world at large felt that that was where he would end his career.

He is not getting into a faster car at this point, but it would be wrong to say it is all about money.

They will give him more money and more freedoms to make money outside his contract, but history in F1 tells you that you build a team around proper managers and engineers, then the last piece of the jigsaw is the driver.

The move came at a time when Hamilton's career badly needed to be revitalised. He was runner-up in his rookie year, before taking his maiden crown in 2008 - but things had faltered for him and McLaren since then.

His annus horribilis in 2011 saw him clash on track multiple times with Ferrari's Felipe Massa, while he became so frustrated at McLaren in 2012 he began leaking telemetry data from teammate Jenson Button's car.

READ HERE: Christian Horner Thinks Verstappen "Rattled" Hamilton In 2021

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He had entered the sport as the golden boy, in the same year as Sebastian Vettel. By 2012, Vettel had surpassed Hamilton in race wins and championships.

Quite simply, things weren't working, and something needed to change. Nobody expected it to be Mercedes, but by God did it pan out well for both parties.

Since Hamilton's departure in 2012, McLaren have won one race, with Daniel Ricciardo in Monza last year.

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Since Hamilton's arrival in 2012, he has won 82 races with Mercedes, and helped the team to eight constructors' titles.

Since Hamilton's move in 2012, Sebastian Vettel has won 27 races, with a peak of second in the drivers' championship.

Since Hamilton's move in 2012, he himself has won 82 races, with six drivers' titles in the same time.

It is unrivalled in the modern age as a transformative move, for both team and driver. The way things were going in 2012, Lewis Hamilton risked being remembered as the young star who burnt out and wasted his chance at the big time. There was a sense a decade ago that he was drifting further and further away from world championship success.

Instead, it took him just two years to win a title with Mercedes, and he has since become the most successful driver statistically in the sport's history. It is what we call a "Sliding Doors" moment - perfect judgment from Hamilton in picking his next challenge.

It is poignant and fitting, not only that the great Michael Schumacher was the driver that Hamilton replaced at Mercedes, but that the late great Niki Lauda was the man credited with convincing the Briton to join the Silver Arrows.

Niki Lauda, the man widely credited with convincing Lewis Hamilton to join Mercedes (Photo: Shutterstock)

Lauda formally stepped on board as a director of the team in 2013, but has been widely credited with swaying Hamilton to join Mercedes, with his insight into the sport, and insider knowledge of how the team was set to nail the 2014 regulation changes.

Of course there have been stumbles along the way. There were regular clashes with teammate Nico Rosberg, the fiasco of Abu Dhabi 2021, and the trials and tribulations this season has brought.

But Lewis Hamilton's decision to jump ship to Mercedes in 2012 goes down as one of the all-time great gambles in sporting history. It was an almighty leap of faith at the time, and it needed some help from some former legends of the sport - but it has shaped the recent history of F1, and firmly placed Hamilton among the pantheon of the greats.

SEE ALSO: Crazy Monza Onboard Shows Just How Unstoppable Max Verstappen Is

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