It seems to be the fashonable thing these days for F1 journalists to weigh in on Hamilton and his contract with Mclaren which is ending at the end of the year. First of all, a disclaimer. I do not investigate for myself, I simply peruse other sources and provide some thoughts (interesting I hope) on the state of Formula 1. This disclaimer, while relevant for anything I write, is particularly poignant for any discussion of contracts, especially one as high profile as Lewis Hamilton’s.
I am particularly interested in an article by Andrew Benson writing for BBC F1 where he provides some very interesting insights that even he admits may be completely wrong. But since he has credible sources (unlike me), he seems like a good place to start. He argues in his article http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/andrewbenson/2012/05/will_hamilton_stay_at_mclaren.html that Hamilton, as a top flight driver, can only really consider four teams, Mclaren, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes. Considering that fact, Hamilton must consider the probable moves of Vettel, Webber, Alonso and Schumacher. Lets look at each, one at a time.
Red Bull (Vettel and Webber)
There is no doubt that Red Bull is a top flight team and has been the team to beat since 2010 (really since 2009 but for Brawn’s one off). Not only that, they are top flight in both design and operation, witness 2011 and 2012 thus far where, despite not having the fastest car, they are leading the constructors championship and Vettel and Webber are tied for second in the Drivers Championship. Hats off to Adrian but especially Christian for a team that is fabulous under pressure and does not make very many mistakes.
From the drivers point of view, Webber is on a rolling one year contract and Vettel is signed until the end of 2014. That being said, there is no such thing as a contract in F1 and Benson has a source that says that Vettel is going to Ferrari in 2014. I don’t see this happening. Ferrari has had terrible performance and Alonso will still be there. The team is known for its politics and operationally it is a mess though getting better. Webber to Ferrari is more likely but it depends on how Webber feels in the team. Last year was brutal but he stayed for the car that Adrian would build. If Webber wins the title then he may feel that he has done all that he wants and settle into a number 2 role at the most prestigious name in the business. Benson points out that this would be great for post retirement income. This argument is also applicable if he does not win the title.
If Webber leaves in 2013, Hamilton could take his spot. It would be great from a marketing point of view and Vettel and Hamilton share driving styles (oversteer over understeer) but both come off as temperamental and very specific and demanding (Vettel of the car and Hamilton of the environment). Recall that Hamilton visited Red Bull last year at Canada, so this is certainly a possibility, but also recall Horner’s comments. He described a circus surrounding Hamilton that he was unprepared for. Surprising for a team that had just thrown the BBC TV commentators into their barge top pool two weekends earlier.
Ferrari (Alonso and Massa)
If Hamilton went to Ferrari then he is as fantastically stupid as he is fast. He would definitely be playing second fiddle to Alonso and Hamilton does not do well in that role. See Mclaren 2007. There is no doubt respect between Alonso and Hamilton, but I do not think the environment or management at Ferrari can handle the pairing. That being said, according to Benson, this is Hamilton’s most lucrative opportunity.
Mercedes (Schumacher and Rosberg)
Schumacher will retire (again) and when he does Mercedes will want a top flight driver to replace him. Then again, we do not know when Schumacher will finally call it quits. Brawn has said he should stay and his performance in Qualifying at Monaco will improve his otherwise gloomy mood this season. The deal with Hamilton will probably be done before Schumacher makes his decision. More importantly, however, is the fact that Mercedes does not have a proven track record of performance.
Mclaren (Hamilton and Button)
The lack of performance is the thing that makes this even a debate. If Mclaren had given Hamilton sufficient cars than there is no doubt he would stay with the team he has been with since he was eleven. But they have not. They need to turn it around this year and prove that they can consistently build cars worthy of Hamilton’s talent.