Lewis Hamilton: looking back on his first season at Mercedes, ten years later

March 2023 marks ten years since Lewis Hamilton embarked on his first F1 season with Mercedes – a partnership that went on to near-unprecedented success. At the time, though, the markedly different landscape of the sport led some to question Hamilton’s choice…

In late 2012, the British star shocked the paddock by leaving McLaren, a perennial frontrunner, for Mercedes. The silver arrows had only been back in F1 for three years, with just one win to show for it.

Meanwhile, Hamilton had been at McLaren since his debut in 2007. Here, he had picked up a World drivers’ championship in 2008 and established himself as one of the fastest pilots on the grid.

But following the 2009 aerodynamic changes, McLaren had not managed to match the might of Red Bull.

So, Lewis Hamilton decided to see if he could build with a different team – joining Mercedes in 2013, his first season without McLaren backing in decades.

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that this team switch was an inspired one. Contrastingly, moving to the German manufacturer looked like a massive risk in 2013.

What did the grid look like ten years ago?

Unsurprisingly, the crop of drivers on the 2013 grid differs vastly from the one today. Including Hamilton, just five drivers who were in F1 ten years ago still race in 2023.

Firstly, Fernando Alonso was still attempting to win a third title, this time at Ferrari. It was the Spaniard’s penultimate season with the Scuderia before he made his ill-fated switch to McLaren in 2015.

Also racing in 2013 was Nico Hulkenberg. Back then, the German racer plied his trade with Sauber (now known as Alfa Romeo). He enjoyed a positive 2013 season, finishing tenth in the driver standings.

This was just ahead of Sergio Perez, who was also on the grid ten years ago. He drove for McLaren at the time; Checo was actually the Woking squad’s replacement for Lewis Hamilton. Perez’s sole season there did not go ideally as he finished on just 49 points.

Finally, 2013 was the first season of the current Alfa Romeo driver, and former Mercedes teammate of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas’ career. The Finn was at Williams, who endured a tricky season as their drivers combined for just five points.

The likes of Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, and Nico Rosberg were also on the grid in 2013. None of them could hold a candle to the champion that season, though.

Sebastian Vettel produced a truly dominant display to claim his fourth world title in a row. The Red Bull ace won 13 races in 2013, which at the time equalled the single-season record.

His 155-point advantage in the drivers’ standings was also a crushing testament to his supremacy.

For Lewis Hamilton, his debut year with the Silver Arrows showed promise, but disappointment, too.

How did his first season at Mercedes go for Lewis Hamilton?

The Mercedes W04 was an evolution of its predecessor, 2012’s W03. It was brilliant in one-lap scenarios, recording eight pole positions despite Red Bull’s standout car.

Unfortunately, though, the 2013 Silver Arrows charger had a significant issue. It ate through tyres relentlessly, which in Grand Prix racing proves extremely problematic. Therefore, the team often could not translate great grid position into wins or podiums.

For example, Mercedes had a front-row lockout at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix. But the Circuit de Catalunya’s high tyre degradation cost them, as Rosberg and Hamilton came home in sixth and twelfth respectively.

However, Mercedes proved that they could provide their drivers with a fast car, and they did even get some wins. Nico Rosberg won the Monaco and British Grand Prix, two of the most historic races on the calendar.

In addition, Lewis Hamilton took one win in his first season with Mercedes at the Hungarian GP. With this, the Brit maintained his streak of taking a victory in every F1 season that he has competed in.

He also claimed five podiums throughout 2013, a further case to have optimism for the future.

Ultimately, Hamilton claimed fourth (189 points) in the drivers’ standings after his debut campaign with his new team. This matched his position from 2012 with McLaren. Meanwhile, the Woking-based squad slid down to fifth in the team championship.

Mercedes moved in the opposite direction, rising from fifth in the 2012 constructors’ standings to second. People began thinking that the 2008 World champion had got his transfer right after all.

Silver Arrows dominate 2014 season

The following campaign brought in a new era for Formula 1. Gone were the naturally aspirated V8 engines; instead, the 2014 season saw turbo-hybrid V6 power units in each car.

Mercedes were prepared for this and produced a brilliant package for the fresh regulations. Their power unit placed the turbine and air compressor at opposite ends of the engine – a style which contrasted with other PUs. Because of this, Mercedes could make a cleaner aerodynamic package, and thus a better car.

2014 hosted one of the most dominant team seasons in the history of the sport as a result. Mercedes won all but three races throughout the campaign as their car was head and shoulders above the rest.

Hamilton went on to claim his second world drivers’ championship in 2014. Of course, in the following years, he would add to this emphatically.

On a Top Gear episode in early 2013, Jeremy Clarkson compared Hamilton’s Mercedes move to: “leaving Manchester United to join West Ham”.

Little did we know that the switch was more akin to Man City’s emergence as a sporting powerhouse.

Featured image credit: Getty