Lewis Hamilton leads Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel during the Japanese Grand Prix. Shizuo Kambayashi / AP Photo
Lewis Hamilton leads Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel during the Japanese Grand Prix. Shizuo Kambayashi / AP Photo

Lewis Hamilton choosing Mercedes-GP as crucial to his success as his driving ability



Watching Lewis Hamilton in Japan as he raced off into the distance to dominate yet another grand prix on Sunday, it is easy to fall into the trap of diminishing his achievements.

Make no mistake, Hamilton has much in his favour. Mercedes-GP the best car in the field? Check. A teammate who beats him only on rare occasions? Absolutely. Much opposition other than aforementioned teammate? Not really.

But as Hamilton closes in on retaining his world title, and winning his third overall, maybe one of the greatest skills a Formula One driver needs is the foresight to choose the right team.

Making the right decision on where to drive is arguably as important as what you do behind the wheel.

It is easy to forget that when Mercedes came calling in mid-2012 for Hamilton’s services they were not the force they are now; they had won just one race since returning to the sport in 2010. But there was clear potential there, especially with the rules about to change with the introduction of the 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines in 2014.

The sensible option for Hamilton would have been to stay with McLaren, a proven F1 outfit and the team who helped the British driver to his first world title, in 2008. But Hamilton took a chance and, well, the reward for his high-risk move could be seen in his dominance at Suzuka for his 20th win in 52 races for the German marque.

Choosing the right team is not easy. Just ask Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard has had to wear a brave face at McLaren this year. It finally cracked on Sunday.

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Alonso criticised the performance of the Honda engine over the pit radio following a disappointing run to 11th place at the Japanese Grand Prix.

In 2006 Alonso effectively sealed his second drivers’ world title by winning at Suzuka, and at that stage he looked set to be the man that would dominate F1 for the next decade.

The fact that he has not won a championship since has nothing to do with talent – he has plenty – but everything to do with his innate ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It started to go wrong in his first spell at McLaren, in 2007, when his acrimonious relationship with team chief Ron Dennis led to him being released from his contract after just one year.

Alonso had almost won the title that season, missing out by a point, and the British team were equally strong in 2008 when Hamilton prevailed. That easily could have been Alonso winning the championship if he had kept his composure and avoided falling out with Dennis.

Instead, he was back at Renault, where he had won his two drivers’ titles, but by now they were no longer competing at the front of the grid.

Alonso was presented with the opportunity to join Red Bull Racing, then just a midfield team, but he chose to stay where he was at Renault and go to Ferrari for 2010. The latter move appeared shrewed, coming after a period in which Ferrari had won six drivers’ titles and 67 races in 10 years.

Unfortunately, for Alonso, this was to be the era of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel as the Austrian team proved too good for everyone and dominated F1 for four years. Alonso overachieved in an average Ferrari for five years, going to the wire in the 2010 and 2012 championships but ultimately losing, to Vettel, in both.

He moved back to McLaren at the start of this year just in time for their partnership with Honda to get off to an awful start, with unreliability and lack of horsepower ruining their hopes of even a competitive season.

Alonso has not lost his skills. He again outshone teammate Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion, and no slouch himself, on Sunday and 11th place was a reasonable effort, given the tools he was working with.

Fans can understand Alonso’s frustration. He is too good a driver to be languishing in midfield, but it is ultimately his own fault he is where he is and that he is in serious danger of finishing his career with only two drivers’ titles.

His career choices have led him to be with McLaren and Honda. It could have been him winning all those titles with Red Bull. But it was not.

There is speculation Alonso is considering leaving F1, such is his disdain for Honda’s engines, with little evidence to suggest a dramatic improvement in performance any time soon.

But that would be F1’s loss. Hopefully, he will give McLaren time to try to rediscover their former standing on the grid: they are still the second-most-successful team in F1.

But one man’s woes are another man’s gains; Hamilton’s chosen career path should not be underestimated.

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