The saga of Lewis Hamilton’s new Formula One drivers’ contract with Mercedes is becoming something of a joke. Both parties assured their fans and the media alike the matter would be resolved “in a few hours” before a wheel turned in anger at winter testing.
Almost six months later and despite repeated questioning at every Grand Prix, neither party have an announcement to make.
Mercedes ring the changes
Hamilton had some stinging words for his team after the early showing of the W14 car suggesting the design guru’s “had not listened” to him.
Mercedes subsequently replaced their technical director bringing back James Allison who oversaw their last successful car design.
The ‘new design philosophy’ major upgrade was due for the cancelled Imola but ran in Monaco with some visible differences to the car’s bodywork.
However, it is difficult to ascertain whether this has moved Mercedes forward for two reasons.
Ferrari lurking in the wings
Firstly, Monaco is an outlier and the mixed up grid in qualifying is proof going well in the principality means little on more regular F1 tracks.
Secondly, Ferrari were woeful once again with their strategy and handed Mercedes easy positions as both cars fell down the order during the Monaco round of pit stops.
So it may be Hamilton is waiting to see how the car goes at the most F1 like of circuits next time up in Barcelona. The Circuit de Catalunya is considered by F1 car designers the best all round test of mechanical and aerodynamic performance with its combination of corners and straights.
Then again, as recent rumours have suggested Ferrari may be lurking in the wings and causing the negotiations to become elongated.
Leclerc may be looking to join Mercedes
Though rather than Ferrari attempting to lure Lewis Hamilton it may well be Charles Leclerc is looking for an out at the end of his Ferrari contract next season.
Both Hamilton and Toto Wolff attempted to quell the rumours this weekend in Monaco with the latter claiming: “We are in a super happy position with Lewis. There weren’t any stumbling blocks in the contract negotiations.
Toto continues explaining both he and Lewis have had a pact since he joined the team that they would not speak to a replacement driver until it had become clear Lewis was leaving the team.
Conversely Hamilton would not talk to others until his position with Mercedes was finalised.
Wolff says they have a pact
“We have a pact,” said Wolff.
“And we’ve had that since many, many years – that we wouldn’t talk to any other driver before we have taken a decision to stay together or not, so I was never a millimetre in doubt that there was any discussion [with Lewis and Ferrari].”
“Someone just placed that [story], maybe to, in a way, play a role in what seemed to be negotiation, but it is not negotiation. It is sitting at a table and saying, ‘What is it we need to adapt to in the contract?’
“So there’s nothing to it [the Ferrari rumour].”
Even Wolff has time constraints
Yet in any negotiation, one party eventually becomes clearly using delaying tactics, so even Toto Wolff’s pact will have limits.
Mercedes AMG F1 are a billion dollar business and cannot be held to ransom until the final few races of a season when their choices to replace Hamilton are diminished by others signing new deals.
Wolff attempts to persuade the assembled media that the Hamilton contract is similar to the one he first signed in 2013.
“The contract was ready in 2013. We’ve never really changed a lot of words in there.”
Wolff says “options” not agreed
When asked how long the latest renewal on Lewis’ contract may be the Mercedes boss was cagey.
“I don’t want to talk yet because the two of us, Lewis and the team, we want to do the best work for each of us.”
”We’re talking terms, we’re talking options and all of that and [we’re] completely aligned. It’s really [about] brainstorming what’s best.”
Hamilton made it clear that he wanted a multi-year deal with Mercedes at the Grand Prix in Austin last year, so it appears this may well be the stumbling block.
Mercedes admit Lecelrc is a future option
Charles Leclerc is 13 years younger than Lewis Hamilton and along with Lando Norris and George Russell are considered the best of the up and coming talent.
The speculation over the Leclerc to Brackley move began in Baku when Charles sparked controversy when asked if he’d spoken to Mercedes. “Not yet” replied the Monegasque
Toto Wolff was asked to respond to Leclerc’s comment and he said, “Charles is a super guy and for the long-term future, someone you need to always have on your radar. And that’s clear.”
Adding as a caveat Wolff denied there had been discussions and expected none in the short or medium term.
Lewis finally seems to have connected with the car – can’t wait to see what he can do in the upcoming races 🔥
— Mercedes-AMG F1 News ✇ (@MercedesNewsUK) May 27, 2023