Former McLaren mechanic Marc Priestley claims that the team fought to avoid Lewis Hamilton during his rookie season in favour of working with Fernando Alonso. The Brit defied expectations by going close to the world title in his first year as an F1 driver, despite having teamed up with a reigning double world champion.
Hamilton was formidable on his rise through the motorsport ranks, winning a title in each of the four years before he was promoted to F1. The pressure was still huge upon joining McLaren, however, where he raced alongside one of the most fearsome competitors in Alonso.
The Brit has since gone on to have a glittering career in the sport, boasting seven Championships to Alonso’s two. Priestley outlined the extent to which mechanics and engineers underestimated the newcomer as they actively fought to work for his team-mate in 2007.
“The mechanics and engineers fought among themselves to work in Fernando’s garage,” Priestley told the Pitlane Life Lessons podcast. “People didn’t want to work on Hamilton’s car, because they didn’t expect so much from him.”
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With 12 podiums and four wins in his debut year, Hamilton sensationally finished level on points with Alonso and only one point behind eventual world champion Kimi Raikkonen. The Stevenage-born star would go one better the following year when he claimed his first Drivers’ Championship at the age of 23.
That was to be his only individual title with McLaren as, in 2013, he raised eyebrows by joining up with Mercedes. The Silver Arrows delivered on their promises in his second season, and six titles in seven years drew Hamilton alongside Michael Schumacher as the joint-most decorated F1 driver of all time.
A full 15 years after Hamilton was the unfancied student alongside the seasoned Alonso, the roles have been reversed this season with Mercedes. George Russell was expected to trail his vastly experienced team-mate after making the step up from Williams, but he has opened up a staggering 23-point gap after five races.
While Russell will surely be delighted at how he has stacked up against his Silver Arrows partner thus far, much in the same way Hamilton would have been when he gave Alonso a run for his money in 2007, the youngster has not been shy at voicing his concerns over Mercedes’ performance issues. Red Bull and Ferrari look set to break clear in the Constructors’ Championship having shown the kind of pace Mercedes can only dream of at this stage of the season.
“At the end of the day there is no happy or not happy moment at the moment just because we’re a bit down,” said team boss Toto Wolff in Miami. “We’re third quickest on the road and we’re in no man’s land.
“We had a good Friday. We need to dissect why that was and then come back. This is where we are. We’re not as quick in qualifying and we are behind the Red Bulls and Ferrari.”