The longer the contract negotiations take between Mercedes and Less Hamilton, the more room you have for rumors and speculation over the future of their relationship. Heck, you even have Christian Albers weighing in on the matter and who would ask Albers at this point?
The point is, everyone has an opinion and Mercedes boss Toto Wolf said that he still expects something to get signed despite “curveballs”.
Austrian broadcaster ORF had the interview and Wolff said: “The lawyers are working hard. We don’t make life easy for them, of course, when we both argue over Zoom and keep sending curveballs to the lawyers.
“But he’s in America now and I’m here. At some point we will finalize it.”
“It’s how it is with negotiations,” he explained. “You always come from different corners, but that’s quite normal.
“We have a really solid basis in our relationship. We have celebrated great successes together and want to continue doing so in the future.
“But sometimes you have to talk things out in detail, and that took or still takes us some time. But before Bahrain at the latest, you have to sign something at some point.”
There has been speculation that George Russell’s performance, standing in for the COVID-19 affected Hamilton last year, added a dimension to the negotiations and that this may be leverage for Mercedes.
“We never played the George Russell card,” he said.
“He did incredibly well and will one day be in a top car, but our long-standing partnership is not at all about making any threatening gestures.
“We know we want to race together. And now we have to negotiate the contract.”
They may not have played the Russell card but referencing it in the press publicly, and other’s speculation about it, surely doesn’t go unnoticed by Hamilton. When you couple that with Lewis’s big ask of a massive contract that goes beyond racing and sets him up for a long-term deal as an equity ambassador on Mercedes dime post 2021, one wonders if that is the direction Mercedes wants to go.
In the end, Lewis wants an eighth title and my hunch is that if Mercedes holds out and doesn’t want a long-term deal post racing career, then a 1-year extension will be signed. With Russell in the wings, Mercedes has the negotiating leverage and Lewis needs their car to win the 8th world championship.
One might argue that Lewis needs Mercedes more than the other way round. It not easy to replace a 7-time champion but it is inevitable that you will have to at some point and perhaps better to do so while you still have the dominant car/engine in F1 than when the regulations change?
One also might argue that if they don’t give Lewis a long-term deal, he could go to a different team and then you’d be racing against him but at this point, where would he go? He left it very late to get a deal done. There are no seats left and even if there were, none of those seats would be an equal to the Mercedes at this point.
If it were me, I wouldn’t do the deal Lewis is asking for. I would offer a 1-year extension, possibly 2-year, and leave it at that. Committing Mercedes money for a post-racing social justice and equity ambassador role is something Mercedes might struggle to justify, given the salary Lewis would demand, and would the board approve of that kind of expenditure versus what they can achieve on their own marketing budget terms?
The article over at Autosport also revealed that Toto Wolff recently had COVID-19:
“We had planned to be here for a few days. And out of nowhere I got a positive corona test. Now we’ve just been here for 10 days.
“But everything’s fine. No symptoms, thank God. It could have gone badly, but we’re out of quarantine.”
Thankfully Wolff is fine.