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The Singapore GP retirement that defined Lewis Hamilton’s F1 career

A look back on Hamilton's decision that defined a career for one of the sport's all-time greats

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As the saying goes: no risk, no reward. Ten years ago, Lewis Hamilton took a monumental risk when he announced he would be leaving leaving McLaren and joining Mercedes for the 2013 Formula 1 season, and it’s safe to say it’s paid off.

At the time, McLaren were battling Red Bull and Ferrari for race victories, while Mercedes, in their third season since buying out the championship-winning Brawn GP team, were struggling, cut adrift in the midfield.

He was roundly criticised but the team had a vision. Nobody could have predicted what was to come, but Ross Brawn and Niki Lauda managed to land their man and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was a massive leap of faith, but would it have been different had the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix not ended in disaster?

Hamilton: I went against advice

Heading into the race at the Marina Bay circuit in 2012, Hamilton had renewed momentum behind his bid for a second world crown having closed the gap to Fernando Alonso with victory at Monza.

He landed pole position by more than four tenths from Pastor Maldonado and held station off the line before opening up a commanding lead until disaster struck. His gearbox failed on Lap 23 and he left Singapore with his championship hopes in tatters.

Mercedes F1 driver Lewis Hamilton before the first practice session of the 2013 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix | REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Between then and arriving at the next Grand Prix in Japan, Hamilton‘s career-defining move had been confirmed. We may never know how much of an impact that gearbox failure had, but it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have at least delayed the decision had he gone on to win the race.

Nevertheless, back at the scene 10 years on, Hamilton revealed the vindication he felt when he won the 2014 World Championship having defied the advice of his inner circle to swap Woking for Brackley.

“It [winning a second title] definitely changed a lot in my life because I had that dry spell,” Hamilton said. 

“I would say more so because I had taken the step and leap of faith in moving to another team [Mercedes] and I went against most of the advice I had around me, people that you would consider mentors, who all said to stay where I was [McLaren].

“It was actually after this race [Singapore 2012], people seem to think it was during this race that I made the decision to move.

“The gearbox failed here in 2012 – that had no effect on my decision as those things happen. The week after, sitting in Thailand, I managed to be in a peaceful place and it really came to me that I was going to take this leap.

“To have taken that step and obviously all the backlash makes you question if you really have made the right decision.”

Silencing the critics

It’s no exaggeration to say the F1 world was stunned when news broke of Hamilton’s upcoming departure from McLaren. The Woking outfit were still considered one of the sport’s superpowers and were regularly challenging for race wins.

Hamilton‘s decision to defect and join a Mercedes team that finished fifth in the 2012 Constructors’ Championship was considered career suicide by many, but the Stevenage-born racer had faith in the vision Brawn laid out in front of him at the kitchen table of his mum’s house.

“I’m not one to rub it in people’s faces,” Hamilton said after the 2014 Spanish Grand Prix. “I knew that I was in a good place, I knew that I was making the right decision for me and now it should be becoming more evident to people.

“I’m sure the people that wrote those things had an opinion at the beginning and I’m sure it’s changed now. There was never a moment that I ever doubted it but of course never could have imagined that we would be having this kind of success.”

Fast forward to now and Hamilton is a seven-time world champion, with a laundry list of records that will stand for years to come. He will take his place among the pantheon of all-time greats when he hangs his helmet up, but it could have been so different had events 10 years ago taken a different turn.

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