McLaren have annouced today that Lewis Hamilton will partner world champion Fernando Alonso next year. The announcement came after a lot of speculation that started before the season ended last October. With three drivers immediately available to Ron Dennis, I’m sure the decision was difficult. Gary Paffett has been impressive in what testing he has done, but a recent annoucement made his future clear as he will be racing in DTM next year. Pedro De La Rosa has also driven well for the team, filling in the early departed Juan Pablo Montoya. Some steady points and a couple of podiums saw the Spaniard gain almost as many points as race-winner Montoya did, but the Woking squad have chosen youth over experience and awarded the young British driver Hamilton the race seat.
Hamilton sensationally won the GP2 series earlier in the year, and a few tests with McLaren saw that the young driver has star quality. However, Dennis is realistic about the chance he is taking with Lewis and had the following to say:
Of course we have reservations he is an unproven product, but we have a double world champion in the other car so we are not going to get lost.
Obviously we exist to win and the expectation for Lewis to win next season is not unrealistic if we have a strong car, but certainly not in the early part of the season.
If you put all the drivers in equal cars I think Lewis would beat a significant percent of them. I’m distinctly unimpressed with the majority of drivers in F1 today. Ron Dennis, McLaren Boss
So 2007 will see four British drivers on the grid; David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Anthony Davidson and now Lewis Hamilton. It has been a good few years since Formula One has seen as many Brits driving, 1996 being a good year with Damon Hill, Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard and Martin Brundle. The British Grand Prix should be a sold out event in 2007, particularly as Jenson won his maiden race last year, and hopefully the Red Bull’s will live up to the hype and allow Coulthard to push for podiums. Davidson will undoubtedly tail the back of the grid, but then I under-estimated Super Aguri this time last year, so I could be wrong. And now having Hamilton in a top car, 2007 is sizing up to be a vintage year – and so suddenly after Michael’s retirement – who said Formula One wouldn’t get over it!?
So question number one: Have McLaren made the right choice, or should they have plumped for De La Rosa, Paffett or someone else?
And question number two: Providing McLaren deliver a race-winning car next year, how races into the season before Hamilton wins/gets replaced?