Lewis Hamilton‘s long-running contract saga could be concluded before next week’s British Grand Prix.
Hamilton, 33, is in the final year of his Mercedes deal, but after months of negotiations the Brit’s extension – which will rubber-stamp his future with Mercedes for at least another two seasons – is on the brink of being announced.
In what could be his last contract in Formula One, Hamilton is poised to earn £40million-a-year to cement his status as this country’s biggest sporting earner.
It is understood Mercedes do not have a formal timeline in place to announce Hamilton’s new deal.
However, team boss Toto Wolff hinted after the French Grand Prix – a race which was attended by Mercedes chairman Dr Dieter Zetsche – that a conclusion may finally on the horizon.
“We don’t want to drag it out much longer,” Wolff said. “I expect it to be done very, very soon.” The Austrian cryptically added: “Maybe it is about choosing the right moment.”
Magnifique!! 🇫🇷 It’s an amazing feeling winning here. I feel very grateful for a solid weekend. Huge thanks to every single person at the Team for always pushing the boundaries and never giving up. I want to thank each and every one of them 🙏🏾⚡️ #FrenchGP @MercedesAMGF1 pic.twitter.com/8rIFH9BKTq
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) June 24, 2018
Mercedes wanted Hamilton’s future to be resolved before March’s opening race in Australia, but they will head towards the midway stage of the season with two vacant seats for 2019.
Hamilton, however, is seemingly certain to stay, and it is likely he will be partnered by Valtteri Bottas for a third year with Mercedes content that the inoffensive Finn is doing enough to retain his seat.
Bottas is fourth in the standings, 53 points adrift of Hamilton.
Daniel Ricciardo, a two-time winner this season, is out of contract with Red Bull, but Mercedes do not appear interested in making a move for the Australian.
Hamilton meanwhile, is back in charge of the championship after his impressive victory on Sunday.
The Englishman led all but one lap at the Paul Ricard Circuit to move 14 points clear of Sebastian Vettel, who finished only fifth after his collision with Bottas.
The championship pendulum has swung back and forth between Mercedes and Ferrari, but it is Hamilton who now holds the momentum with four races to come in five weeks.
“It can swing so quickly,” Wolff continued. “A DNF (for Hamilton) and the other guy (Vettel) winning means it swings back in the other direction so I don’t expect this result will change much. That is going to be the story of the season.”
A Mercedes driver has won in Spielberg for each of the past four years, and Hamilton added: “Austria should be a fairly decent track as it’s been good for us in the past. I don’t see why it should be any different now.
“The car should be good there. I think the Red Bulls have been quick there in the past because it’s quite a good downforce circuit, so it’ll be interesting.”
England’s group game with the Central Americans will conclude just 20 minutes before the lights go out on Formula One’s first return to France since 2008.
Defending champion Hamilton, 33, heads into the race here at the Paul Ricard circuit one point adrift of his rival Sebastian Vettel.
But the driver, bidding to beat the German to claim his fifth world championship, will have one eye on Gareth Southgate‘s team as they aim to secure their second victory in as many matches.
“The game is on Sunday so it is going to be a little bit harder to focus on the race because I will be watching,” Hamilton said. “It will be on television in the Mercedes hospitality suite, and I am sure my engineers are going to keep an eye on it.
“Whenever the World Cup comes around you are hoping for something special. It has not been great for us in my lifetime, but England deserves to win the World Cup at some stage.
“I feel like I am very patriotic, and proud to be a Brit. To be the one raising the flag, hopefully against the German flag, just like we are hoping the England football team does against Germany, is an honour and a privilege.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team were second-best to Ferrari at the last round in Canada a fortnight ago, and the Englishman does not know whether Mercedes will be able to push ahead with their planned engine upgrade this weekend.
Mercedes performed a late U-turn on a decision to unleash their revised power unit in Montreal which contributed to Hamilton finishing only fifth and losing his championship lead to Vettel.
While Hamilton will have a fresh engine here, his Mercedes team would not clarify whether their latest specification power unit will be introduced.
Despite Hamilton putting a brave face on it, Mercedes’ failure to do so will leave the Brit at a disadvantage with both Ferrari and Red Bull, who are powered by Renault, already on their second-generation engines.
“The championship is all about tiny margins,” Hamilton added. “I don’t know what the team have planned for me.
“The fresher engine this weekend will be great as it will have more power than the one I used at the last race. I trust the team, and if we have to use the older-specification engine, I am not worried.”
Hamilton, out of contract at the end of the season, is edging closer to signing a new Mercedes deal, but Fernando Alonso’s future at McLaren remains uncertain.
The Spaniard, 36, completed the second leg in his pursuit of motor racing’s Triple Crown with victory at Le Mans last weekend, but was coy on whether he will stay in F1 next season.
It emerged on Thursday that McLaren have made a bold approach for Daniel Ricciardo, but it seems highly unlikely the Australian, who has won twice this year, will trade Red Bull for the desperately under-performing British team.
Lewis Hamilton is braced for a painful week after he lost his championship lead to Sebastian Vettel in Canada on Sunday.
Hamilton now trails Vettel by one point after the dominant Ferrari driver marched to victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Hamilton could finish only fifth as he was left to rue Mercedes’ failure to bring a planned engine upgrade to Montreal.
The Briton reported he was down on power in the opening exchanges, and had to pit earlier than planned as his Mercedes team made changes to his overheating machinery.
Hamilton was overtaken by Daniel Ricciardo during the pit stops, and feared his seven-race-old engine would not make it the chequered flag.
“I thought it was going to blow,” Hamilton said.
“That’s why if I’m really honest, I’m sure the next couple of days it will get more painful.
“Every single lap I was waiting for the power to just drop away and disappear – but it kept going.
“It was ultimately a poor weekend for me, but it could have been a lot worse. I could have failed to finish and lose 25 points to Vettel.”
We will come back stronger for the next race. It’s how you get back up that matters the most. We win and lose together, thank you so much for the support and positivity #TeamLH. Looking forward to France and until then we will keep our heads down and keep pushing @MercedesAMGF1 pic.twitter.com/6PDJpPDHaP
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) June 10, 2018
Mercedes have dominated the sport since 2014, but the fiercer competition provided by both Ferrari and Red Bull this year has led to a series of errors by the once-dominant team.
A timing glitch during a virtual safety car period cost Hamilton the win in Australia before a gearbox issue resulted in a grid drop for the Briton at the next round in Bahrain.
Mercedes can also be accused of playing it safe when they did not bring Hamilton in for new tyres following a late safety car in China.
And here, their failure to provide Hamilton with a fresh engine has contributed to him losing the championship lead.
“This is a major wake-up call for every single member of the team,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff added on Sunday night.
“I’m the opposite of confident moving forward. Everybody needs to assess how to improve our performance.
“This year’s championship is going to be decided by the one who makes the least mistakes. This is the new reality.
“It is a three-way team fight and six cars can win races. We cannot take anything for granted and think it is going to be a walk in the park.”