Now that Lewis Hamilton has rebuffed Ferrari’s interest, he must hope the upgrades coming to his Mercedes in Monaco repay his faith.
He was in a sparklingly upbeat mood as he sat on the press conference stage on Thursday, clearly delighted to have his name painted in red since Mail Sport revealed talk at the highest levels of Ferrari about offering him a small fortune — some £40million — to drive for them next year.
Funnily enough, a Mercedes insider on touching down at Nice airport told me that even that eye-watering amount would represent a pay cut, or is at least less than the figures being kicked around in the protracted talks between Hamilton and Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff. Lewis clearly needs a rise to get through the cost of living crisis.
Although Hamilton, 38, is naturally trying to receive the full amount his talents deserve, money is not the deciding factor in committing what are probably the last years of his career to Mercedes. The prime consideration is performance. And with Red Bull’s stable door bolted, he believes that Mercedes represent the best sanctuary for revival.
He has been a master of knowing where to go and when, making the switch from McLaren to Mercedes in 2013, seeing what few others perceived: that his old team were on the slide. He jumped at the key moment of his career.
Lewis Hamilton has insisted that he is close to signing a new contract with Mercedes
Hamilton had been linked with a switch from Mercedes to the red of Ferrari for next season
This time, by dint of saying he would re-sign within weeks, he has painted himself into a corner. It would require a major volte-face now to do other than ink his name on the dotted line.
But what if the upgrade package being trialled here is a dud? What if it is a step back rather than a jolt forwards?
Monaco’s track is not best suited to gathering feedback from the changes. Barcelona, on which so much testing has taken place over the years, will be a more honest witness next week.
But where Hamilton is surely right is in knowing that Ferrari, about on a par with Mercedes at the moment, hardly offer an undiluted guarantee of improvement. They have not won a world championship for 15 years and go through team principals faster than we chew up prime ministers.
Italy’s respected Gazzetta dello Sport, in analysing whether Hamilton would move to Maranello, remarked on how low morale is there following the sacking last year of the latest fall guy, Mattia Binotto.
What are the chances of Ferrari turning around their fortunes faster than Mercedes? The problem, however, is can anyone possibly catch Red Bull and Max Verstappen any time soon?
If Lewis had been offered a seat in the blue corner there would be no second thoughts or backward glances.
Everything else is a gamble.
Hamilton is hoping the upgrades on his Mercedes will push them closer to Red Bull
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One addendum. Lewis has often protested when it has suited him that he never reads the papers. I can tell you this: he reads every word he needs to.
Hence, when asked where stories of Ferrari’s interest in signing him originated, he said it was partly ‘down to a certain individual in this room’.
I took that as a reference to me. If so, it’s always nice to know you have a reader.
Monaco loses unique charms
Formula One’s American owners Liberty Media don’t much care for Monaco’s estimation of itself.
They think with Miami and Las Vegas and Singapore on board there is competing glamour elsewhere, and that the little place no longer holds unique charms.
That is why in renegotiating new terms, starting this year, the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM) were called upon to fall in line. To be like every other venue. One strand of this is Formula One producing the TV coverage as they do everywhere else around the world. It was no longer to be the sole preserve of the ACM.
Another change, implemented last year, is the change of format.
The event was always Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, with Friday a holiday and day off. Now it’s the conventional Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
Formula One’s American owners Liberty Media have made changes to Monaco Grand Prix
I guess if you’re watching on TV that is easier, but it breaks up the old routines for those here. And being in Monaco, on a boat or otherwise, is the best place to watch the race, for even 75in screens can’t convey the acceleration and deceleration of cars nipping between the cramped walls. Watching the Swimming Pool bends from the pits is the best spot I’ve found.
Liberty’s take on the principality is from Bernie Ecclestone’s. He saw Monaco, along with Ferrari, as the jewels in his crown. He allowed them to stage the event at peppercorn rates.
One old tradition will remain on Sunday. Prince Albert will present the prizes in the royal box, a unique podium ceremony that I believe local panjandrums insisted upon whatever else they conceded.
Let Miami be Miami, let Monaco be Monaco.
London race ‘impossible’
Finally an end to talk of a London Grand Prix, courtesy of Stefano Domenicali.
Plans for various street circuits used to be stashed at Bernie Ecclestone’s old imperial HQ in Kensington. One was for a race through the Olympic stadium, others for the centre of town.
But Domenicali, F1’s chief executive, told me the idea of an event in the capital is as dead as a dodo.
‘If we were ever to have a race it would need to be in an iconic location,’ he said. ‘You could not have a New York race in Connecticut or New Jersey. It’s the same with London. There is not the political will in the city to host a race in an instantly recognisable area, which makes it impossible.’
That’s the end of that one. For now.
F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali has dismissed the possibility of a London Grand Prix
Slice of Monaco folklore disappears
Much angst here when some apologetic little baguettes went in a trice and the press table was left bare. It was 1pm.
Where to repair for some sustenance? For as long as I can remember the order would have been a burger in Stars ‘N’ Bars right on the harbour front, its outside tables next to Seb Coe’s World Athletics HQ.
But, as of January, this landmark is closed, taking a slice of Monaco folklore with it.