The protracted contract negotiations between Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes F1 team have kept fans on the edge of their seats, but when the news finally broke at the Italian Grand Prix, it appeared to be business as usual.
However, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has now offered an insight into what caused the delay in confirming Hamilton’s new deal, and it seems to fit with a theory previously put forward by former F1 driver David Coulthard.
The long-awaited contract announcement
At the Italian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes officially announced that they had signed a new contract, extending their partnership until the end of 2025. This momentous announcement brought to an end a saga that had kept Formula One fans speculating for months, with both Hamilton and Toto Wolff repeatedly reassuring fans that a new deal was imminent.
However, as Toto Wolff revealed, the delay was not due to any major contractual disagreements, but rather to the intricacies of marketing and brand promotion.
Clearing the air on contract terms
Wolff insisted that Hamilton and he had agreed the main terms of the deal back in June or July, well before the contract was officially signed. He described how the negotiations seemed to slow down, almost to a crawl, during this period, and then the summer break came along.
“In the end it was about marketing – not really the big relevant issues,” Wolff explained. “That took a bit of time.”
David Coulthard’s theory confirmed?
What makes this delay in contract confirmation intriguing is how it fits with a theory put forward by David Coulthard, as reported in the Irish News. Coulthard’s theory revolves around the idea that Mercedes, as a Formula One team, has obligations to its sponsors that go beyond just racing.
Coulthard suggested that Mercedes, as part of their sponsorship deals, would require a certain amount of time and commitment from Lewis Hamilton. Some sponsors may have specifically aligned themselves with the Silver Arrows because of Hamilton’s presence, rather than any other driver, including George Russell.
This theory highlights that Hamilton’s role extends beyond the track. It includes promotional appearances, image rights and public relations commitments. In essence, Mercedes is investing not only in Hamilton’s driving ability, but also in his promotional image and PR value.
“Mercedes will want a certain amount of time from Lewis for their partners,” Coulthard claimed.
“Mercedes will have sold sponsorship in return for access to their drivers…
“Some companies will have signed up with the Silver Arrows because Lewis is there, not George Russell. Maybe Lewis wants to do fewer days or have fewer commitments?
“What Lewis will be signing up for goes way beyond him driving in a Grand Prix. It’s about what rights he retains in terms of his image and what rights he sells to the team.
“Mercedes are buying more than just Lewis’ driving services. They are buying his advertising image and his PR image.”
Contract demands not met
The delay in confirming Lewis Hamilton’s contract extension with Mercedes has pulled back the curtain on a lesser known but integral aspect of Formula One contracts – marketing and brand promotion. Toto Wolff’s revelation about the contract delay is in line with David Coulthard’s theory, emphasising that these agreements extend beyond the racing season.
The question is, was this the actual reason or was there more to the delay?
After the disappointing end to the 2021 season, when Mercedes decided not to pit Hamilton under the late safety car in Abu Dhabi, costing him the race and the title, Hamilton went ‘dark’ for weeks, fueling growing speculation that he would retire, before finally announcing his new deal with Mercedes in February – just before pre-season testing.
Lewis, however, has behaved very differently in what many believe will be his final driver’s contract with Mercedes. He announced at the USA Grand Prix in Austin that he wanted a multi-year deal with the former world championship winners.
When asked by the assembled media in Austin how long he would continue racing, Lewis replied, “I haven’t put a limit on it to be honest. I’m planning to sign a multi-year contract with my team.
“I really don’t know what the next five years are going to look like. I think we’re still trying to work that out. There are a lot of great things going on, like I just launched the production company this week, but I feel great mentally and physically,” he concluded.
With a contract extension expected at the start of the year, speculation has been rife as to why the deal has yet to be finalised. Hamilton set the rumour mill alight when he recently suggested the difficulty was that “this is more than just a driver’s contract”.
Sportune reported in February that Lewis was seeking a 10-year, $25 million-a-year ambassadorial role for the Mercedes brand, but that Stuttgart were stalling on that aspect of his new deal.
Toto Wolff quashed that contract request the day before F1’s four-week summer break began.
Wolff refuses Hamilton request
“No, we’re not talking about an ambassadorial role post his retirement, nor is that part of the contract negotiations.”
“I think he has many years to go as a driver within this team and, therefore, it’s only about cleaning things up in the contract.
“I know it looks a little bit like ‘Why is this not being done and dusted?’
“But it’s simply down to trivial things that just need to be cleaned up in contracts and we need the time.”