Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Talk on Corners
Christopher Wheelahan

Chris first caught the F1 flu back in 2003 but lost track due to the snooze-fest that was the 2004 season. In 2010 Chris rediscovered the sport and has become enthralled since. He makes no claims to be a superb writer or journalist but only an obsessive follower of motorsport, particularly F1. Nowadays Chris spends his spare time experimenting with cocktails and wasting time with Musical Theatre types. He does not enjoy long walks on the beach… sorry.

A most finicky cocktail // Pondering the future of Lewis Hamilton over a drink or two

Published

Hamilton tests the MP4-12C
Credit: VMM

At the risk of becoming a one-trick-pony, I’m going to tell you another story about Formula 1 and hipster-y beverages. This time, about booze rather than coffee because (and let’s be frank here) bourbon is way more fun than coffee.

It’s a spirit that is equally at home in a tumbler by itself, with a little ice or with some vermouth and a dash of bitters served up. If James Bond drank Vespers, Steve McQueen drank Manhattans… in his 1967 Rolls Royce. Watch The Thomas Crown Affair. You’ll get what I mean.

It was hot. Very hot, and very humid. Of course it was. It was New Orleans in July and about 30 minutes after one of those famous “summer showers” that more resembled Noah’s great flood than what you probably imagine as an afternoon sprinkle. To make matters worse I was wearing a seersucker blazer which hastily made its way over my shoulder as soon as I walked outside. The roughly five block walk from near the River to the Roosevelt Hotel was actually rather nice despite the weather. There were lots of people out and it was a smidge too early for tourists to be sloppy from too many hand-grenades. The demographic was mostly cocktail aficionados (snobs?) in town for the annual “Tales of the Cocktail” celebration.

I walked into the garage entrance to avoid the many-sips-of-sample-cocktail-fueled crowd and spied a glint of silver sports car right in the front. Figuring it was a Corvette or some such I continued on my merry way… until I heard it. Definitely not a Corvette. It was a spotless McLaren MP4-12C. The first one I had seen and the only one I’ve seen since. I went over to compliment the driver, who was either working on his upper body strength or trying to remove himself from the car. I said his choice of not-a-Gallardo was commendable and we got talking.

“Some car you got there.”

“Yep. You don’t see many of them in this town.”

“Nope.”

“In fact, you’re the first person to recognize exactly what it is since I bought it.”

“Oh really?”

The banter went on for some time as he seemed in no particular hurry for anything so I invited him into the famed Carousel Bar for a drink. Of course, he chooses a Manhattan. Not to be outdone, I order a Sazerac.

“So, big McLaren F1 fan?” he says.

“I’m a big F1 fan.” I say. “I don’t really have any strict loyalties to teams as much as I do to particular drivers…” Wrong thing to say, I think to myself. “…but if I had to pick a favorite, McLaren would probably be it.” He slides, he’s safe.

“You think Hamilton’s going to stick around?”

Lewis Hamilton F1 paddock
Credit: VMM

Oh good… now we’re in my territory. But what do I actually think about the Lewis situation? What options does the guy have besides McLaren? Quick rundown to self - Red Bull: no already confirmed both drivers; Ferrari: eh, possible but with Fernando? Lotus: really, they seem pretty happy but nobody’s confirmed yet; and Mercedes: well, that’s totally dependent on whether Schumacher retires.

It seems as though the Woking team is really the only viable option. I know they’re not really willing to pay what he wants, but where else would the young Brit go? Let’s see what this guy has to say.

“I dunno, what do you think?”

“Ferrari’s always an option, but then I’d have to trade in my car.”

Uncomfortable laughter. ‘Please don’t buy a 458’, I think to myself. It’s way more pretentious and besides, it would just self-immolate.

Back on topic: the truth of the matter I; Lewis Hamilton is much like this guy’s cocktail: the quality of the whole is entirely dependent on the quality of the ingredients. First you’ve got your bourbon (or rye if you’re a purist like me). Lewis is the bourbon. He’s the base of the successful cocktail, and a good base he is. A solid Buffalo Trace or Bulleit. But here’s the thing. Even these most fine of Bourbons can be ruined by some sub-par mixers.

Jenson Button: the Bitters. He’s most always the same. He’s the one constant. He will consistently be a solid performer (though not 100 percent of the time as we’ve seen this season). It is up to the bourbon to outshine the accent flavors and if Lewis can’t outshine a crusty, old bottle of tree bark distillate, there is something much more sinister afoot. Call it what you will: his girlfriend, his home life, his father/ex-manager or any number of other, outside factors. The point is, if these do not all line up perfectly you end up with a rather old and unused bottle of vermouth that tastes more like vinegar than fortified wine. What Lewis needs is the Carpano Antica of outside circumstances to thrive and when he has that, thrive he does.

“Yeah, he’ll probably stay” I say instinctually. The real question is though, will he be making as much as he wants to be making. The truth of the matter is, probably not. It’s a down economy, and Lewis has shown himself to be inconsistent over the last few years; 2011 in particular. So McLaren isn’t especially keen on paying the man what he thinks he ought to be making.

“Really? Huh.” *sip*

Ugh. What did he mean by that? Okay, so now I’m thinking harder. It may actually be in McLaren’s best interest to pay the man more than they want to. If Lewis makes less than he was hoping for, it may become a fly in the ointment. Or in the stem-less cocktail glass, as it were. An eighth of an ounce shy on the vermouth makes the drink overpoweringly smoky and barrel-heavy. In other words, they could pay what they want to get a driver not worth the salary, or they could pay more than they want for a driver worth twice as much. The trick is (and this is often the trick in negotiating) to get Hamilton to settle on a number which is maybe more then you originally wanted, but also more than he expected. In return, he thinks he’s masterfully negotiated a contract and you get perhaps another world championship at a discount.

“Anyways, I ought to be going. Thanks for the cocktail” he says.

Really? You own an MP4-12C and you couldn’t pick up the tab? I hope you choke on your stupid drink. Who orders those besides finance interns anyway?