Published: Friday September 28, 2012 MYT 5:03:00 PM
Formula One: Hamilton replaced by Perez at McLaren
LONDON: Former Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton will leave McLaren and will be replaced by Sauber's Mexican driver Sergio Perez at the start of the 2013 season, McLaren said Friday.
The 27-year-old is reportedly to move to Mercedes but there was no immediate confirmation, however one report in Germany said that the outfit's seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher would not have his contract renewed next season.
Speculation has been rife for months about a Hamilton move away from the team that he has represented for 15 years, amid apparent wranglings over his salary and outspoken comments from the driver himself on pit stops and team tactics.
But announcing his departure, team principal Martin Whitmarsh made no reference to the disquiet, instead paying tribute to Hamilton, who drove McLaren to the world championship title in 2008.
"It's entirely appropriate that I should take this opportunity to pass on our thanks to Lewis," Whitmarsh said.
"He wrote a huge chapter of his life and career with us, and was, and always will be, a fine member of an exclusive club: the McLaren world champions' club.
"It goes without saying that we all wish him well for the future, just as it also goes without saying that we hope and believe that Sergio, too, will become a member of that exclusive club before too long."
McLaren said it had signed a multi-year deal with 22-year-old Perez, adding that that pairing him with Jenson Button would be a "perfect blend of youth and experience".
Perez said he was "thrilled and delighted" to join McLaren.
"I'm under no illusion that it is indeed a very big step - as it would be for any driver - but I'm ready for it," he said.
"I am, and always will be, extremely grateful to Peter (Sauber) and everybody at the Sauber Formula 1 team for their belief in me, and for giving me the chance to race in Formula 1."
Hamilton's move to Mercedes seemed all but assured amid a report in the German daily Bild on Friday that Schumacher will not have his contract renewed at the end of the season.
Schumacher last won the world championships in 2004 for Ferrari and joined Germany's Mercedes in 2010. He finished eighth overall in the drivers' championship last season, while Mercedes were fourth in the constructors' table.-AFP