David Coulthard is convinced Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes will extend for next season with the Scot pondering whether sponsorship commitments and image rights could be the hold-up.
Having re-signed Hamilton in an 11th-hour confirmation last year, Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff went into this year adamant he wanted the Briton’s future locked down sooner rather than later.
But 12 races into this season, and despite numerous comments about being them being close to signing, Formula 1 is still waiting.
‘For me, it is just a case of when they get it done’
It has some questioning whether Hamilton, who joined Mercedes in 2013 and won six World titles with the Brackley squad, is genuinely considering a move to Ferrari.
Coulthard very much doubts that as he reckons only a complete breakdown in Hamilton’s relationship with Wolff would prompt that.
“I don’t think there is any realistic chance that Lewis will leave Mercedes unless there is a major fallout,” he told the Irish News. “And I can’t see that happening.
“Who would the major fallout be with? Even if it was with Toto, Lewis’ relationship with Mercedes’ parent company Daimler is much longer than Toto’s emergence as team principal of Mercedes.”
Instead, the former driver believes it’s the smaller details such as sponsorship commitments and image rights that have led to the hold-up.
“For me, it is just a case of when they get it done,” he said. “I am not aware Lewis is having a change of heart about whether he wants to go racing or not, and I don’t think Mercedes are having second doubts.
“Mercedes will want a certain amount of time from Lewis for their partners. Mercedes will have sold sponsorship on obtaining access to their drivers.
“Some businesses will have signed up with the Silver Arrows because Lewis is there, rather than George Russell. Perhaps Lewis might be wanting to do fewer days or have fewer commitments?
“What Lewis will be signing up for goes way beyond him driving at a grand prix. It is about what rights he retains in terms of his image, and what rights he sells to the team. Mercedes are buying more than just Lewis’ driving services. They are buying his promotional image and his PR image.”
Having made his debut in 2007, Hamilton is contesting his 17th season in Formula 1 with the Briton sitting on seven World titles, 103 race wins, and 104 pole positions.
He, however, hasn’t been able to add too much to those numbers the past two seasons with Red Bull coming to the fore while Mercedes have struggled in the new ground-effect aerodynamic era.
While last year he didn’t claim a single pole position or race win, this year he has a Saturday P1 having set the pace in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Failing to reach yesteryear’s heights, Coulthard was asked how much longer he reckons the 38-year-old will continue to race.
“I am sure there are quotes from drivers when they were younger, who said they could not see themselves racing into their late 30s and beyond. I am sure Lewis will have said something similar. But he’ll look at Fernando Alonso, and think ‘if Fernando, who is 42 this month, is still competitive, then why not me?’” he replied.
“However, the only reason for Hamilton to hang around is to try and win races and compete for championships. Scoring points will not change his life. He needs to see what Mercedes can show him that gives him the confidence he will be competitive next year, rather than having to stay around for another three seasons.”