Formula 1

Bargaining tool or more? Our verdict on Hamilton-Red Bull F1 talks

8 min read

Was anything ever going to come of Lewis Hamilton or his management team putting the feelers out with Red Bull as part of his most recent round of Formula 1 contract negotiations?

Probably not. As Christian Horner said, he couldn't really see Max Verstappen-Hamilton working out. And after all, reaching out is de rigueur as far as contract talks go.

But still, what might the motivations of such talks have been? Is there any further fallout to come? Might it be part of a power play for the next contract cycle?

Those are some of the thoughts our F1 writers consider:

This made Hamilton's hand as strong as possible

Scott Mitchell-Malm

I would be surprised if there was not an ulterior motive to this emerging now. As I can't help but wonder why Horner would be discussing Hamilton's situation at the end of the season when his new Mercedes contract is long since done and dusted.

It might well be Horner having a bit of end of year fun. Maybe he was just asked the question and, as I'm sure Hamilton's representatives did at least ask around, knew that even answering honestly would catch people's eye!

But whether you think there's an angle to this or not, as long as it's true then it still just falls under the necessary work that a driver or his team should conduct. EVEN Hamilton with Red Bull.

I can't imagine there's a scenario where Hamilton would go there alongside Verstappen. Not just as a driver pairing but because there is surely too much bad blood between the parties. But that doesn't mean it's futile to fish around.

If nothing else, dangling a line and seeing what interest there might be could strengthen Hamilton's position with Mercedes. I doubt their relationship would ever descend into Hamilton holding the team to ransom! But in the world of contract negotiations it's simply good practice to make sure your hand is as strong as possible.

No surprise Hamilton wanted to test the waters

Gary Anderson

The one thing I have learned over my years in motorsport is never believe everything you read (except if it’s from me, that is).

Lewis Hamilton saying that Mercedes was the only place for him is just one of those occasions. After signing a very lucrative contract with the team in August, what else do we expect to hear?

For a driver, when you have a bad year you put all your hopes into the year ahead and when that turns to s***, doom and gloom sets in. In 2022 and then into 2023 that is exactly what happened to Hamilton, from the lofty heights of winning at a canter to facing the reality of possibly never winning again in the space of a couple of years.

If you are honest you have to question yourself. His only real reference is his team-mate and with George Russell being new to the works Mercedes team for 2022, and in reality beating Hamilton on quite a few occasions, that reference was a bit cloudy.

There are questions Hamilton would have been asking himself: Had he lost his talent over the winter? Had he lost his commitment? Had he lost his drive? These questions would rattle all sorts of thoughts in his mind - many outsiders were saying just that.

So to me it is no surprise that he wanted to test the waters and see, if nothing else, what the other top teams still thought of him as a driver. Not necessarily to actually sign a contract - although I’m sure he would have done it in a heartbeat if Red Bull had offered it to him - but more to see if they still rated him at the same level as he rates himself.

Perhaps Ferrari did but that was no god-given sign of success, and Red Bull knows what it has in Verstappen, so why would it want to upset the applecart?

Red Bull knows there are plenty of good number two drivers out there who would give their right arms at the chance of that drive, so where would its conversations with either him or his close representative have left Hamilton? Nowhere.

Mercedes was Hamilton's only real option. Put all your hopes in it coming up with a good car for next season - surely it can’t get it so wrong three years in a row. (Or can it?)

This won't bother Mercedes

Glenn Freeman

It makes for a good headline, doesn't it? But it won't be anything more than that. This isn't going to develop into some huge revelation that's going to cause tension behind the scenes at Mercedes.

The biggest impact it will have is that Hamilton will have to answer a couple of awkward questions later today in Abu Dhabi, and Toto Wolff will have to do the same later in the weekend. Hopefully Horner is asked what his motivation was for saying it - although I would never criticise anybody for saying something newsworthy!

Hamilton and Wolff are grown up enough to know how the game works. Even if they hadn't outright discussed if Hamilton's camp had put feelers out elsewhere, Wolff will know that's all part of the dance when a driver's contract is up.

So let's enjoy this for what it is: an amusing admission, and a brief distraction at the end of an F1 season that's been short on narratives at the very front of the field this year. Plus, it's a lot of fun to imagine how combustible Hamilton and Verstappen together at Red Bull would be, isn't it?

With that in mind, whoever reached out to Red Bull on behalf of Hamilton must have been doing the ultimate 'check every box' exercise. Is there a more obvious example of asking a question you already know the answer to?!

Shame it's so obviously not realistic

Matt Beer

The idea of Hamilton jumping ship from Mercedes to Red Bull is an easy one to laugh off, but it's a shame the driver market is so static at a time the competitive picture is too and looks like it might be for a few years.

Winters of massive driver market shake-ups are fantastic for capitalising on or reinvigorating interest in F1 - think how exciting the 2010 build-up felt with Fernando Alonso's Ferrari move, Michael Schumacher's return, and champion Jenson Button's McLaren leap. And that was without Hamilton - the sport's biggest name - going anywhere!

Look at the buzz around MotoGP with Marc Marquez, another formerly dominant champion in a team on the slide, turning his career inside out in the hope of a renaissance.

Stable long-term team relationships are usually the best ingredient for success. The 2010 title was won by a driver - Sebastian Vettel - who stayed put.

But there can only be one champion each year. And drivers or riders good enough to fight for titles rolling the dice on a big career reset comes second only to a superbly tense title fight for generating interest.

These things can't be forced, so I'm certainly not suggesting anything mad like a mandatory driver/team reshuffle. But it'll be great when the next organic big line-up rejig comes along.

So Hamilton, and all the other top drivers, please do keep having those chats like the one Horner alluded to.

Not looking around would've been ludicrous

Jack Benyon

We live in a world generally where, in order to get a pay rise or promotion, you often have to leave the company or at least threaten that to get what you want at your current firm.

Hamilton’s high-powered management team would be ludicrous not to seek out Red Bull in a contract year. He’s a seven-time champion with only a few years in F1 left. What are they being paid their thousands or millions for if they just renew with Mercedes?

Seeking out competitors helps establish your market value. It gives you bargaining power with your current employer.

We don’t know that Hamilton even knew about these supposed initial Red Bull talks, and I reckon they weren’t anything more than one of the above tactics to help in negotiations with Mercedes.

Could Hamilton’s management have skipped reaching out to Red Bull if a) this news story was what was going to happen and b) Hamilton was never going to go there? Maybe. But perhaps it was an unavoidable attempt to establish negotiating tactics.

After all, there’s no F1 car faster than Red Bull’s at the moment.

Is this a power play for a more romantic ending?

Sam Smith

There’s a vanishing point on the horizon for Hamilton and his thirst to beat Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of titles with an eighth crown.

The ghostly remnants of 2021, and the title he felt was stolen from him, still lingers. Every time he walks through the Abu Dhabi gates there will be a momentary flashback to that evening and perhaps that is part of the future chess moves already playing out in his mind.

Knocking on the door of 40, Hamilton knows he has few genuine title chances left. Therefore, he and his team are scanning for any fast-track lanes to head in to.

His legacy as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, drivers in F1 history is pretty much assured. But there must be a part of him looking, through clenched fists, at how brutally, wonderfully ruthless Verstappen is being in ultimately redefining and rewriting the record book right now.

Yet, could the Red Bull noise just be a smokescreen?

Wouldn’t a different kind of legacy be more fitting for Hamilton? His great hero Ayrton Senna was denied it in the 1990s, so could Hamilton at Ferrari, potentially bringing a title home in 2026 or 2027, be the romantic career sign-off to end all romantic career sign-offs?

That would be dismissed as fairytale nonsense with any other driver. With Hamilton you just feel it could boost him, F1, and most of all Ferrari to end almost two decades of pain.

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