Hamilton insists he has not betrayed McLaren after completing Mercedes switch
21:45 GMT, 3 October 2012
After the weeks of months of agonising, of weighing up the pros and cons, of trying to separate the emotional from the professional, Lewis Hamilton braced himself for the hardest phone call of his life.
The intense speculation surrounding his future and the enormous pressure from all sides to make a decision finally came to a head as Hamilton sat by the pool of a secluded Thailand resort, only his trainer and trusted confidant Antti Vierula for company.
The time had come to tell his boss, McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, he was joining rival outfit Mercedes.
Centre of attention: Hamilton appeared in relaxed mood ahead of this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix
'It was the hardest call I have ever had to make,' says Hamilton as he speaks for the first time about his life-changing decision in a meeting room of the Conrad Hotel in downtown Tokyo.
'It was just really, really emotional. I didn't just pick up the phone. I took a step back and really thought about what I wanted to say.
'I wanted to make sure that Martin knew how much I appreciated all the support he has given me over the years.
'I have an incredible relationship with him. He is so easy to work with, so welcoming, so forgiving when you make mistakes. Very much more a friend than a boss. I called him and said “Look, I've decided to go this way”.'
Suit you, sir: Hamilton talked candidly about his switch to Mercedes after turning his back on McLaren
The way Hamilton has chosen has left plenty in Formula One scratching their heads. After all, he is leaving a team which has won one of every four races it has contested to join another which, in its current guise, has managed just one victory in nearly three seasons.
But no one has deliberated over the move more than Hamilton. And in the wake of crunch meetings at the previous race in Singapore, it was in tranquillity of Thailand where Hamilton made his leap of faith last week.
'I hadn't spoken to my management much during the process. I was just searching for myself, and deciding what I wanted to do,' says Hamilton rejecting the notion that his representatives, Simon Fuller's XIX Entertainment, had coerced him into joining Mercedes.
Decisions, decisions: Hamilton ended his 14-year association with McLaren after signing for Mercedes
'It was like a pendulum. One moment I'd think let's go for it, the next I'd think, I'm going to stay. Eventually it became clear in my mind.
'I already had the feeling a few days before but it stuck with me and I didn't have any swinging back. Then I got to Thailand and it was incredibly peaceful and I just sat by the pool and thought for several hours.
'It was important to do it on my terms in my own time rather than other people's. I wasn't going to be pushed and rushed into this decision although there was a lot of pressure – Martin had been asking me when I was going to do a deal since China last year.
'I had a couple of deadlines, I didn't meet any one of them. But then the decision was made. It really, really was a tough but once I made it I was so much more relaxed.
On track: Hamilton arrives in Japan 52 points adrift of championship leader Fernando Alonso
'It was not about the offers. I had two offers on the table which were very, very similar. Martin asked me what they could have done more. To be honest, it was about the new challenge and a step that I wanted to make.'
Hamilton certainly appears much more relaxed than at any time in the recent past as he lays bare the rollercoaster of emotions he has endured while weighing up whether to leave a team he joined as a 13-year-old to take on the fresh challenge of Mercedes.
He is taking his inspiration from Michael Schumacher, the man who he replaces at Mercedes, who, under the guidance of his new boss Ross Brawn, dragged Ferrari from the doldrums to five consecutive drivers' titles in the previous decade. It is a challenge that clearly excites Hamilton greatly.
Even so, there is something ever so slightly perverse listening to him chat about transforming Mercedes as McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale, chief designer Paddy Lowe and other assorted top brass enjoy a drink in the 28th floor bar next door.
The future: Sergio Perez (far right) will replace Hamilton at McLaren next term
It is certainly a metaphor for the strange dynamic Hamilton must endure over the remaining six races of the campaign, starting with Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.
'It will be interesting walking into the garage because there are a couple of guys who work on my car have been there with me since 2007,' says Hamilton of facing up to his mechanics for the first time since announcing his decision.
'There are other people who have been in the team since I started and I have great relationships with them, and I have not had a chance to speak to them. I told Martin that I wanted to have a big get together in the canteen and speak to the team.'
Hamilton might have trouble squaring that with McLaren Group executive chairman Ron Dennis, the man who set the 2008 world champion on the road to Formula One stardom, as it seems their relationship has been irrevocably damaged.
'I did try to get hold of Ron, but I did not manage to speak to him,' says Hamilton before addressing the subject of betrayal.
'You will have to ask Ron if he feels that way. When I spoke to Martin I said that the plan was not to burn bridges. I don't feel as though I am going out of McLaren through the back door. I am going out the front door happily.'
Hamilton's more immediate exit is via the lift to a waiting car, as a marketing man ensures he is dressed appropriately in a Hugo Boss suit ahead of yet another promotional event for McLaren's army of sponsors.
Normal service has been resumed for the time being, but nothing will ever really be the same for Hamilton now that he has made that call.