F1’s Game of Musical Chairs: Hamilton, Ferrari, and Mercedes in the Rumour Mill
In the high-octane world of Formula 1, rumours swirl around Lewis Hamilton’s future. Caught in the throes of a media storm about a potential high-paying contract offer from Ferrari, Hamilton navigates the speculation with diplomacy. From direct denials to blame cast on media boredom, this high-stakes game of contract chess is only just beginning.
It was inevitable that Lewis Hamilton would be required to respond to inquiries about his future in Formula 1, especially due to the media uproar over a potential high-paying contract offer from Ferrari in recent days.
No one probably predicted him addressing the F1 media assembly in Monaco with an announcement such as ‘I’m moving to Maranello’. Instead, we received meticulously crafted denials.
Hamilton blamed the speculation about Ferrari’s interest in him on the media’s “boredom”, following the recent Emilia Romagna Grand Prix’s cancellation. He stressed that he is nearing a contract extension with Mercedes.
The genesis of this rampant conjecture was an article in the UK’s Daily Mail, stating that Ferrari was readying a hefty £40million proposal for Hamilton. Additionally, the Italian publication, Gazzetta dello Sport, claimed that an overture from Scuderia had already taken place.
Both Fred Vasseur, the team chief of Ferrari, and Hamilton himself rejected the notion of an official proposition in the run-up to the Monaco Grand Prix.
“I think it’s natural to have speculation during contract discussions,” said Hamilton. “Essentially, unless the information comes from me, it remains mere speculation.”
“I’m not certain about the source [of the rumours],” he continued. “Possibly, due to the cancellation of the last race at Imola over the weekend, they just got bored and started… but as I’ve mentioned, my team is closely working with Toto [Wolff] behind the scenes, and we’re nearing the completion of the contract.”
Hamilton’s management was initially handled by his father, Anthony, then by Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment until the end of 2014. Since then, Hamilton has primarily managed his affairs independently. However, recent reports suggest that New York-based talent agency founder, Penni Thow, is now managing Hamilton’s emerging Project 44 business interests. Some sources have quoted Toto Wolff saying that she is also mediating the negotiations for Hamilton’s new F1 contract. This allows Hamilton and Wolff to avoid direct financial discussions and enables Hamilton to concentrate solely on his racing.
“Having a team handle these aspects while I focus on my job puts me in a much better position than before. I remember I used to handle all negotiations by myself, and it was highly stressful,” Hamilton further elaborated.
When questioned if Ferrari had contacted him, Hamilton replied, “no”, then added, “My team is engaged in conversations with Mercedes in the background. We’re almost there.”
When probed further on his final statement, Hamilton responded, “It’s not something I can openly discuss. I have a competent team working behind the scenes, so I can devote my full attention to the task at hand. I express my desires, and that’s what we’re striving towards. So…hopefully, in the upcoming weeks.”
Much of this isn’t unexpected, given the ongoing discussions between Mercedes and Hamilton (or Hamilton’s representatives) and their consistent insistence on maintaining their long-term partnership.
However, until the contract is signed, everything remains in flux, including the possibility that Ferrari could present Hamilton with an alternative offer.
Hamilton’s specific choice of words – ‘I state my needs and that’s what we’re aiming for’ – might imply that his confidence in promptly resolving the ongoing negotiations with Mercedes is based on the total or near-total agreement with his conditions, which might not be as straightforward from Mercedes’ perspective.
Given that Mercedes now has another driver, George Russell, who is consistently performing at a similar level, it seems unlikely that Hamilton would hold as much sway as he did in prior negotiations with Mercedes.
In this context, it’s also feasible that Hamilton’s close associates might be fueling the speculation as a negotiation strategy.
The initial report suggested that Ferrari’s approach to Hamilton was directed from the top, specifically from executive chairman John Elkann. Until he either affirms or denies these claims, there’s no definitive way to ascertain if Ferrari is truly serious about hiring Hamilton.
Inevitably, current team principal Fred Vasseur was questioned about these latest rumours, and he dispelled them with his typical sharp wit.
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“Playing along with the joke, two weeks ago you sent Sainz to Audi, one week ago you sent Leclerc to Mercedes,” Vasseur said, referring to suggestions that Andreas Seidl is hoping to reunite with his former McLaren colleague Carlos Sainz when Sauber becomes the new Audi works team, and the rumours surrounding Charles Leclerc being a target for Mercedes that were rife in Baku.
“You know perfectly well that at this stage of the season, each week will bring a different story and we are not extending an offer to Lewis Hamilton,” Vasseur further added. “We didn’t do it.
“We didn’t have discussions. It would be nonsense not to acknowledge that every single team on the grid would like to have Hamilton at one point.”
Sainz, who, according to the original report, was either going to be replaced by Hamilton or drive alongside him so that Leclerc could swap seats with Hamilton, also brushed off the speculation – stating he didn’t even feel the need to discuss the situation with Vasseur as “it’s silly season time” and such rumours are therefore “part and parcel of our lives when it comes to this time of year”.
Sending an offer is clearly different from preparing or discussing one – and it’s definitely not the same as Elkann individually gauging Hamilton’s interest – but that’s where we stand. At this point, Ferrari insists it has made no overtures to Hamilton, and Hamilton maintains that he has received no advances from Ferrari.
It’s reasonable to assume that Vasseur, recently appointed by Elkann’s regime, has better access to the top echelons of Ferrari than his predecessor, Mattia Binotto, did during his final days in charge. However, the manner in which Ferrari managed Binotto’s exit indicates that the Scuderia has a recent history of officially negating assertions that later prove to be true.
Vasseur’s standpoint essentially is that rumors constantly surround Ferrari, and that all contract negotiations – whether with Leclerc or anyone else – need to be postponed until Ferrari better understands its current competitive slump.
As for Leclerc – who nearly tied himself up in verbal twists trying to avoid questions about welcoming Hamilton as a potential team-mate or departing for Mercedes, while simultaneously trying to say the right things about Hamilton without inadvertently offending Sainz – confirmed that talks to extend his own Ferrari contract, which expires at the end of 2024, have not yet commenced.
“No, discussions regarding my contract renewal have not commenced yet,” Leclerc said. “I regularly converse with John [Elkann] about the season and our outlook for the future, but not about my contract situation yet.
“There’s still a year and a half left on my contract, so there’s plenty of time,” he added.
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