Risk-taker Hamilton hopes to be competitive

Lewis Hamilton knows he has taken the biggest gamble of his life in joining Mercedes but he is only wishing for a competitive season for now.

Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes

For a man who lives to win, whose racing DNA is embedded with the kind of fierce determination to succeed that separates the great from the good, Hamilton's decision to quit McLaren and start anew at Mercedes remains an eye-opening one.

Over the past three seasons a McLaren took the chequered flag on 18 occasions - Hamilton claiming 10 of those - whereas Mercedes, over the same period on their return to the sport, won just once.

In each of those three seasons Hamilton also comfortably outscored on his own the combined efforts of Mercedes duo Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher.

So no matter how many times Hamilton says "I needed a new challenge", is he trying to convince us or himself?

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There is obvious merit in the fact that after 14 years with McLaren, after initially signing for the team at the age of 13, he had become part of the fixtures and fittings at the team's Technology Centre at Woking.

However, after six years in Formula One in particular, Hamilton had also grown tired of the seemingly endless rounds of sponsorship commitments, but then given the fortune paid to him by McLaren he surely did not have too much cause for complaint.

Then there is 'Brand Hamilton'. As McLaren possess all of the image rights of their drivers, it meant there were no prospects for him to cultivate and develop that area of his future.

Mercedes, on the other hand, are more relaxed on that front, allowing Hamilton to more aggressively pursue the potential behind his brand, especially with renowned image-makers XIX Entertainment the driving force behind his management these days.

When you consider McLaren also dragged their heels with regard to his salary before they eventually matched Mercedes' £15million annual pay packet late on, Hamilton will also have questioned their desire to retain his services.

There is no doubt money, and the ambition to develop himself as a human being and not just a racing driver, played a part in his thinking.

There is also no doubt the will to win remains, and in signing a three-year contract with Mercedes, Hamilton views his move as a chance to cement his legacy in another way.

There may be some pain along the way this season if the latest 'Silver Arrow' fails to take a giant leap forward, given the stability in the regulations.

It is why Hamilton insists his deal is "a marathon not a sprint", that it is all about "the long haul" as he looks ahead to 2014 when F1 faces an engine revolution.

As an engine supplier, Hamilton is fully expecting Mercedes to drive the change from the current 2.4-litre V8s to the turbo-charged 1.6-litre V6s.

Herein lies the gamble because there are no guarantees Mercedes will deliver and that one of their rivals in Ferrari and Renault will not steal a march and lead the way.

What then for Hamilton, who confesses his desire to follow in the considerable footsteps of Michael Schumacher and spark a Mercedes dynasty the way the German did for Ferrari when he won five titles in a row from 2000 to 2004?

"I wanted a change, I'm a risk-taker," said Hamilton.

"There were so many good things about the opportunity, to go to a team that is struggling and hopefully be a part of something that makes them become great.

"Michael did it a few years ago with Ferrari, and there is no other driver that has really done that. I want to do something like that."

But to get there, Hamilton claims he is "quite prepared to finish 15th in the first race", the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 17.

That remains to be seen as it goes against the grain of Hamilton the racer, the ferocious competitor, and given Mercedes' form in testing during pre-season the car appears to be the best they have produced.

On each of the final two days at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya at the start of the month, Hamilton and then team-mate Nico Rosberg were quickest respectively.

While little can often be read into testing times, what Mercedes conjured was nevertheless highly respectable, suggesting they may yet challenge.

Realistically, Hamilton said: "I just hope we can be competitive.

"If we arrive at the first race and we are in front then it's going to be spectacular. If not, we will just have to keep working at it, and I have the patience to do that.

"You've got to remember I've had a couple of half-dodgy cars in the past, like in 2009, which did improve.

"If needs be, perseverance is going to be the key for all of us."

As long as Hamilton avoids in Melbourne the embarrassment of what occurred on his first outing in the car, the W04, on the second day of the opening pre-season test in Jerez early last month.

A rear-brake failure on his 15th lap at 180 miles per hour pitched him into a tyre barrier, which was painful both for him personally as his legs "took a bit of a thump", and for the team on a professional basis.

Hamilton described it as nothing more than "a blip", a word he may yet use to sum up this season if Mercedes again struggle this year, before he hopes they finally realise their potential from 2014 onwards.

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