F1: Lewis Hamilton goes cross-country skiing
Lewis Hamilton is reportedly set to sign a new contract with Mercedes ahead of the 2021 season, one in which he can make history as he guns for his eighth world title.
Express Sport understands that there has never been any danger of Hamilton quitting. But while that is the case, it does not mean that the negotiations have been straightforward.
In fact, it has been quite the opposite, especially considering reports of the latest clause included in the prospective deal.
According to F1 Insider via GP Blog, Hamilton will sign a one-year deal with Mercedes with an option for another year.
The deal includes a £40million salary, which is what he was paid previously, but also includes two added incentives.
One of these is the opportunity to place two personal sponsorships on his helmet and overall. The other, which is more dramatic and pertinent, is Hamilton’s request for a veto clause related to who his team-mate will be beyond the 2021 season.
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The clause, which is known as the ‘Max Verstappen Clause’ due to Hamilton and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff’s differing views on the Red Bull star, allows the Brit to essentially select who his team-mate is.
This could have huge ramifications throughout the grid-wide F1 driver line-up.
Of course, there is the immediate impact on Verstappen. While the Dutchman is contracted through the 2023 season with Red Bull, Dutch outlet De Telegraaf reported last year that he has an exit clause at the end of the 2021 campaign. Moreover, Wolff has spoken extremely positively about Verstappen’s ability, and it is no secret that he is a keen admirer of his qualities.
Hamilton is now 36 and Mercedes will have to start making succession plans, at least in thought if not in deed. These could include Verstappen, who may find himself frustrated at the lack of performance of the Red Bull relative to the dominant Mercedes.
There is also the future of Hamilton’s current team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, to consider.
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Bottas has improved year on year as Hamilton’s understudy. He signed a one-year extension midway through last season and will be hoping to earn a seat in the 2022 car and beyond
If Hamilton has a say in who his team-mate is, Bottas might well fancy his chances. Hamilton has a far more harmonious relationship with him than he did with Nico Rosberg and has spoken tremendously positively about the Finn’s ability as recently as late last year.
“When I talk about people need to give Valtteri his due respect,” he said, as reported by Formula 1. “I think you’ve got to remember who he’s driving up against; it’s not easy being my team-mate, you know?
“But he comes in, weekend in, weekend out, with the same mentality, he’s never moaning, complaining that something’s wrong with the car, it’s always ‘I’ve got to do a better job’, and I don’t know any driver that does that.”
And then there is the spanner in the works of George Russell. The Williams driver impressed hugely in Hamilton’s stead at the Sakhir Grand Prix last year and is widely viewed as the natural successor to the seven-time world champion.
However, Hamilton, as ruthlessly competitive as he is, might not want to have the young upstart enter alongside him, just as he did to Fernando Alonso all those years ago.
And make no mistake, the view on Russell is extremely high. Damon Hill proclaimed “a star was born” to the In The Pink Podcast while Christian Horner pointedly used Rusell’s performance to argue that Verstappen is superior to Hamilton.
Hamilton himself spoke glowingly about Russell’s performance. “I think George did an amazing job, I think everybody knows that,” he said, as reported by Sky Sports, upon his return to the Mercedes paddock.
Hamilton’s praise of his compatriot is likely just lip service. He is hardly going to chew out a young driver in his own team.
And in reality, Hamilton should view Russell — and Verstappen — as a threat. That is precisely what they are, whether he likes it or not.
As such, in Mercedes’ search for a Hamilton foil and successor, that Hamilton himself might well have a say in the matter could utterly transform the present and futures of Mercedes, Verstappen, Bottas, and Russell.
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