Tears shed as Hamilton says fond farewell to McLaren on last official outing… and he does not rule out emotional return
13:22 GMT, 11 December 2012
Lewis Hamilton left the door open to a possible return to McLaren after saying an emotional farewell to the F1 team.
Tears were shed as the British driver hugged his colleagues and thanked them for their support during his last official official outing.
End of the road: Lewis Hamilton on his last official outing with McLaren
Sad ending: Tears were shed as Hamilton made emotional farewell
Hamilton, who will join Mercedes in January, took part in a demonstration event in Malta at the weekend, his last drive in a McLaren car.
And the 2008 World Champion did not rule out a return to the Woking-based outfit in the future.
'My time at McLaren has been fantastic,' he told staff at the
McLaren Technology Centre.
'When I arrived in Formula One in 2007, I now
realise I never really grasped what I was taking on. Ron [Dennis] had
told me: “Don't be surprised if you're 0.5sec slower than Fernando
[Alonso]“, and I just smiled because I knew it wouldn't be the case.
But, even so, that year was very hard, for many reasons.
Driving seat: Hamilton took part in a demonstration event in Malta
Night out: Hamilton and girlfriend, X Factor judge Nicole Scherzinger, at the Jack Reacher premiere in Leicester Square on Monday
'You were brilliant – you still are. I have so much affection and love
for this team. And that's why McLaren has always felt like home,' he
McLaren's sporting director Sam Michael admitted Hamilton's departure would be 'a loss to McLaren' but the team will 'move on quickly'.
Hamilton leaves to join Mercedes following six seasons with the team in Formula One and a further seven as part of the team's driver development programme.
'Of course it's a loss to McLaren but just like if anybody leaves, whether it's a driver – there have been some very big, famous names leave McLaren before in terms of drivers – and you don't dwell on it,' Michael told James Allen on F1. 'You move on quickly because Formula One's all about change management.”
Michael also said that Hamilton leaves on good terms.
'I think the whole team gets on very well with Lewis, and we still do. He's a great guy, he's a fantastic racing driver; he's possibly the quickest driver on the grid at the moment in terms of pure natural talent.'
Hamilton is backing Sebastian Vettel to maintain his stranglehold on the Formula One drivers’ championship for a fourth successive season.
Hamilton, who has left McLaren to race for Mercedes in the coming campaign, admitted he expects the combination of Vettel’s pace and the genius of Red Bull’ s chief designer Adrian Newey to be unbeatable once more.
‘It's going to be hard to beat Sebastian next year,’ Hamilton said. ‘I think Sebastian's going to have another amazing car. The car he had this year was fantastic. It's going to be an evolution of that next year. Adrian only seems to get better with age; I think he's going to do something pretty special next year as well.’
Back seat driver: Lewis looked relaxed as he headed home
Hamilton faces an uphill battle to
turn Mercedes into frontrunners next year but is eagerly anticipating
racing for his new team – even if he is forced to battle in the
Hamilton added: ‘I like that people
know that I'm a racer and I'm a winner. But it doesn't matter where you
are on the grid, you can still race. But I want to win – of course.
That's my goal. I can't wait to get my hands on the team and the car and
just try to work as quickly as possible.
‘It doesn't matter how many days, how
many hours it takes. I'm willing to put all the effort in. I feel like
I've got a new breath of life in me, so I'm ready for it.’
Meanwhile Hamilton’s former teammate, Jenson Button, is looking forward
to being the main focus at McLaren now that he is sharing the garage
with Mexican youngster Sergio Perez.
Button said of his team leader status: ‘It's not the first time I've
done that. When I got to BAR and Jacques [Villeneuve] left it was
exactly the same situation.
‘I was there to lead the team and it's something I really look forward
to and it's something where the best comes out of me in that situation.’
Determined to drive the design process of next year’s car in a direction
which can give him a machine capable of consistently challenge the
likes of Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, Button added: ‘I can
really build that team around me and direct the team in a direction I
like with the car.
‘We all drive differently and have different styles. For me, I need a
car I can develop beneath me and feel comfortable in. If the car feels
neutral and unbalanced it doesn't work for me.
‘I need to develop a car and engineer a car in a position that feels
comfortable for me, and I don't think anyone can do a better job than I
can in that position. The problem for me is if I can't get the car there
I do struggle more than some.'