'Expect Hamilton to stay at McLaren'
Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz believes it is still more than likely that Lewis Hamilton will stay on at McLaren despite frenzied speculation over Mercedes.
Last Updated: 06/09/12 11:31am
Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz believes it is still more than likely that Lewis Hamilton will agree a new contract to stay at McLaren for 2013, suspecting the driver and his management team are using the spectre of a switch to Mercedes as a bargaining tool to boost their negotiating hand.
Hamilton's future, which has been at the centre of regular conjecture for months, was thrust firmly back into the headlines on Wednesday night following a report that the 2008 World Champion was on the verge of signing a deal with Mercedes, one of McLaren's chief rivals.
Although both McLaren and Hamilton's management company, XIX Entertainment, promptly denied the story, further reports in the British press on Thursday morning suggested Mercedes were indeed making a serious play for Hamilton's services and that discussions between the two parties had taken place, with one newspaper claiming that a £60m three-year deal was on the table.
Speaking to Sky Sports News on Wednesday night, Ted said while it was inevitable that Hamilton's management - like other drivers' representatives - would have sounded out Mercedes, he suspected the main aim of the ploy was to try and gain more favourable terms from McLaren.
"It's one of many destinations that could become true for Lewis Hamilton," the Sky Sports F1 reporter said when asked about the Mercedes rumours.
"To be fair to Eddie Jordan, who has suggested the story, all he's actually said is that Lewis Hamilton and his representatives have had talks with Mercedes, and with McLaren, and I think that's probably true of a lot of drivers. Most drivers' management would have had talks with Mercedes to see if Michael Schumacher is going to retire and if there might be a space for their driver.
"But really this is the latest piece of bluff and counter bluff trying for Lewis Hamilton to get his price up from McLaren. The only ace Lewis Hamilton has up his sleeve in his contract negotiations with McLaren is that he could leave the team.
"On the McLaren side they say 'okay, well where are you going to go?' The only top two teams at the moment [still open to Hamilton] are Lotus and Mercedes and they both have, we think, their plans sorted for next year and the only way Lewis can up his price is saying 'I might be off' because that would be bad news for McLaren."
With Hamilton having signed his current five-year McLaren deal before the worldwide financial slump in 2007, the financial terms of any new deal are believed to be one of the central issues in the talks - with McLaren Chairman Ron Dennis having hinted as much to Sky Sports F1 back at the Canadian GP in June when he said that 27-year-old driver would have to accept the realities of the current economic climate.
McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh has nonetheless reiterated publicly on numerous occasions his desire to tie Hamilton to a new deal and Ted believes the Woking oufit do have to be wary about losing their long-time protégé given the lack of alternative options available for 2013.
"McLaren have to tread quite a fine line because on the face of it there isn't really anyone else apart from Lewis Hamilton who can win multiple grands prix and World Championships out there who McLaren can just pop into their driver line-up alongside Jenson Button," he said.
"Jenson has, of course, proved that he can win races, as he did three days ago in Belgium, but he hasn't really had the staying power this season to win multiple races and challenge for the championship.
"So that's a problem for McLaren. They have to keep Lewis Hamilton because he's shown them that he's the best chance of winning a championship. So it's very finely balanced on both sides."
However, Ted reckons that if Hamilton's management team are trying to use Mercedes as an alternative viable option for their driver, they may have picked the wrong team given the speculation that surrounds the German manufacturer-owned outfit's own long-term future in F1.
"The Mercedes story has a bit of a strange sidebar to it really which is that Mercedes' future in Formula 1 itself is under question," Ted said.
"We heard at the time of the Spanish GP back in May that the Mercedes' chiefs in Stuttgart were considering how much money they were ploughing in to the F1 programme and they're not getting that much money back in terms of prize money and their status in the sport.
"So if Hamilton's management think they're going to go to McLaren with a threat of Mercedes then they've chosen the wrong team because that team Mercedes might be out of Formula 1 sooner rather than later."
Nonetheless, despite the renewed speculation over what would be the biggest driver defection in F1 for years should it come true, Ted believes that when the music stops Hamilton will still be at McLaren for the start of next season.
"I think we'll probably see this month, October maybe, as to whether Lewis Hamilton stays at McLaren which is I think is probably the most likely outcome," he predicted.