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Ecclestone puts his money on Hamilton

NEWS STORY
19/03/2013

After just one race it would be foolhardy to attempt to predict a winner in the 2013 Formula One championship. However, if you were going to follow someone's lead than you would be hard pressed to find better than that of Bernie Ecclestone.

Just before the start of the season Ecclestone got out his crystal ball and predicted who will take home the title this year. Writing in US magazine Autoweek, Pitpass business editor Christian Sylt reports that Ecclestone tipped Lewis Hamilton to avenge his critics and win with Mercedes.

"Mercedes has certainly got the best engine and one of the best drivers in the world," he said.

It is hard to tell anything concrete from the results of just one race but it should be stressed that Ecclestone gave this view before the start of the season. True, it was on the back of Mercedes leading the field at the two rounds of testing in Barcelona but it was far from clear whether that would reflect its race pace.

As things turned out, Hamilton finished the first race in fifth place which is not bad at all considering the low expectations for Mercedes. In fact, the most recent race when one of its drivers finished in a higher position was back at the European Grand Prix in June last year.

Hamilton's switch from front-running McLaren to Mercedes was of course met with scepticism when it was announced last year. It was widely reported that his decision was driven by Mercedes offering him an annual salary which at an estimated 17m ($25m) is 25% higher than his previous pay at McLaren. However, Ecclestone believes that other factors were at play.

He revealed that McLaren chairman Ron Dennis told him he could have kept the British driver if he had wanted. However Ecclestone says that the situation between the two of them became so strained that Hamilton told him he would have rather taken a sabbatical than stay at McLaren.

"Ron said that he could have kept Lewis if he had wanted to but he didn't want to," said Ecclestone. "Lewis told me that he would have rather taken a year off. I don't know why it came to blows. In fairness to Lewis, he didn't leave McLaren over money. I don't know what it was because of but it wasn't to do with money. He just wanted a change I think. He probably thought he had been there long enough and wanted to move on."

Since Hamilton has joined Mercedes it has announced that former Williams director Toto Wolff has become its head of motorsport and invested in its F1 team alongside triple world champion Niki Lauda. McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe is expected to join Mercedes next year and Ecclestone puts it down to Hamilton. "When I spoke with them about taking Lewis I said if you take him you get the right sort of people because they think they are joining a winning team now."

Ecclestone's conclusion to Sylt was that Mercedes has "got the same tyres as everybody else, runs on the same circuits as other people so it remains whether or not the organisation is good." If the first race is anything to go by, the outlook seems brighter than it was.

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