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What's Hamilton got to prove?

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Lewis Hamilton has long been regarded as a top-three driver in the pinnacle of motorsport since he joined the Formula One circuit in 2007. His career officially began at age 14 when he signed on as a junior member with one of the biggest legacies in McLaren, where he was fostered and trained under the tutelage of Ron Dennis, principal extraordinaire. He finished his first season just one point behind Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen for the championship and won the next year, again by just a single point in the final round in Brazil. Since then, he has put in some staggering drives, showing continuous flash and impeccable control behind the wheel of a car that has seen more than its share of reliability issues. Last year was more of the same, Hamilton was able to finish the season fourth and it seemed the Mercedes-powered McLaren was on the brink of success.

So why did Hamilton choose to leave the Woking-based squad for Mercedes – a team that has shown less promise and finished only middle of the pack? And more importantly, why is Hamilton getting such a bad rap for his decision?

While speculation continues behind Hamilton’s actual decision behind leaving McLaren for the Silver Arrows – most citing the 2014 engine changes as a major factor, and Mercedes having the upper hand as both builder and supplier for next year – much of the focus on Hamilton has been negative, with pundits questioning his choice to leave the famed team while being equally expectant for his ability to perform in a car that hasn’t proven itself.

While he receives the utmost respect within the paddock, outside he has become a bit of a scapegoat for reasons unknown. Perhaps it is because of his infamous ‘Twittergate’ scandals, releasing relatively unimportant, but confidential telemetry data. Or perhaps it was incident number two when he accused his teammate Jenson Button of not ‘friending’ him on the social media site. While his posts may have been somewhat immature, he reacted on his initial instinct. It doesn’t detract from his ability to perform and make decisions that benefit him as a racer – if anything it shows his split-second decision making and desire to always be number one, regardless of the situation.

And perhaps that’s what people are missing from their critique of his move. It almost appears that many attribute the switch to be some sort of death wish – that because he hasn’t consistently hit the podium with a strong team, he is choosing to try something new in the hope that if it works out, then great – but if it doesn’t, no big deal either. For anyone who has truly followed his career, that’s just not the case.

He finished ahead of his former teammate Jenson Button, who is known for putting 110 per cent into his performances. For those who saw races last year, Hamilton put in equally impressive drives, with more daring maneuvers time and time again. His tenacity and ability to be aggressive when necessary is the instinct that every team wants from its driver.

For Hamilton, it seems he just got tired of DNFs and races that should have been his. It makes sense then, to start with a new team and place the pressure on them to provide a solid package and perform, rather than stick with a top team that may only change its formula for success slightly. It’s as if people forget Hamilton is moving to Mercedes, a team that has world-class factory support, an excellent engine, and a step ahead of the competition in regards to next season’s regulations. They have their own expectations to grow exponentially and be a top contender.

Not every team showed their true performance in the final days of testing ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, but Hamilton’s top time in the second-to-last session showed that both he and his car have the ability to finish strong. His work ethic and ability showed throughout the test sessions, and it seems the team has made variable improvements on the car in hopes of bringing it to the top as soon as possible.

So as we wait eagerly for the Australian Grand Prix and the 2013 season, Hamilton will definitely be under pressure to perform. This year will test his drive and determination like no other – and perhaps that’s what people are hanging on to – the demise of a top contender. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that Lewis is driven by instinct. And at 250 kilometres an hour, he doesn’t have much time for anything else.

Photo: Mercedes AMG F1

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