That’s a truly bizarre move by Hamilton. It makes me wonder if all is well at Woking.
Hamilton was recently quoted by The Sun as saying that he never signs the first contract on offer, because it is “usually ****”. I can’t imagine that that went down too well with McLaren. And while The Sun might be a rag, and while they might do unethical things, inventing quotes and attributing them to someone who did not say them is a surefire way to be the subject of a lawsuit. But what I find most interesting about his comments is actually this:
“Nothing’s signed, nothing’s decided. But there are discussions and my people are in action. There are still many factors to be taken into account. I don’t see myself anywhere at the moment. I really don’t because it is difficult to picture what is going to happen in the future.”
This implies that there has been absolutely no progress on his contract, which is doubly odd considering that he has described it as a “business decision”, which I find to be out of character given his emotional connection to the team. He’s been with them for more than half his life, and he calls a contract negotiation a “business decisions”?
Maybe not all is as well at McLaren as we think it is.
If so, that leaves the question of where he goes to – and I have a theory about that. It might be a bit crazy the first time you read it, but please, bear with me. I think I actually make a pretty good case for it this time:
Hamilton could join Sauber.
Now that the shock has (hopefully) worn off, allow me to elaborate: Helmut Marko recently said that the C31 was the best car on the grid. I was prepared to write this off as gamesmanship, with Marko trying to deliver a fumbling psychological blow to the opposition by effectively saying “none of you have the best car!”, but after seeing qualifying in Spa and looking back at some of their recent results, I’m inclined to believe that maybe there is some truth to what he is saying (even if it is still gamesmanship) and that the C31′s potential has not fulled shown itself because Kobayashi and Perez are not among the very best drivers on the grid. At the very least, it’s certainly in the top four cars (and probably the top three – it might even be better than the Red Bull).
Meanwhile, Pirelli have said that they are not planning any major changes to their tyre line-ups in 2013. I am not entirely sure what they mean by this, but it appears that they are happy with what they are planning, and any adjustments will simply be fine-tuning. On top of that, the dramatic changes to the 2014 regulations mean it is unlikely that we will see anything major in terms of rule changes for 2013.
With that in mind, and assuming that Marko’s comments are at least partially-reflective of the state of play, then Sauber will be in a unique position where they have a very, very good car to serve as the basis of their 2013 challenger. This will almost certainly hold appeal for Leiws Hamilton – but it also comes with a massive risk. Sauber operate on a greatly-reduced budget, and it will probably take time for him to settle into the team. Results might not come thick and fast, so taking a conservative approach and re-signing with McLaren might be more appealing.
Of course, such a move would mean one of the two Sauber drivers would have to go. It’s easiest if Ferrari have their eye on Perez, as that would naturally create an opening for Hamilton, but I suspect that Stefano Domenicali is planning on keeping Massa in 2013, and many of his comments on what Massa needs to do to keep his seat – without any detail on what Massa actually has to do – are a means of preparing everyone for the announcement that Massa will be staying at Maranello. In that case, a straight swap between Hamilton and one of the Sauber drivers makes the most sense, but that just leaves the question of who McLaren takes, which I don’t think will be easy to answer.
The other alternative was Hamilton moving to Williams, but paring him with Maldonado seems like a bad idea. I’m expecting Maldonado and Bottas at Williams next year, and while Hamilton and Bottas is a remote possibility, it means totally changing their driver line-up and letting go of a whole lot of sponsor money that I think Williams really needs.
So, Hamilton to Sauber – you heard it here first.