Hamil­ton must pick loy­alty or nov­elty

Mercedes team chief Wolff says there is a 25% chance their world cham­pion could leave

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Agency Staff Abu Dhabi /AFP

Lewis Hamil­ton has ad­mit­ted he will be torn be­tween loy­alty to Mercedes and the nov­elty of a new chal­lenge at Fer­rari when he con­sid­ers his op­tions for 2021.

Lewis Hamil­ton has ad­mit­ted he will be torn be­tween loy­alty to Mercedes and the nov­elty of a new chal­lenge at Fer­rari when he con­sid­ers his op­tions for what is ex­pected to be his last racing driver’s con­tract in For­mula One.

The 34-year-old Bri­ton had little time to bask in the glory of his stun­ning dom­i­nance of Sun­day’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix be­fore be­ing pressed to talk about his fu­ture and a pos­si­ble switch from the Sil­ver Ar­rows to Fer­rari.

The six-time world cham­pion was cir­cum­spect, how­ever, in his an­swers dur­ing post-race in­ter­views in which he de­clined of­fers to deny that he had al­ready spo­ken to the Ital­ian team’s

Hamil­ton chair,’John s cur­rent Elkann. con­tract with Mercedes ends in 2020, leav­ing him free to move for the 2021 sea­son when For­mula One ush­ers in a rad­i­cal new set of rules that may co­in­cide with Se­bas­tian Vet­tel choos­ing to leave Fer­rari, pos­si­bly for Mercedes in a dra­matic swap with Hamil­ton, or to re­tire.

Hamil­ton, the owner of two high-per­for­mance Fer­rari road cars, made clear that he is sim­ply look­ing around to weigh up his op­tions be­yond 2020, when he has the chance to equal Michael Schu­macher’s record of seven driv­ers’ championsh­ip ti­tles. He also made clear that he is in no rush to make any de­ci­sions, a po­si­tion ap­plauded by his cur­rent team chief, Toto Wolff, who may also be con­sid­er­ing his fu­ture when the sport shifts into a new era.

Wolff said he felt there is a 75% like­li­hood that Hamil­ton will stay and sign a new con­tract, likely to be his last as an F1 driver, with Mercedes. But he also said there is a clear 25% chance that he may move.

“Nat­u­rally, ev­ery­thing that hap­pens be­hind closed doors is al­ways pri­vate with who­ever you end up sit­ting with,” ex­plained Hamil­ton af­ter win­ning his 11th race of 2019, his fifth at the Yas Ma­rina cir­cuit and the 88th of his ca­reer.

“For many years, I have never sat down to con­sider other op­tions be­cause we have been driv­ing straight ahead on the path we have been on. We are still on that path and there is very little that is go­ing to shift that.

“I love where I am so it is def­i­nitely not a quick de­ci­sion to do some­thing else, but it is only smart and wise for me to sit and think of what I want if it is the last stage of my ca­reer.

“I want to keep win­ning. I can­not tell you what is go­ing to hap­pen. I love where I am so it is def­i­nitely not a quick de­ci­sion to do some­thing else.”

Ital­ian news me­dia re­ported last week­end that Hamil­ton had held two meet­ings with Elkann in 2019 — dis­cus­sions that Wolff ap­peared to know of when he was asked about his and the English­man’s fu­tures.

“I hope that our re­la­tion­ship con­tin­ues but, equally, there is a 25% chance we are not in con­trol of,” said the Aus­trian, tipped as a po­ten­tial over­all boss of For­mula One if he can be tempted to leave Mercedes.

“We will see how the next months pan out ... a sports team is not static. It is dy­namic. That means there is al­ways go­ing to be change — and change can pro­vide op­por­tu­nity. If one im­por­tant mem­ber of the team breaks out, that pro­vides risk but also an op­por­tu­nity.”

As Hamil­ton was be­sieged amid the end-of-sea­son par­ties, Vet­tel joked and put the record straight af­ter a sea­son in which he was beaten by team­mate Charles Le­clerc and last week be­came a fa­ther for a third time.

The ris­ing Mone­gasque star claimed Fer­rari’s first win of 2019, tri­umphed at Monza, se­cured most poles and fin­ished ahead of the four-time cham­pion Ger­man in the driv­ers’ championsh­ip.

Asked by re­porters about his fu­ture plans, Vet­tel said: “Hol­i­day ... I think I was al­ready do­ing a hol­i­day next year as I heard be­fore that I am stop­ping ... I don’t know who started the ru­mour, it seems they know more than me.

“But since you jour­nal­ists are al­ways right, it will hit me prob­a­bly in the next weeks.”

/AFP

Win­ning team: Lewis Hamil­ton cel­e­brates with his team af­ter win­ning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sun­day. Ru­mour has it he could be lured to drive for Fer­rari next sea­son.

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