Hamilton contract hits further delays

In just over four weeks the 2023 Formula One season will be over one third complete. The dropping of the Chinese GP ,means there will be again just 23 of the 24 planned weekends taking place this year. 

Further, the next three F1 outings are back to back weekends and by the time the teams leave Spain on June 4th, eight of this seasons GP will have bee completed.




Wolff famous “white smoke” quote backfires

And yet there is no sign of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton agreeing a new deal. 

The seven times world champion is out of contract at the end of this year but for six months both the team and Lewis have led everyone to believe its just a matter of due course before an extension to Hamilton’s ten year association with the silver arrows team is signed.

In his now infamous January statement, Toto Wolff claimed the reason there was no agreement between Mercedes and Hamilton was simply due to them not physically being in the same place over the winter.

“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.”



Explanation doesn’t cut the mustard

Many thousands of hours have now passed and the white smoke from the Hamilton contract enclave is as far from being visible than ever.

When asked at the recent Miami GP, the Mercedes boss wearily explained, “There’s not any difficult contract negotiations, it’s just putting different numbers in there and that’s what we’re doing and we’re working on this. It’s a work in progress, bouncing emails back and forth and eventually we’re going to sign it.”

Yet it surely doesn’t take month on month to agree this deal so clearly something is afoot.

The numerous options have been poured over in the thousands of column inches written this year on the topic of Hamilton’s new deal and retirement is where it all begins and ends.

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Mercedes trying another new concept

Lewis is clearly driven by breaking Michael Schumacher’s record but notching up that eighth drivers’ F1 title requires some thought.

The one place Hamilton cannot go is the one place where he would have a decent shot at another title or twi and that is Red Bull Racing. Such was the bad blood created between the Milton Keynes team and the Mercedes’ star during the bitterly contested 2021 season, there’s more chance of hell freeing over than Christian Horner picking up the phone to Lewis.

Whilst ahead of Ferrari in this years championship, Mercedes are about to commit to a ‘back to basics’ project come Imola. 

“[I am hoping] we can go more to a stable platform, and then we should see where the baseline is and what we can do from there,” Wolff revealed in Miami.

“That’s why the [Imola] upgrade that we’re bringing is going to help us to set the direction, and to understand the various areas that we believe could play a role in why the car is so poisonous to drive,”



Chaotic thinking in Brackley

This statement is a shocking admission of chaotic thinking within the Mercedes F1 team. When Formula One is almost at the point where the majority of the teams will be committing to the major architecture for their third ground effect car since the regulation changes, Mercedes are still searching for a “baseline???”

This has to have delayed Lewis signing his long term future away with the team and will cause an even further extension to the negotiations. There is no way Hamilton can risk his future until he knows how the latest Mercedes upgrade will play out.

For all their ills and procedural errors in 2022, Ferrari clearly are not as lost as Mercedes and have been quietly building their platform this season without throwing upgrade after upgrade at their SF-23 car.

But if the boffins at Brackley cannot crack this W14 nut, it could be years before the team deliver a car capable of winning more than just the odd Grand Prix. Clearly Lewis does not have the luxury of time on his side.

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Ferrari need to sell Lewis a dream

For this reason ex-Grand Prix winner and pundit Johnny Herbert argues Ferrari should be Hamilton’s final destiny for a tilt at the F1 drivers’ all time record.

When Hamilton joined the Ross Brawn led team, “Mercedes at that point were nowhere. What Niki Lauda and Ross Brawn were able to present to him excited him. That’s why he went.” 

“Ferrari have got to do a similarly big selling job,” explains Herbert.

“Lewis hasn’t signed his extension and that enables him, if he is still motivated, to look elsewhere.



Ferrari better option than Mercedes?

Herbert argues its Lewis’ only option remaining:

“And why wouldn’t he? Ferrari has to be the option. He is not going to go to Red Bull, that isn’t going to happen. He is not going to go to Aston Martin either. 

“I know Ferrari have not quite been able to achieve what we all expect Ferrari to achieve, but they certainly have the potential to be able to do it. That’s for sure. 

“They have got closer over the past couple of years but it hasn’t quite worked out.

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It all depends on the Imola upgrade

Herbert reckons Hamilton will hang on a little longer to see the results of the Mercedes parent change of direction, but then;

“The red car makes the most sense. If it happened, then the one who would suffer would be Carlos Sainz as Charles Leclerc is already concreted in.

Toto Wolff has already admitted that Mercedes have had their eye on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and he is on their “long term radar.”

Herbert argues this would leave, “Hamilton and Sainz at Ferrari would be a wonderful pairing, to be honest.”

“The young and the experienced, fighting it out in a Ferrari that hopefully, with the whole ability that Lewis has, to draw in the right people to be able to produce a car and take it to Red Bull as it is at the moment.”

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Ferrari must up their game

This kind of driver switch amongst the top teams is rare and difficult to pull off. It would require LeClerc to request an early exit from his contract based upon an offer made to him by Mercedes.

Similarly Hamilton would need a concrete proposal from Ferrari before he ceases negotiations with his current employer of 10 years.

Further, Ferrari need to raise their game over the next few Grand Prix weekends. Having taken pole in Miami they now need to prove to Hamilton they can go on and win races and be the lead team in taking the fight to Red Bull Racing.

Then if the Mercedes new “baseline” looks bad, maybe Lewis will look to Maranello for his future.

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