With two back to back Formula One races upcoming before the sport goes ‘dark’ for its Sumer recess, the latest twists and turns of the various paddock storylines are gathering pace as the teams decamp in Budapest this weekend.
Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton remain tight lipped over the longest negotiation of a contract the British driver has experienced during his F1 career.
Hamilton ‘significant differences’ with Mercedes
There are clearly significant differences between each of the parties expectations given both Hamilton and his team boss claimed the matter would be ‘sorted’ in a “few hours” at the start of the season.
Yet time is short for them both because the top F1 teams prefer to have their driver lineups resolved soon after the August shutdown and Ferrari famously declare their future driver contracts at the Italian GP which this year is just six weeks away.
Should Mercedes and Hamilton fail to agree a longer term contract based on Hamilton’s expressed preference to remain with the team for another five years, it may be the British driver is forced to accept a one year extension, find another team or face being forced into an early retirement.
Should the consecutive eight time world champions need to replace Hamilton, they will need to move swiftly before the pick of the field become committed to other outfits.
Lewis contract announced “end of the year”
When asked about the negotiations a resigned Lewis Hamilton told Sky Sports, “It might be announced at the end of the year, I don’t know.”
“Honestly, I just don’t have any more information for you to share this week. It’s with the lawyers, back and forth.”
Despite in previous years claiming his contract negotiations were all dealt with by himself and team boss Toto Wolff, it appears there has been a step change in the nature of the process for Lewis this time.
Hamilton claims to be out of the loop
“I’ve not been a part of it the whole time,” he added. “I’ve been removed from it from the beginning.
“I wanted to be able to focus on all the other things that I have going on. The team are working on it in the background.”
Having arrived in Hungary, Lewis has been vocal on a number of topics not least the progression his own team is – or isn’t – making against its main rivals.
Mercedes and the entire paddock were shocked by the huge leap McLaren F1 made with their Austria upgrade which then both drivers were provided with for the subsequent British Grand Prix.
Lewis playing F1 politics
Lando Norris and his rookie team mate Oscar Piastri qualified second and third respectively behind pole sitter Max Verstappen with the British driver then finishing second and Piastri a ‘disappointing’ fourth after the Safety Car period named Hamilton third place.
Lewis was also waxing lyrical on the topic of the cost cap. The issue hit the headlines earlier in the week when German media reported at least two teams would be in breach this season.
“It’s definitely a concern,” said Hamilton. “There wasn’t really a big punishment last time so there’s no real… there will be people that probably go for it again and know they are just going to get a slap on the wrist.”
Lewis is clearly playing politics given the teams were involved in the writing of the cost cap regulations which defined the Red Bull infringement a “minor breach.”
Mercedes’ Russell ‘on mesage’
Yet the world champions were hit with the second largest fine in Formula One history of $7m and had their aerodynamic testing allowance reduced by 10%.
George Russell was clearly also on message when he told the assembled press, “there were breaches last year and clearly the punishment didn’t fit the crime.”
“We don’t want to be seeing that happen again and if it’s a second time offender the punishment should be even greater than what perhaps is a fair punishment.”
Hamilton who is fighting his old time nemesis Fernando Alonso for third in the drivers’ standings saved his most vitriolic comment in an accusation against Mercedes arch rivals Red Bull Racing.
De Vries ditched by Mercedes
When asked about the recent surprise sacking by the Red Bull racing group of rookie Nyck de Vries after just 10 races, Hamilton was barely able to disguise his scorn.
Firstly praising the now redundant Dutch driver he said, “I was definitely surprised to see the decision they took with poor Nyck.
“He’s such a talented young man and such a nice guy as well. I think his future is still bright for him and he’ll have lots of great options, I’m sure.”
Of course De Vries was linked to Mercedes as a driver between 2019 and 2022 competing in several tests and claiming the Formula E title in 2021 for the Mercedes team who have since withdrawn from the category. Yet Mercedes preferred to sign the under performing Mick Schumacher instead of their own world champion.
Hamilton hypocritically accuses Red Bull
Mercedes were backing his claim for a Formula One seat and persuaded there customer team Williams to offer De Vries the first free practice session at the 2022 Spanish GP. He was then offered Lewis Hamilton’s seat for a practice session at the soon after French Gran Prix but then Mercedes announced they were releasing him from their stable.
Red Bull picked then him up after allowing Gasly to leave for Alpine and following De Vries spectacular debut for Willaims at the 2022 Italian GP. The dutch driver qualified the underpowered Williams in the top ten and scored points on his F1 debut.
Despite Mercedes ditching a driver who claimed a world championship for them, Hamilton was quick to judge, giving his opinion on Red Bull’s sacking of De Vries.
“I’d say that’s how Red Bull works,” he quipped.
1/3rd of F1 grid sponsored by Red Bull
Red Bull’s Helmut Marko and their junior programme are responsible for around a third of the current F1 drivers on the grid at present.
Further, no matter how brutal their driver selection criteria is perceived they are the only F1 outfit since McLaren in 2007 who have bloodied rookie drivers and facilitated their careers to become Formula One world champions.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 20, 2023