It is almost as if there are two Lewis Hamiltons in F1 right now – the one who is toying with the notion of jumping ship from McLaren-Mercedes to Red Bull Racing, and the one who remains staunchly committed to the team that has supported him since he was just eleven. Today, in Shanghai, it was the latter that graced the grand prix paddock.
The speculation surrounding Hamilton's future was sparked initially by the poor performance during pre-season testing of McLaren's new MP4-26, prompting Red Bull team principal Christian Horner to ponder that 'you would think he is not going to be happy if he has another barren year' – alluding to the fact that the Woking-based outfit has not provided Hamilton with a title-winning car now since 2008.
That was followed by a pledge of continued devotion to the cause from the British star over the weekend of the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last month – but the manner in which Hamilton responded yesterday (Friday) to team principal Martin Whitmarsh's suggestion that he would like to retain McLaren's current driver pairing for 'another five years at least' [see separate story – click here
] was curious indeed.
Having previously hinted that he, too, would be keen to remain at the multiple world championship-winning concern for the remainder of his F1 career, the 14-time grand prix-winner then countered that and fuelled the rumours in asserting that he doesn't see 'any attraction whatsoever' to staying with one team forever and that 'loyalty has its limits' [see separate story – click here
]. Now, he appears to have changed his tune once again.
“That's just a saying,” the 26-year-old told BBC Radio 5 Live
when asked about his comment regarding loyalty. “That's the way of life, but there's no questioning my loyalty to my team – it's been my team since I was six-years-old.
“I'm here, I'm committed to them. I want to try and help them as well as becoming one of the most successful drivers myself. I want them to be able to do that for me. If you look at our performance over the years, I think I'm the only [driver] who has won a grand prix every year, so I've had a winning car every season. No other team can say that for the last five years. That's quite a positive thing to be able to say.”
The remarks made by both Hamilton and Whitmarsh are ostensibly a prelude to contract talks, with the former's current deal with McLaren set to expire at the end of next year – but should those talks fail to reach any kind of agreement, Red Bull is clearly the most likely alternative destination.
With Adrian Newey heading up the design front, the RB7 is once more by some margin the class of the field in the early stages of F1 2011, and with Mark Webber enduring a torrid start to the new campaign following his well-documented disagreements and at times strained relationship with RBR management last season – not to mention his advancing years now at the age of 35 – the most coveted seat on the grid is seemingly up for grabs. Horner suggests it would be wise not to make too many assumptions.
“I cannot imagine a driver who wouldn't want to be in the car,” the Englishman is quoted as having said by The Guardian
, with Mercedes Grand Prix ace Nico Rosberg similarly believed to be a possibility. “Red Bull have been targeted by agents representing other drivers – drivers' managers wouldn't be doing their job if they weren't knocking on our door – but we are very happy with the two drivers we have. The dynamics within the team work well with the two of them. They are both hard workers and focussed and delivering.
“They are at different stages in their careers, but we are really happy with them both. Seb [Vettel] is on a long-term agreement (until 2014), and we agreed with Mark last year to take one step at a time. It depends not just on his competitiveness, but on his desire and motivation. It is a gruelling calendar and it is important to have that desire burning within you, which Mark still has.
“Mark has made it quite clear he wants to finish his career with Red Bull; he has no desire to go to another team, and while he is delivering we have no desire to change. The driver line-up we have is a very strong one, but it is much too early to be talking...there is a lot of racing still to go. Mark is in great shape and is driving arguably better than he ever has. He has got by far the toughest team-mate sitting alongside him, and he has responded to that really well.”