Red Bull Racing Formula 1 chief Christian Horner has claimed that three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was “desperate” to join the team prior to his move to Mercedes.
Hamilton ended a long-running relationship with McLaren in 2012 to join Mercedes for the 2013 season at a time when Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull were dominating in the series.
After a quiet first season with Mercedes that yielded just one race win, Hamilton has since established himself among F1’s all-time greats by winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.
The Briton has hit new heights off-track as well, securing a staggering new Mercedes contract in 2015 and enjoying a celebrity status known by few in F1’s history.
However, it all could have been very different had Hamilton earned his desired move to Red Bull, as revealed by Horner to F1 Racing magazine.
“He wanted to drive for Red Bull,” Horner said. “He was desperate to drive for the team.
“In 2012, he wanted to come and drive for us, but there was no way we could accommodate him while Sebastian was with us.
“Then before he signed for Mercedes he was very keen to drive for Red Bull in 2013.”
Fascinatingly, Horner also revealed that he convinced Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda to sign Hamilton, believing that the Briton would be less of a threat to Red Bull if he wasn’t racing for McLaren.
“The McLaren had been very competitive in 2011 and 2012 and I thought it would probably be better for us for him to be at Mercedes than McLaren,” Horner said.
“In the event of us not being able to sign him I encouraged Niki Lauda to sign him to weaken McLaren, not envisaging that Mercedes would become the absolute powerhouse they are today.”
McLaren has not won a single race since Hamilton left and has scored just two podium finishes, and spent much of 2015 toiling at the back of the grid en route to ninth place in the constructors’ championship.
AN ALTERNATE HISTORY?
So what if Lewis Hamilton had joined Red Bull and not Mercedes for the 2013 season? (Assumptions follow…).
Firstly, it’s very plausible that Nico Rosberg could be a two-time world champion by now – more titles than Hamilton would have, assuming the Briton lost to Vettel at Red Bull in 2013.
Secondly, it would most probably have set the driver market into a very different motion. Mark Webber was approached by Ferrari to replace Felipe Massa for 2013, so that would likely have gone ahead if the Australian opted to give it another year before heading to WEC.
Webber would not have likely lasted too much longer at Ferrari, though, so a space may have been opened up for Kimi Raikkonen still. Similarly, Fernando Alonso would have bailed eventually, allowing Vettel to still make his dream move to Ferrari.
Hamilton joining Red Bull would have most probably delayed Daniel Ricciardo’s promotion to Red Bull until Vettel left. Would we rave about the affable Aussie so much had he debuted in the 2015 RB11?
Perhaps the biggest question unanswered is who would have joined Mercedes in Hamilton’s place. Michael Schumacher was keen to race in 2013, but would he have stayed on for another year or two beyond that to fight for an eighth world title?
Maybe a more likely answer comes in the form of Fernando Alonso. Tired with Ferrari, perhaps he would have jumped ship to Mercedes for 2014 and enjoyed racing with the best car on the grid for the first time since 2007.
The most interesting aspect of this is how a Hamilton/Vettel partnership would have worked. The two greatest drivers of the post-Schumacher era together in the same roost – what a sight that would have been…