Hamilton joins Mercedes, Perez goes to McLaren
(AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)
(AP) -- Lewis Hamilton is leaving McLaren for Mercedes - in a move that could mean Michael Schumacher is leaving Formula One, this time for good.
Mercedes announced Friday that Hamilton will join its team next season, replacing seven-time F1 champion Schumacher in a major shakeup that also sees Sergio Perez going to McLaren.
It marks a big change for both F1 and Hamilton, who has been at McLaren throughout his career but was lured over by a lucrative offer from Mercedes, which the British team was unwilling to match. He will team up with Nico Rosberg next season on a three-year contract.
For Schumacher, it could mark the end of the greatest career the sport has seen - and a three-year comeback that has seen him fail to duplicate the successes of his prime - although there is speculation that the 43-year-old German driver could replace Perez at Sauber next season.
Hamilton's move, which had been rumored for weeks, was confirmed by Mercedes on Friday shortly after McLaren announced its signing of Perez.
"It is now time for me to take on a fresh challenge and I am very excited to begin a new chapter," Hamilton said. "Mercedes-Benz has such an incredible heritage in motorsport, along with a passion for winning which I share.
"Together, we can grow and rise to this new challenge," the 27-year-old Hamilton added. "I believe that I can help steer the Silver Arrows to the top and achieve our joint ambitions of winning the world championships."
Hamilton won his only F1 title with McLaren in 2008, but the past two seasons have featured a mixture of brilliant driving, clashes with other drivers and controversial moments.
Hamilton angered team management by posting a photo of a telemetry sheet showing data from his and teammate Jenson Button's car on his Twitter page at the Belgian GP recently. Button publicly criticized Hamilton for the incident, increasing speculation that a change was imminent.
Although Hamilton was expected to leave, team principal Martin Whitmarsh thinks he has made a mistake.
"I wouldn't advise anyone to leave McLaren if they want to win, but I've got to respect Lewis' decision and really wish him well," Whitmarsh said.
Rosberg, who won the Chinese GP in April for his first career win, is looking forward to working with Hamilton.
"Very cool that lewis will be my new teamate! Gonna be another great challenge!" the German driver said on his Twitter page.
Schumacher has struggled for consistency since coming out of retirement in 2010 to join Mercedes. Now in his third season with Mercedes, the German has managed only one podium finish - third place - during that time. This season, he has retired from seven races.
"I have had three nice years with the team which, unfortunately, did not go as well as we all would have wanted on the sporting side," Schumacher said. "I wish Lewis well and for the team to achieve the success we worked so hard for in the build-up. I would like to thank the team for their trust and all the guys for their unconditional commitment."
He did not say whether he will try to find a new team for next season.
Team chief Ross Brawn thanked Schumacher "for the important contribution he has made to the growth of our team over the past three seasons" and sad he is excited about challenging for the title with Hamilton.'
"The arrival of a driver of Lewis' caliber is a testament to the standing of Mercedes-Benz in Formula One and I am proud that Lewis shares our vision and ambition," Brawn said. "I believe that the combination of Lewis and Nico will be the most dynamic and exciting pairing on the grid next year, and I am looking forward to what we can achieve together."
Brawn acknowledged that Schumacher had not lived up to the team's hopes.
"His energy and commitment have never wavered, even when results have not matched our own expectations," Brawn said. "We are determined to finish the 2012 season together on a high. "
Perez, meanwhile, signed a "multi-year deal" with McLaren after an impressive 2012 campaign that initially sparked interest from Ferrari.
"I'm thrilled and delighted to have become a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver," he said. "The McLaren name is one of the greatest in the history of Formula One," Perez said. "I was brought up on the great stories of Ayrton Senna's many world championship triumphs for McLaren and I'm truly honored that they've chosen me to partner Jenson (Button)."
The 22-year-old Perez was part of Ferrari's young driver program and was at one stage expected to replace Felipe Massa.
Perez has finished on the podium three times this season, and his performance at the Italian GP in Monza this month, where he finished second to Hamilton, was hailed as one of the most impressive drives of his young career and a sign that he could be a genuine contender for race wins in a faster car.
"It was a string of giant-killing performances, a trio of podiums and a brilliant fastest lap in this year's Monaco Grand Prix that showed us that Sergio lacks nothing in terms of speed and commitment," Whitmarsh said. "We've been monitoring his progress carefully for some months and, now that he's become part of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, our task will be to refine and develop his abilities as his career progresses over the coming years."
The Sauber team has yet to say who will replace Perez next season amid speculation that Schumacher could line up alongside Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi.
Perez survived a heavy crash at last year's Monaco GP and started the new season strongly, with a second-place finish at the Malaysian GP in Sepang before securing third place at the Canadian GP in Montreal.
He is ninth in the overall standings ahead heading into next week's Japanese GP.
"I'm under no illusion that it is indeed a very big step, as it would be for any driver, but I'm ready for it," Perez said. "I'm already massively looking forward to working with everyone at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, and with Jenson, who's someone I've long admired as a brilliant driver and a great champion."
Whitmarsh is confident he has a future title contender on board.
"He's perfectly poised to develop into a world championship challenger," Whitmarsh said.
Updated September 28, 2012