MPH: No radical gain from Mercedes F1 updates - but Hamilton will still stay
A rumoured Ferrari contract offer to Lewis Hamilton merged with news of Mercedes' new F1 sidepods at the Monaco GP. The updates are unlikely to transform his car, writes Mark Hughes, but Hamilton is set to stay in any case
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell get to try the heavily revised Mercedes this weekend in Monaco. A lot has been made of it and whether it will improve the car’s competitiveness to the extent where it might influence Hamilton’s decision about where his future lies – as the Ferrari rumours flared up again last week. But that’s probably a false narrative. Anything can happen in F1 but the indications from the ground are that there’s nothing substantial about the Hamilton-to-Ferrari story and that he will renew with Mercedes sometime between now and the beginning of next season.
Furthermore, the updates for the Mercedes this weekend – a more traditional sidepod shape to replace the ‘zero pod’ concept and increased anti-dive in the front suspension geometry – are unlikely to be game-changing, constrained as they are by the architecture of the original tub, which was designed around the zero pod concept. Certainly, they seem unlikely to transform it into a machine so impressive it will induce Hamilton to immediately sign on the dotted line.
“We are not sending an offer to Lewis Hamilton. We didn’t have discussions”
Hamilton was of course bombarded with questions about Ferrari as soon as he arrived here. There is a game, a dance, to be made between media and drivers in such situations. The questions are worded in a specific way that makes them difficult to give a generic answer to, the answers are phrased very carefully if there is an admission to be avoided. Few of them are good enough actors to carry off the outright straight-faced lie to any convincing degree. That includes Hamilton.
Upon being asked where the rumours started, he replied, “Well, there’s a certain individual in this room who’s written at least one of them!… My team’s working closely behind the scenes with Toto, we’re almost at the end of having a contract ready. So, having a team focus on that, so I can just do my job, that’s a much better position than I was in before, because I remember I used to do all my negotiations on my own, and it was very stressful.”
He was trying to take the conversation to a different place by revealing he now had a negotiation team. But it was it only negotiating with Toto Wolff? Had there been any approach from Ferrari? “No,” was the immediate and very comfortable-looking response.
Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur – who used to run Hamilton in GP2 and has remained firm friends with him since – was also asked, of course. “I don’t take [the question] any more seriously than the previous week when Carlos [Sainz] was going to Audi and Charles [Leclerc] was going to Mercedes. This week it’s Lewis coming here…. at this stage of the season, you will have each week a different story. We are not sending an offer to Lewis Hamilton. We didn’t do it.”
It wasn’t even discussed? “We didn’t have discussions,” replied Vasseur with no ambiguity whatsoever.
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Hamilton’s focus seems very much on Mercedes, how they’ve ended up where they are and what changes might be underway to climb out of that situation. “I don’t feel like we’ve lost… we’re still a championship-winning team. It’s just we’ve had the wrong car, there’ve been some decisions that have been made over the past two years that have not been ideal. And we’re working our way through that. All of the energy is going towards – we have a new upgrade this weekend, the team have worked incredibly hard to bring this upgrade. We already after Bahrain decided that that’s what we’re going to do. I was a little bit gutted when the last race got cancelled because I was excited to try this new package. And whilst here is not the best platform, track-wise, to really see those come to fruition, we’ll hopefully experience that more next week.”
Don’t expect miracles. But don’t expect any red overalls for Hamilton either.