Prestige rather than £40 million offer could make Hamilton dump Benz for Ferrari
F 1 superstar Lewis Hamilton, 38, has often said that he would be happy to see out his career at Mercedes, the team that helped him win six of those seven titles.
And as his loyal attachment to the Silver Arrows brings him a wedge estimated to be in the region of £35 million per year, his contentment is understandable. If Ferrari really are willing to dig even deeper and put £40 million on the table when his Mercedes contract expires at the end of this year, then the £5 million hike is unlikely to be the factor that decides his future. The prospect of an eighth title will surely figure much larger in his mind.
In that regard, the Maranello outfit will have to raise their game. Ferrari may be the oldest, most successful, most prestigious and most storied team on the grid, but they haven’t exactly been setting the world alight these past few years. They have not won a constructors’ title since 2008; their most recent drivers’ title (delivered by Kimi Raikkonen) came in 2007. Since then they have flattered to deceive. In recent times they have produced very fast cars, but have shot themselves in the foot with poor race strategies, unreliability and a driver line-up — Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz at present — that somehow doesn’t quite seem to knit together.
And yet, they are still Ferrari. They stir the blood like no other. When their uber-cool, Ray-Ban-sporting mechanics roll the cars out to their grid positions before a race, you sense the history and the pride behind it all. You know the Red Bulls are faster, that the Mercedes have a better chance of finishing the race, but still the pulse quickens that little bit more when the red cars appear. You think of Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Mike Hawthorn, Phil Hill, John Surtees, Niki Lauda, Jody Scheckter, Schumacher and Raikkonen, Ferrari’s nine world champion drivers. Who wouldn’t want to join that list?
When Schumacher moved from Benetton to Ferrari in 1996, he joined a team that had been struggling for more than a decade and a half. There was a shambolic element to the team as a whole. Over the next few years, Schumacher would earn admiration not only for his ability as a driver, but also for changing the Ferrari culture. The Ferrari team of the past two years have been guilty of errors that sometimes veered towards slapstick. Might Hamilton look at that situation and think he could do what Schumacher did and bring about positive change?
It has to be a possibility. At that same time, all the mood music from the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, and from Hamilton himself has suggested that, ten years on from the start of their relationship, a renewal of vows is in the pipeline.
Wolff’s consistent line when asked about Hamilton’s contract situation is that they are very much in tune with each other, that only the minor details need to be sorted out and that there is no great time pressure to get the deal done.