Mercedes star has not put pen to paper for 2021 season.
In case you missed the news last month, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 made a significant change in ownership. Toto Wolff confirmed he had signed as team principal for three more seasons and had increased his shareholding in the team from 30% to a full one third.
At the same time majority shareholder Daimler reduced its holding to a third, with British chemical company Ineos purchasing the remaining third to become the final equal partner.
Lewis Hamilton expressed his satisfaction with Wolff’s decision to continue, having previously stated he wanted to stay with the team if the Austrian remained in the company. Speaking of his contract negotiations Hamilton was reported as saying he hoped they would commence discussions and finalise everything before Christmas. That did not happen, and since 31 December, the seven-time champion has been officially unemployed. At the time of writing the situation remained unresolved.
I am intrigued by some of the popular media’s reactions to the fact that Hamilton still does not have a signed contract for 2021 with Mercedes – or any other team for that matter. The varied reasons for this situation are many and mind boggling. There have been so many it would be impossible for me to attempt listing them all, but a few spring to mind, and perhaps one or two offer some credibility.
Probably the most popular and realistic is finance. In October last year, it was reported Formula One was seriously considering a salary cap for drivers, to be set at $30-million (about R457-million) per annum. If agreed to by all, it would come into force in 2023. It makes sense when you consider the new overall team budget cap may have to include such expenditure and this is where the problem starts.
Hamilton is rumoured to currently earn around the $40 million per year mark and wants to ensure this will not reduce if he signs a long-term contract – we can all understand that. But if the salary cap is introduced, it will create difficulties for the Mercedes team – effectively it will mean an annual breach of the regulation to pay their No 1 driver’s salary.
Other reports suggested he was proposing a share of all the prize money Mercedes receives annually, which would certainly add a few million to his wage packet. Some were even suggesting he was demanding a larger salary and a Mercedes hypercar, whatever model that is in the Stuttgart line-up.
Then there was the name George Russell, which appears repeatedly as a possible reason the new contract remains unsigned. Some pundits suggested the performance by the current Williams driver during the Sakhir Grand Prix, when he substituted for Hamilton, proved he could replace the champion at a substantially lower cost. Certainly, Russell demonstrated his prowess, but I am reminded of the old adage, “One swallow doth not a summer make”.
Retirement was another suggestion. Possible, but unlikely, since he is within striking distance of setting so many new records in F1. Wolff has said a new contract may only be signed just prior to pre-season testing, but the Austrian is not worried, as he believes they have more to achieve as a team.
If Hamilton does not re-sign it would surely mean the end of his F1 career. What other team can break the Mercedes dominance? Perhaps Red Bull will surprise us this season, but even the hopefully resurgent Ferrari is only targeting third spot in the 2021 championship. Only time will tell.
Personally I believe if Hamilton stays with Mercedes and the new car is as good as last season’s W11, the sharp end of the field will have a very familiar look. The return to Williams F1 of former drivers’ champion Jenson Button as senior advisor is another forward step for the Grove outfit. It is a multi-year agreement that will allow Button to use his 30 years of experience to advise and guide the team, plus develop both race and academy drivers.
Button will attend Grands Prix and assist with Williams’ media and marketing activities while continuing to deliver his expert analysis for Sky Sports F1.That apart, Button has just bought his own team to compete in the exciting new Extreme E, electric off-road series, and will also be one of the two competing drivers.
Following the pandemic issues in Spain, the three-day pre-season testing, scheduled to run at the Barcelona circuit, will now take place in Bahrain. As the circuit will host the first race of the 2021 season on 28 March, following Australia’s postponement, the teams agreed it would make sense to stage the test from 12 to 14 March at the Sakhir facility.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.