In his last few years at McLaren, Lewis Hamilton was clearly growing frustrated. After winning the Formula One drivers' championship in 2008—just his second year in the sport—his results from 2009 to 2012 were fifth, fourth, fifth and fourth, respectively.
Eventually, that frustration led to Hamilton signing with Mercedes for the 2013 season, jumping on board at just the right moment, as the Silver Arrows have dominated the last two years under the new hybrid V6 engine formula.
Now, thanks to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner's comments to F1 Racing (h/t ESPN F1), we know that perhaps Mercedes wasn't Hamilton's first choice.
Having witnessed Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel capture four straight titles, Hamilton was "desperate" to move to Red Bull, according to Horner. "In 2012, he wanted to come and drive for us, but there was no way we could accommodate him while Sebastian was with us. Then before he signed for Mercedes he was very keen to drive for Red Bull for 2013."
That got us thinking: What if Hamilton had signed with Red Bull for the 2013 season?
Well, let's find out.
The biggest change in our Hamilton-Red Bull alternate reality is that Nico Rosberg might now be a double world champion. Of course, we don't know who Mercedes would have signed to replace Michael Schumacher had Hamilton decided to go to Red Bull, but it's unlikely to have been someone at Hamilton's skill level.
Remember, Rosberg nearly won the championship in 2014. Had it been Hamilton's car, rather than Rosberg's, that had broken down in the Abu Dhabi night, Rosberg likely would have taken the title. If Hamilton had been struggling with Red Bull's Renault engines for the last two years, it's not hard to imagine Rosberg sweeping to back-to-back titles.
Meanwhile, Hamilton might still have won a second championship. Mark Webber was clearly at the end of his F1 career by 2013, and his results showed it. The Aussie never beat Vettel that year in a race they both finished. But imagine the battle between Vettel and Hamilton had they squared off in the RB9.
Maybe Vettel would still have come out on top with his new team-mate, but the Brit would definitely have made it a closer fight.
And what of Ferrari?
In 2012, there were already rumours linking Vettel with the Scuderia, per F1 Fanatic. The Italian team ran Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in 2013 before Kimi Raikkonen replaced the Brazilian for 2014. If Hamilton had beaten Vettel in 2013, though, could the German's jump to Ferrari have come a year earlier?
In our alternate reality, that would leave Hamilton at Red Bull, Vettel at Ferrari and Rosberg at Mercedes. Now we are really getting into a game of mythical musical chairs, but with Alonso looking to leave Ferrari at the end of 2014, if Mercedes had been unable to secure a driver with real star power by that point, could the Spaniard have joined the Silver Arrows instead of McLaren?
That would make Alonso your 2015 world champion, as there is no way Rosberg would have beaten him in the same car.
Or, perhaps Mercedes would have snapped up one of the younger talents who showed their potential in 2013 and 2014—someone like Valtteri Bottas or Nico Hulkenberg.
Alternatively, if Vettel had won the 2013 championship over Hamilton and both drivers had opted to stay at Red Bull for another year, the big loser in this scenario would have been Daniel Ricciardo.
After beating out his Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne for a vacant Red Bull seat in 2014, the Aussie promptly established himself as a champion-in-waiting with three surprising victories in Canada, Hungary and Belgium. A Hamilton-Vettel partnership at Red Bull would have blocked his ascent.
That might have meant another year at Toro Rosso for both Ricciardo and Vergne. And with such a backlog of drivers, would Red Bull still have been in position to offer Max Verstappen a 2015 race seat with their sister team?
Without that incentive, Verstappen could easily have been signed by Mercedes, who could have groomed him in GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5 for a year before promoting him to F1 in 2016 (perhaps with Manor, who are using Mercedes engines this year). That would have been too bad for the fans, as Verstappen was one of the most exciting drivers on the grid this year.
Alright, that's enough of fantasyland. It's always fun to think "what if?" but now we are heading back to harsh reality, where we are less than two months away from the start of what looks like another dominant year for Mercedes and Hamilton.
When the inevitable complaints begin about Hamilton winning everything in sight, though, just remember: One of the best talents of this generation could be stuck in an uncompetitive car at Red Bull while Nico Rosberg closes in on his third straight drivers' championship.
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