Mercedes confirmed yesterday that Hamilton would be joining them on a three-year deal from the start of the 2013 Formula One season, ending a 14-year association with McLaren.
Hamilton will replace Michael Schumacher at the German team, with Mexican driver Sergio Perez — currently with Sauber — stepping in for the Briton at McLaren.
Hamilton has described his move as a “fresh challenge” but Whitmarsh believes the switch makes it less likely he will achieve his ambition of matching his hero Ayrton Senna and becoming a three-time world champion.
“Mercedes is a great partner of ours and they are a great team,” Whitmarsh said.
“But for anyone leaving McLaren, and he wants to win, I think that’s a mistake because I have faith and belief in this team.
Whether you measure it over the last four races, four years or 40 years, we’re a fantastic team. So I would say to any driver who wanted to win in this sport ‘come and join McLaren and aspire to join McLaren’.
“I wouldn’t advise anyone to leave McLaren if they want to win, but I’ve got to respect Lewis’ decision and really wish him well.” Mercedes have won just one of 52 grands prix since taking over 2009 champions Brawn GP, while McLaren have won 16 over the same three-year period.
Hamilton said: “It is now time for me to take on a fresh challenge and I am very excited to begin a new chapter racing for Mercedes.
“Mercedes-Benz has such an incredible heritage in motorsport, along with a passion for winning which I share. Together, we can grow and rise to this new challenge.”
A look at Lewis Hamilton’s top five races with McLaren...
>> 2007 CANADIAN GP:
Hamilton rewrote the record books during his rookie season as he finished on the podium in his first nine races.
>>2008 MONACO GP:
Hamilton was desperate to follow his hero Ayrton Senna, and he did so with a superb drive on the treacherous streets.
>> 2008 BRITISH GP:
Having stormed through from the fourth grid, he destroyed the field to win by 68 secs — the biggest margin since 1995.
>> 2008 BRAZILIAN GP:
Lewis knew 5th place would guarantee him the title even if Massa won the race. He passed T Glock, at the very last corner.
>> 2009 HUNGARIAN GP:
Hamilton’s title defence proved to be a miserable affair, but a major upgrade package marked a return to the front.