Any faint hope that Lewis Hamilton still had of taking out this year’s Formula 1 world championship must surely have evaporated with his announcement that he was leaving McLaren to take Michael Schumacher’s seat at Mercedes GP.
At 52 points down with only six races remaining, Hamilton’s chances of claiming the title were already slim, despite the rich form streak that he is enjoying (we won't mention reliability for now).
McLaren have publicly stated that they are still aiming to win both the driver’s and constructor’s championships. BBC Sport quotes team boss Martin Whitmarsh as saying:
It's acknowledged we have the quickest car, so we're going to try to win two world championships, with Lewis very much part of the team.
It’s probably not going to happen.
While the language coming from McLaren has been conciliatory, the body language has said something else entirely.
When the team heavyweights flew in to Monza to try to secure a new contract with Hamilton, it became clear that all was not well within the team.
Hamilton’s sour demeanour after the race and on the podium—perhaps not helped by the booing Tifosi—was matched by an equally grumpy looking McLaren Chairman Ron Dennis, who refused to even applaud his driver’s win or take place in the team photo.
There has also been evidence that the relationship between Hamilton and teammate Jenson Button has cooled significantly.
Hamilton sent out some critical Tweets after Button out-qualified him for the Belgian Grand Prix and was forced to delete them after the team voiced its displeasure. Hamilton then tweeted sensitive performance data which drew criticism from Button.
The Telegraph quotes him as saying:
I’ll say disappointed, we work so hard to improve the car and to keep things like that private.
Button has already made it clear that he isn’t going to support Hamilton. After Hamilton’s win at Monza, BBC Sport quotes Button as saying:
As always, I go out to win. I'm not going to go out and pedal round and sit behind my teammate.
Just as importantly, with the acrimonious nature of the split, it’s hard to see why McLaren would want to trot out any significant upgrades for Hamilton to then pass on to his new team. His tweeting has already shown a tendency to share information with rivals freely, who knows what he’ll give up when he’s on the payroll.
It’s difficult to imagine that the McLaren garage will be a happy place for the next six races. Every mistake, crossword or perceivable difference between cars will be viewed through a prism of resentment and mistrust.
Hardly the right environment for an already difficult title challenge.