When Lewis Hamilton takes to the track in Sao Paulo on Sunday for the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix, it may well be his last chance to claim a race win for a long time.
Hamilton’s decision to leave McLaren to take up Michael Schumacher’s seat at Mercedes will go down as one of the universe’s great mysteries. Why anyone would leave a team with championship-winning potential to go to a team on the slide is inexplicable.
While Hamilton’s frustrations with McLaren were obvious, they are at least in the sport for the long haul.
Only a few short months ago, Mercedes were talking about leaving the sport altogether when they were unhappy about the terms of the new Concorde agreement that decides how to share out the rivers of gold that flow into F1.
Although Mercedes backed away from their threats to quit, the new Concorde agreement has yet to be signed—although it is currently in its final form and Mercedes are comfortable with its contents, according to The F1 Times.
Perhaps more important than Mercedes' long-term commitment to F1 is the fact that, on current form, they have almost no prospect of winning a race.
Even Hamilton himself—in an interview with Autosport.com—admitted he doesn't expect to do too well:
I am not going into next year thinking, "Let's have a crap year." I am just well aware we don't have the best car and it will take a lot of work to improve it.
Setting aside the strange result in this year's Chinese GP, Mercedes haven’t really threatened the teams at the pointy end of the grid. Their performance has slowly slipped since their re-entry into the sport in 2010 to the point where they are battling with Sauber over fifth place in the championship.
What will be fascinating is how Hamilton will cope with a lack of success.
He is a man who, despite maturing over the years, still does not take failure well. Not that it’s a unique issue in the F1 paddock, but Hamilton is a driver who is used to fighting for wins. He’ll now be relegated to fighting for points.
But he intends to go down swinging, telling ESPN F1:
As my final race behind the wheel of a McLaren, I vow to the whole team that I'll give it my all on every single lap. My win in Austin last week was one of the races of my life, and I'd love to take victory in Brazil this weekend to give the team the perfect farewell present.
Of course, Hamilton doing well in Brazil will play into the championship battle, and success will make it even more difficult for Fernando Alonso to get back the 13 points he needs to claim the title.
Not that he would care about that.
Hamilton will need a good result to help him through the tough times ahead. As he takes stock of his time with McLaren, he has plenty of positives to look back on. He told ESPN F1:
I only have good memories; I leave with just the greatest memories
He’s going to need them.