Why Lewis Hamilton joining Max Verstappen at Red Bull for one season would be brilliant for F1
There is no shortage of paddock wallahs who will tell you what’s not good for Formula One. Their diagnosis right now usually starts with Red Bull’s feared total dominance of the rest.
Well, let’s turn that equation on its head and ask exactly what would incontrovertibly be good for the sport.
Deep breaths, first. The prescription here is the hitherto unthinkable: Lewis Hamilton joining Max Verstappen at Red Bull next season.
For one year only. A shootout between the young prince and the dethroned king.
We know the objections to this. They are obvious. For one, what would Red Bull gain by handing £40million to a second alpha when they already have the best of his generation in a long and imperious vein of form. His future and the team’s wellbeing are entwined.
Lewis Hamilton has no chance of winning the world title after a poor start to the 2023 season
A shootout between Max Verstappen and Hamilton for one season would be brilliant for F1
For Verstappen, there is the danger of losing to Hamilton, thus bruising his legacy as the double and resigning world champion is busily creating it.
For Hamilton, there is the risk of undercutting his seven world titles by exposing himself in what must be at least the late autumn of his career.
For team principal Christian Horner, there promises to be a bottle-of-Scotch kind of headache.
Yet, I am not so sure that any of the key protagonists should shy away from the challenge to create the most vibrant tear-up since the Battle of Jericho.
Perhaps there would not even be any losers, just as neither boxer can truly be said to have lost if he has contributed with epic spirit to a bout for the ages.
Think what they would all stand to win.
Verstappen has the chance to demonstrate his supremacy, as well as answer the questions you hear laid at Formula One’s door more than any other. Isn’t it all about the car? And who would win in equal machinery? And, with the guarantee that Lewis’s stay is for a single season, he could resume normal business on his current contract that takes him into his early 30s.
If he were to duck it, or have it ducked for him, his critics could say put his record ahead of his gladiatorial calling.
As for Hamilton – who split from Angela Cullen, his trainer of seven years, on Friday – the years are ripening.
He has no chance of winning the title this season. So he will be 39 when he has the next opportunity, but only if he finds himself in a car up to the task. And, note, only one driver in the last half-century has won a world championship at his age or older: Nigel Mansell, at 39, in 1992.
Both would have plenty to gain if they chose to team up for one season – allowing each to answer the question of how they match up if they are racing with the same machinery
Such is his fierce will to succeed that he is refusing to buckle, or retire, until he has achieved the eighth world title that would represent his crowning glory.
And, anyway, he may never be happy to exit the stage, aware that the life of the ex-sportsman can be empty when the roar of the crowd – or the engine – fades away. That truth may apply more to him than to most. As he observed in clear-headed introspection last November: ‘It is going to be really, really hard when I stop racing. I have been doing it for 30 years. When you stop, what is going to match it?’
By going to Red Bull for one year, replacing the conveniently out-of-contract Sergio Perez, he would at least find out quickly whether his Formula One journey has more road to run. He either succeeds and heads off, success conquering his reluctance to leave. Or, if he flunks his mission, even he may accept the game is up, or indeed find that alternative drives dry up.
So what are his options? His clear first desire is to extend his affiliation with Mercedes. He feels loyalty and gratitude towards them, as well he might, and as they do in return. Signing off in silver, after a dip, with a final triumph would be a last reel worthy of Hollywood. But can the team turn around their misconceived car fast enough? Are they the power they once were? How will they fare under the restraints of a budget cap that limits remedial work?
If he believes they have the means of successful reinvention, you can forget the Red Bull option. But his doubts that the Silver Arrows will carry him home were evident here ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix when he said: ‘I don’t plan on going anywhere else,’ before adding: ‘But…,’ and then pausing.
Even his boss Toto Wolff admitted on Friday that his star man may be tempted away, saying: ‘If we cannot demonstrate in the next couple of years that we can give him a car with championship potential, he needs to look elsewhere. I would have no complaints.’
Other options? A sabbatical? Madness at his age and usually a one-way ticket. Fernando Alonso is the recent exception that proved the rule. Ferrari? Part of Hamilton once hankered to drive in red, but for all their historical greatness they have a recurring knack of finding the corner flag from a yard out.
Red Bull chief Christian Horner has twice turned down the chance to sign Hamilton
And what about the wisdom of Horner accepting Hamilton to his stable at the third time of asking, after saying ‘no’ prior to Lewis’s F1 career and when he was disgruntled at McLaren? Well, can you think of more positive PR – here’s the man, history would record, who gambled to make the clash of the century happen?
As Red Bull are so far ahead the intra-team struggle should not deny them the title, but it may. That has to be accepted.
The deal is this. Same money. Same machinery. Equally top staff each side of the garage. Equal distribution of upgrades. Toss of a coin arbitration in any either/or cases. Freedom to race.
May the better man win.
Source of data and images: dailymail