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Doomed?

FEATURE BY CHRIS BALFE
29/09/2012

As the press release advising Lewis Hamilton's new deal with Mercedes arrived in my inbox I was aware of the music emanating from the TV in the corner of the office. "I'm building an empire," sang Alpine in the trailer for the latest series of Boardwalk Empire, and as the camera closed in on the character-etched craggy features of the superb Steve Buscemi I couldn't help but wonder if the timing was coincidental or ironic.

As Ross Brawn and his team secure the latest piece in the new F1 empire Mercedes is aiming to build at Brackley, are we witnessing the fall of another empire over at Woking?

If ever anyone doubted that McLaren has been caught out by Hamilton's departure, they only had to watch Martin Whitmarsh's interview with Sky Sports News. Though he was attempting to put a brave face on things, the shock and the hurt was obvious, despite the brave assurances that 'we've won championships before, we'll win championship again'.

It was like the break up of a love affair, a break up all the more painful because you had no say in it.

Of course, Whitmarsh's hurt wasn't simply about Lewis heading off to Brackley, fact is, unless something pretty amazing happens in the next couple of months the McLaren boss may also find himself heading for the exit.

In the eyes of this particular observer, since Ron was effectively banished to the sidelines, McLaren, the F1 team, has never been the same. Admit it; following Lewis' 'is it because I'm black' quip, or the sight of Rhianna walking through the team garage - on a Grand Prix Saturday - glass of Champagne in hand, haven't you found yourself muttering; 'I bet Ron's going crazy right now' or 'Ron wouldn't have put up with this'?

Then again, has McLaren lost focus; is its diversification into other fields costing what was its core business, its F1 team? While Ron and his partners may want to emulate Ferrari, why the need for some of the other projects, especially when it is clear that the F1 team is not the force it once was. Personally, I think the Tooned cartoon project is brilliant, though the first series will clearly be binned following Lewis' departure (will Sergio now appear as a Speedy Gonzalez type character in series two… arriba, arriba, andele, andele?) but is it at the expense of the Woking team's credibility where it really matters… on track?

As for Lewis, who can blame him? He's a young man, enormously talented and with the world at his feet. Like his counterparts on the football field at a very young age he is richer beyond his wildest dreams. He mixes with superstars, has his pick of some of the world's most beautiful women and all the time people are tripping over themselves to tell him how brilliant he is.

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