Lewis Hamilton torn between Mercedes loyalty, Ferrari novelty

Lewis Hamilton has admitted he will be torn between loyalty to Mercedes and the novelty of a new challenge at Ferrari when he considers his options for what is expected to be his last racing driver’s contract in Formula One.

The 34-year-old Briton had little time to bask in the glory of his stunning dominance of Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix before being pressed to talk about his future and a possible switch from the Silver Arrows to Ferrari.

The six-time world champion was circumspect, however, in his answers during post-race interviews, in which he declined offers to deny that he had already spoken to the Italian team’s chairman, John Elkann.

Hamilton’s current contract with Mercedes ends next year, leaving him free to move for the 2021 season when Formula One ushers in a radical new set of rules that may coincide with Sebastian Vettel choosing to leave Ferrari, possibly for Mercedes in a dramatic swap with Hamilton, or to retire.

Hamilton, owner of two high-performance Ferrari road cars, made clear that he is simply looking around to weigh up his options beyond next year when he may equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven drivers’ championship titles.

He also made clear that he is in no rush to make any decisions, a position applauded by his current team chief Toto Wolff who may also be considering his future when the sport shifts into a new era.

Wolff said he felt there was a 75 percent likelihood that Hamilton would stay and sign a new contract, likely to be his last as an F1 driver, with Mercedes — but he said also that there was a clear 25 percent chance that he may move.

“Naturally, everything that happens behind closed doors is always private with whoever you end up sitting with,” explained Hamilton after winning his 11th race this year, his fifth at the Yas Marina circuit and the 88th of his career.

“For many years, I have never sat down to consider other options because we have been driving straight ahead on the path we have been on. We are still on that path and there is very little that is going to shift that.

“I love where I am so it is definitely not a quick decision to do something else, but it is only smart and wise for me to sit and think of what I want if it is the last stage of my career.

“I want to keep winning. I cannot tell you what is going to happen moving forward. I love where I am so it is definitely not a quick decision to do something else.”

Italian news media reported last weekend that Hamilton had held two meetings with Elkann this year — discussions that Wolff appeared to know of when he was asked about his and the Englishman’s futures.

“I hope that our relationship continues, but, equally, there is a 25 percent chance we are not in control of,” said the 47-year-old Austrian, tipped as a potential overall boss of Formula One if he can be tempted to leave Mercedes.

“We will see how the next months pan out… A sports team is not static. It is dynamic. That means there is always going to be change — and change can provide opportunity. If one important member of the team breaks out, that provides risk, but also an opportunity….”

As Hamilton was besieged amid the end-of season parties, Vettel joked and put the record straight after a season in which he was beaten by his team-mate Charles Leclerc and last week became a father for a third time.

The rising Monegasque star claimed Ferrari’s first win of the year, triumphed at Monza, secured most poles and finished ahead of the four-time champion German in the drivers’ championship.

Asked by reporters about his future plans, Vettel said: “Holiday…. I think I was already doing a holiday next year as I heard before that I am stopping… I don’t know who started the rumour, it seems they know more than me.

“But, since you journalists are always right, it will hit me probably in the next weeks.”