Lewis Hamilton facing ‘engineer decision’ as Ferrari temptation complicates contract talks

Thomas Maher
Mercedes Lewis Hamilton at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes driver, at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Could Lewis Hamilton be tempted to make a switch to Ferrari to see out his F1 career? It’ll take a strong argument from Maranello, says a former F1 racer.

With the 2023 season heading on into its second half when the action resumes next week at Zandvoort, there is still no clarity on what Lewis Hamilton will be doing next year.

The Mercedes driver is without contract for next season, with talks and negotiations dragging on for several months despite both sides indicating a willingness to continue. But rumours have swirled all year that Ferrari are trying to lure the seven-time World Champion, adding to the uncertainty.

Might Lewis Hamilton see the appeal of ‘finishing as a Ferrari driver’?

Three-time Le Mans LMP2 winner David Kennedy weighed in on the ongoing delays between Mercedes and Hamilton as he spoke to PlanetF1.com at Mondello Park last weekend, and shed some light on the thought process of a driver starting to think about life after a top-level career.

“I think when a driver knows that he’s getting to the end of his career and he’s seen the depth that Mercedes have in engineering, he’s seen the finances they’ve got, the mindset changes a little bit,” he said.

“You think, ‘Well, this is going to be a really good ticket to retire on, that I can be a Mercedes representative and enjoy my retirement with the same family and the same team’.

“Given the length of time that he’s there and the relationships that you build up between the press team and the engineering team and the design team, it’s a lot to step away from.

“If there was a team winning, and he could step into a winning team, leaving would maybe be understandable, but there’s nobody other than Red Bull that’s doing that. And he’s not going to step in alongside Max Verstappen.

“So where’s he got to go? He’s got all the resources, he’s got the track record, the pedigree.

“I’m sure there are things every now and again where he thinks ‘God, wouldn’t it be nice to finish at Ferrari? There’s always that little appeal, ‘I’ll finish off as a Ferrari driver’. That may be the only thing that might entice him to do something different.

“But I really can’t see him stepping out anywhere other than where he is, unless Ferrari makes some really sizable offer somewhere along the line.”

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Kennedy went on to address the recent suggestion that Ferrari chairman John Elkann has made a move directly to try tempting Hamilton to the Scuderia, as well as team boss Fred Vasseur trying to turn the British driver’s head away from Mercedes.

“Any driver that has done, what he’s done, against all the odds, would be the most fabulous swan song of a career,” he said.

“He knows Fred, as well, and Fred will know how to couch his argument for a race driver, in engineering terms, ‘What we can do, how we can do it, and why we’re better’, which is a big ask against Mercedes.

“But it just might tickle his fancy. If I was Lewis, I would seriously contemplate it.

“I don’t think it’s the money, I think it’s the argument that Ferrari can take to Lewis to show why, on those parameters, it’s a better programme.”

Asked whether he sees the relationship between Mercedes and Hamilton as having cooled off to the point where contract negotiations have become trickier, Kennedy agreed.

“When you’re not winning, everything cools,” he said.

“If you’re prepared to risk your life driving a racing car, you want to win. Anything outside of that cools because you’re not winning. I mean cool in terms of ‘I’m not happy with where I am’. He thinks he should be winning races. So how does he do that?”

Part of that coolness may be down to Mercedes seeing Hamilton’s performance level starting to dip – the British driver will be 39 at the start of next year’s campaign and the Irish driver believes his age will now be a factor in the negotiations.

“I’ll tell you who is making a decision here,” he said.

“The engineers will run the telemetry across all their performances over the last couple of years and they will tell you, by what amount, that performance has dropped.

“They can equate that and, whether they put a value on it financially, that’s another decision, but they will see qualifying dropped by ‘x’ percentage, race pace dropped by ‘x’ percent’, mistakes gone up by ‘x’…

“You don’t get quicker when you get older. There are no miracles in this business, not yet. And he’s been damn close to having been a miracle in being able to produce what he’s produced.”

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