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Lewis Hamilton had to depart McLaren in order to extract the most from his driving style. That is according to Damon Hill, who until Hamilton clinched the crown in 2008 had been England and Britain’s most recent World Champion in 1996.
Although Hamilton’s Formula 1 debut came with McLaren in 2007, his career had already been overseen by the Ron Dennis-run operation for a decade. The relationship began after the driver had introduced himself to the team owner at the Autosport Show.
“Lewis has been like a caged bird at McLaren,” Hill, a 2012 television pundit for Sky Sports, told The Daily Mail. “He'd been managed to within an inch of his life. I can't blame him for looking to move elsewhere. Lewis needed to leave McLaren to stretch his wings.
“I could never get my head around the logic that the team takes the driver's trophy. It's the principle, not the trophy, that is at stake. After you have won a championship and jumped through a lot of hoops, there is a point when you think, ‘This is my life’. You can have a bellyful of becoming a performing seal. You don't want to be on probation for your whole career. Of course, you still have to fight inside the car but there is a time when, surely, you have proved you can motivate yourself. These are things Lewis has tried to balance.”
Hill believes that the Hamilton switch to Mercedes – where he will replace seven-time title winner Michael Schumacher – demonstrates a driver’s influence.
“This is quite a shift in the power balance in Formula 1,” he continued. “It shows a driver is a more important ingredient in the sport than the teams like to think. Formula 1 would do well to remember that the public relates to a driver's career path more than any team, with the exception of Ferrari. The rest are just operations. To the public, the sport is about the drivers.”
To date, Hamilton has recorded 24 pole positions, 20 race wins, 48 podium finishes and 11 fastest laps with Woking-based McLaren.
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