The denials came from all angles on media day in Monaco. Speculation that Lewis Hamilton could move to Ferrari next year, in a £40m deal no less, has ramped up this week but was quickly quashed on Thursday by both Hamilton and Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur.
In fact, Hamilton went further, revealing his representatives are “almost there” in agreeing a new deal with Mercedes. The 38-year-old’s current contract with the Silver Arrows – where he has won six of his seven world titles since joining in an inspired decision a decade ago – expires at the end of this season. Despite the wait, the noise from both the Brit and team boss Toto Wolff has been that an extension is a simple inevitability. Not a case of if, but when.
“My team is working closely behind the scenes with Toto and we are almost at the end of having a contract ready,” Hamilton stated, affirmatively.
These fresh revelations come – coincidentally? – ahead of a huge fortnight for the Brackley-based team. Highly-anticipated upgrades have been long in the making, ever since Wolff finally dismissed the no-sidepod philosophy at the season opener in Bahrain. While the unique streets of Monaco this weekend, due to last week’s cancellation of the race in Imola, represent a somewhat unideal debut for new sidepods, a new floor and a new front suspension, next week in Barcelona will give a genuine representation of any progress made.
And, more pertinently, how much the gap is reduced to Red Bull, presently a good distance down the road.
Hamilton is, undeniably, reaching the twilight of his career with a record-breaking eighth world championship further away than ever. Links to Ferrari have popped up throughout his 16 years in the sport and Hamilton himself has spoken with confusion, at times, as to why a move has never materialised. The sport’s most prestigious team working in tandem with the sport’s joint-most successful driver? Not now, it seems.
But if not now… when? Previous flirtations have been just that. There was no need for Hamilton to broaden his horizons when sat comfortably on his throne. Mercedes were the top dogs for eight years, with Hamilton personally collecting the season gong six times and missing out in the final race twice. Ferrari, meanwhile, have not won a drivers’ title since Hamilton was pipped as a rookie by Kimi Räikkönen way back in 2007.
However, now the landscape of the sport is different. Red Bull are the clear frontrunners – perhaps to a level that even surpasses the Mercedes juggernaut. Ferrari and Mercedes are scrapping away to catch up, with Aston Martin this year joining the party.
The parallels between now and 11 years ago, when Hamilton shocked the paddock by ditching his boyhood McLaren team to join Mercedes, are comparable. The Brit, as McLaren started their downward spiral, took a Niki Lauda-directed gamble to join the Silver Arrows.
“Isn’t that not a bit like moving from Manchester United to West Ham?” asked a jovial Jeremy Clarkson on Hamilton’s second appearance on Top Gear, in 2012.
Yet after a season of transition, Hamilton won six world championships in seven years – a streak only split by team-mate Nico Rosberg. His instinct to change paths was justified. To jump at something new. To break with convention.
While Ferrari are perhaps on a par with Mercedes currently, they have shown greater potential than their rivals in this new ground-effect era. A 2022 campaign that started with such promise fell away, but the fundamentals of the car seem present. Converting qualifying pace to Sundays seem their current predicament.
Hamilton shifting to Maranello next year – which now seems improbable – should not be as unfeasible as it may seem. It would be a plunge in the dark, for sure. A more comfortable decision would be to trust the process at Mercedes, for sure.
But these upgrades and their effectiveness in Monaco and Spain, and by extension in Canada, Austria and Silverstone thereafter, will be the clincher. It just depends which way.
The likelihood is that improvement will be made, triggering Hamilton signing on the silver dotted line. The man himself has said as much. But until such transformations are made, the driver who made his name by boldly switching sides should not rule out the prancing horse. Granted, Vasseur’s denial of an approach was as strong as Hamilton’s but leave little doubt: if Lewis Hamilton wanted to move to Ferrari, he would move to Ferrari.
Has he, perhaps, committed a little too soon?
Not least because, should Ferrari speed away from Mercedes in the coming months, the underlying taste of what if would deny him, and us, of a concluding career narrative as dazzling as it now seems fantasy.
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