Following a disjointed start to the season which saw three races over five weekends, the cancelation of the Chinese GP and a a subsequent four week break, Formula One is about to settle down to a more regular rhythm.
Even the summer break this year is for just three weeks instead of the usual four, so for the fans its wall to wall racing until the season finale in Abu Dhabi come the last weekend in November.
1/3rd year gone and no Hamilton anoucnement
By the time the teams leave Baku, April will be over and there’s still no announcement on one of Formula One’s biggest ever stars.
The topic of Lewis Hamilton’s next contract is always a big deal but given Mercedes’ woeful 2022 W13 car, the conversation started earlier than usual.
With Hamilton chasing a record eighth drivers’ championship the question on everyone’s lips was can Mercedes come back and give him a car capable of delivering the title?
Previous expectations for a quick deal
As last season bean to wind up, Hamilton addressed the topic of his contract at the USA Grand Prix in Texas stating he was confident in his Mercedes team.
“We are going to do another deal.
“We’re going to sit down and we’re going to discuss it in these next couple of months, I would say.”
The next couple of months passed and it was time for the launch of the new 2023 F1 cars. It was Toto Wolff’s turn to address the elephant in the room in January when questioned about the state of negotiations with Lewis.
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Wolff’s excuses now laid bare
Wolff claimed the lack of progress to date was due to Lewis and he being on different continents over the winter break.
“In the last 10 years our relationship has grown that it’s just a matter of him physically being back in Europe, sticking our heads together, wrestling a bit and then leaving the room with white smoke after a few hours,” reported Toto.
Another three months have passed and the white smoke is distinctly absent from the chimney of the Mercedes. Motorhome.
Speculation is once again growing over Hamilton’s future given both his and Toto’s stated timescales for agreeing a new contract have well and truly come and gone.
Both parties playing “wait and see”?
F1 champion and Sky pundit Damon Hill suggested both parties were playing a wait and see game.
“One possible explanation is that both sides are waiting to see just how competitive Mercedes are before committing to a new deal.”
Hill surmises if the car continues to be “miles off the pace perhaps Lewis will be less minded to sign a new long term deal.”
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Hamilton brings pressure to bear
Clearly after just the first qualifying session of the season in Bahrain, Wolff caved in to the pressure to declare “I don’t think that this package is going to be competitive eventually.”
This coded statement appeared to be directed towards Mercedes’ technical team’s car design philosophy and a validation of Hamilton’s insistence a different approach is required.
Hamilton backed this up a few weeks later in Australia when questioned about his future with Mercedes.
“I think for me personally just as long as I can continue to help the team, as long as I can continue to help drive the team forwards and really contribute then that’s why I want to stay.”
Lewis gives an ultimatum
Lewis is clearly not referencing his on track performance but making emphasising if the team does not accept his input and develop the car in a different direction, Hamilton may feel his ability to contribute is finished.
Double F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen believes Hamilton will be seriously considering his options and suggests the huge gap to Red Bull may be one Mercedes’ can’t bridge for some years.
Further, being beaten last season by his young team mate and now 3-0 down in qualifying this year to George, “for Lewis, this is a disaster. And, with George being ahead, it’s even worse.”
Switching teams a realistic option?
“It’s a fact. He’s been at Mercedes for years and won multiple championships.
“Now that things are not going well, he’ll start thinking of switching teams.”
Could Hamilton really be considering leaving Mercedes’ after ten years with the team and a decade of success?
Martin Brundle believes Hamilton is facing a huge dilemma at present but is certain along with Hill he “can’t see Lewis driving around in circles trying to pick off podium places, as Fernando [Alonso] has been forced to resign himself to.”
Quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel found himself in the same boat when dropped by Ferrari in 2020. His final two years we’re spent battling to get into Q3 and pick up lower order points before he decided to retire.
Mercedes not the team Lewis joined
“Lewis has got one more roll of the dice to join a team and make them world champions and get all the accolades that he wants, so I think that’s where he’s at the moment,” says Brundle.
“‘If in doubt, stay put’, I would have thought would be what he’s thinking. ‘If I can make this work, that’s my best solution, if not I may have to look elsewhere.’”
Hamilton must be seriously considering whether Mercedes can catch Red Bull after al the team is unrecognisable in terms of top personnel from the one he joined back in 2013.
Engine guru Andy Cowell has left along with other key personnel and its the next tier of Mercedes talent now being blooded in senior positions.
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Hamilton has just one real choice
The key to Hamilton’s indecision may well be the question of where can he go?
Clearly Red Bull is out of the question and over the next five years only Ferrari along with Mercedes be serious contenders to take Verstappen’s crown away.
A number of Formula One’s great and good have punted the idea of Hamilton joining Ferrari. For any F1 driver the allure of piloting a historic Maranello red machine to victory sets the elks racing.
Former team boss Eddie Jordan has described this end to Hamilton’s career as a “match made in heaven.”
Ferrari advances Hamilton’s equality agenda
It would demonstrate to the fanatical tifosi fans of Ferrari they have the ambition to reach the top. Also given Hamilton’s big emphasis on equality, being the first person of colour to drive a Ferrari would make a bold statement.
However, there is a growing opinion expressed by Damon Hill that it cold be Mercedes “who are in fact dragging their heels.”
“Lewis does not come cheap,” muses Damon.
“He gives Mercedes a lot but he costs them a lot too. In George Russell they have a young driver who might be capable of delivering a title [anyway] in the right car.”
Is it Mercedes “dragging their heels?”
Brundle also feels it could be Mercedes who are stalling Lewis’ contract discussions.
“There may be some pressure at Mercedes to reduce his current pay. So there is a bit of negotiation and a bit of gameplay in this as well.”
Hamilton has recently been talking up his long term future with the team in public, something not seen in previous contract negotiations.
“I continue to feel very much at home. It’s family. I see myself being with Mercedes till my last days, to be honest,” said Lewis recently.
Hamilton unusually eyeing his legacy
“If you look at the legends, Sir Stirling Moss was with Mercedes till the end of days.
“So, that’s been the dream for me to one day have that… well I have that, so I mean just continue on with that and continue to build with the brand.”
Has Lewis turned his focus from racing to his legacy?
The references to Moss would suggest so.
Hamilton wants big numbers ton stay
Further, do Mercedes really need Hamilton to build their global brand, or has he done his bit?
Lewis is reported by a Sportune report to be seeking around a quarter of a billion Euros for his final Mercedes contract.
The report claims Hamilton has offered to extend his contract for two years for €70-million euros per season; making it €140-million in total, without bonuses.
Further, Hamilton is allegedly “aiming for a ten-year ambassador deal with the Daimler Group at €25-million euros per year or €250-million until he is a 50-year-old, in 2035.”
These are big numbers indeed and maybe this is why the white smoke is not rising and Hamilton’s future with Mercedes is in serious doubt.
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In an ever expanding calendar, with more street-circuits, I'd love to see F1 race at proper-circuits… like Laguna Seca in the US.
Here's Marc Gené and the F2003-GA, setting an 'unofficial' lap record… with a time of 1:05.88! 🤩 #F1 pic.twitter.com/z6vlQu4KwB
— Paul McGinnes 🏁 (@PaulMcG92) April 19, 2023
As I have argued before on this site, Mercedes should part ways with Hamilton. The man is getting more a liability for the brand and less an asset.
His performance on track, his behavior off track, his absurd salary demands, his hypocrite environmental and SJW claims, ..
This cannot be the way Mercedes wants to be in the spotlights.