Hamilton: Leaving McLaren 'emotionally difficult' but the 'right decision for me'

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Lewis Hamilton admits his decision to leave McLaren was "emotionally difficult" but "the right decision for me".

After several tough years, the Briton was courted by Niki Lauda back in 2012 to replace Michael Schumacher at the Brackley-based team for the following year.

Ultimately agreeing to make the jump, Hamilton has been rewarded with 70 wins and soon-to-be six world titles at Mercedes, who became the dominant force in Formula 1 in 2014.

On the contrary, McLaren is still yet to win since 2012, having entered a dramatic slump which included the three torrid years with Honda in 2015-17.

However, talking to Motor Sport Magazine, Hamilton admitted that period eight years ago was the toughest in his career.

“I think it’s pretty impossible to say what is the hardest moment because like all of us, all of us as individuals, we all go through multiple difficult moments, particularly when it comes to making big decisions,” he said.

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“Whilst it looks great now, when choosing to move to Mercedes, everyone spoke so negatively about the decision to move. I knew that it was the right decision for me and I wanted to be a part of that journey.

“I was with McLaren-Mercedes since I was 13 so to decide to leave a team that’s given me a place in the sport was very, very difficult for me and to call your boss and tell him that you’re leaving, it was damaging and just emotionally difficult.

"But then I’m still with Mercedes, every win and every race that I’ve done has been powered by Mercedes and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.”

The team boss at McLaren at that time was Martin Whitmarsh, who just last month joined the board of the new Hamilton Commission, which aims to promote opportunities for black people in motorsport.

And reflecting back on his decision to leave for Mercedes, Whitmarsh, who himself left McLaren after 2014, was the first person who came to mind.

“Calling my boss, calling Martin in particular, was one of the hardest calls that I’ve ever had to make," Lewis admitted.

Ham Whitmarsh

“I hope that he has forgiven me by now! I think so because he understands, but ultimately I think it was the right decision.

"I knew it was the right decision for me personally and I think that is how life is generally: nobody can tell you what to do, only you will know personally what is right or wrong for yourself.

“You can’t have anyone else influence that decision. As long as you do your homework, you have got to do what is right for you, and at the time, that is what I did.”

After winning his 91st race at the Eifel Grand Prix just over a week ago, to match Michael Schumacher at the top of the all-time list, Hamilton did acknowledge how important McLaren was to where he is now.

“Without their support, along with Mercedes, I wouldn’t have made it to Formula 1, being that it is so expensive so there was no way, as family, that we had the sorts of money that some other families are able to throw at this sport," he said.

“So my loyalty was to them, but at the time, I had to think about what the future would hold and what I wanted to be a part of," the 35-year-old added.

"I wanted to be a part of a team that perhaps hadn’t had as much success, was in a growing phase, and I wanted to be a part of that, that growing journey, building something relatively new.

“That was an exciting challenge and I didn’t know how long it was going to be until we got to winning ways. But I truly, truly believed that we would get there at some stage," Hamilton concluded.