Talking Heads: The Future of Lewis Hamilton
Our duelling Talking Heads go head-to-head once more to discuss Lewis Hamilton's options as he considers where he will race in 2013...
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 13/06/12 10:06am
So tell me: why can't I open a newspaper at the moment without reading a story about Lewis Hamilton's future?
Because the silly season - the indefinite period that occurs during every year when rumour and conjecture ripen into bloom - has opened for business. And, this year, Lewis Hamilton is the key to it all.
But isn't he McLaren man and boy?
Well, we're about to find out.
His contract with the team expires at the end of the year, he's so far shown no inclination to sign a new deal any time soon, and now, just to really throw the cat amongst the pigeons, Ron Dennis told us in Montreal that, with the world economy rather less jaunty than it was back in 2008 when Lewis signed his deal, contract negotiations with Hamilton this time round are likely to be somewhat more "complex".
You mean he might have to take a pay-cut?
But what about those reports a couple of weeks ago that Hamilton would be offered a £100m deal?
No such deal has been offered as yet, and, judging by Big Ron's remarks this weekend, there's going to be some tough-talking between Hamilton's people and McLaren's suits before any new deal is struck.
'Hamilton's people'? Who are they?
Well, after a year flying solo in the management stakes, last season Hamilton appointed music mogul Simon Fuller's XIX Entertainment company to deal with his career. According to The Daily Telegraph: 'One reason negotiations may drag on concerns the leeway in the contract with regard to Hamilton's commercial rights. XIX Entertainment is keen for greater freedom to be inserted into any new contract which would allow him to promote his own brands or pursue his own projects. It may be that a lower basic salary is accepted, which would allow Hamilton more control of this area.'
And surely he won't short of offers from elsewhere?
Quite - and rather handily for him, there's potentially one drive available at all of McLaren's big three rivals - Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes - next year with the contracts of Mark Webber, Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher all up for renewal at the end of 2012.
Ferrari, are you sure? You can count that out for a start...Fernando Alonso and Hamilton can't stand the sight of each other...
You've stumbled on a bit of an urban myth there, my friend. Although it's fair to say their year together at McLaren in 2007 ended in mutual destruction, Alonso's real beef was with McLaren's management. This season, Fernando and Lewis have established some sort of mutual admiration society founded on compliments for each other.
But surely Alonso wouldn't want him to ruffle his well-cultivated feathers on track in the same car again though...
No, you're probably right there given the status he's established for himself since joining Ferrari. Indeed. According to our man Mark Hughes, Ferrari sources have confirmed that while Alonso had approved the team hiring Sebastian Vettel as his team-mate for 2014, he had 'vetoed the recruitment of Hamilton'.
Ouch. But what's that you say about Vettel to Ferrari? Couldn't Hamilton just take the German's place at Red Bull then?
Officially, Vettel extended his deal with RBR to the end of 2014 last year - although more recent speculation in Italy has suggested the terms of that final year are open to interpretation.
But that's 2014. What about next year?
The most recent talk is of Mark Webber - a good friend of Fernando - moving to Ferrari for a single season. That would result in a vacancy at Red Bull next year and then a seat for Vettel to fill at Ferrari in 2014...
Would Red Bull really pair Hamilton and Vettel?
That's the million-dollar question. Christian Horner has played down the possibility but consider this: If Webber joins Ferrari next year and Vettel has signed a pre-contract with the Scuderia for 2014 - would you really turn to Toro Rosso's unproven young guns Ricciardo and Vergne at this stage to pin your future hopes to?
Hmm. Good point. Red Bull need to make sure they have at least one of the 'big three' signed up. But what about talk of Hamilton joining Mercedes instead?
Now we're really talking. Although Mercedes already have the most successful driver in F1, sadly for them it's the 43-year-old version and not the one that relentlessly ripped up the record books in red. Schumi can't go on forever and he may not be too inclined to continue for another year even if Mercedes want him too. As Sebastian is the new German superstar, the boy Vettel is surely the driver Mercedes would want above all others, but Hamilton would at least fill the superstar bill. He also knows the company well after working with them when Mercedes were partners with McLaren.
Enough of the speculation. Just what is Lewis actually going to do?
Right now, he probably doesn't know himself. His contract negotiations aren't yet underway with McLaren and the strength of his hand will be substantially dictated by what happens with Schumacher, Vettel and Webber. The driver market is like a giant jigsaw at the moment and until a few of the pieces start falling into place everyone will just have to play a delicate game of brinkmanship.
Wait a second. What about McLaren? Where do they turn if Lewis jumps ship?
You're getting good at this. That's the question nobody's yet asking - or indeed perhaps contemplating. In his interview with Sky, Dennis did remark that "we're going to look at who's available" but it's anyone's guess who would actually be next in line as no obvious replacement of Lewis's calibre would be available to partner Jenson Button. Paul di Resta would be perhaps the most obvious candidate, and someone like Sergio Perez the most exciting, but respective suitors Mercedes and Ferrari might have something to say about that. Webber, Massa, Nico Hulkenberg and maybe even long-time tester Gary Paffett could also all come into the reckoning.
Here's one for you then: what about a spectacular McLaren return for Juan Pablo Montoya? He's a star.
Now you are being silly...
Well they do call this the 'silly season'
And on that note...