Differing reports are emerging about an alleged meeting over the course of last weekend's Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal between McLaren-Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner – a meeting that, depending upon who you choose to believe, may or may not have actually happened.
Various sources claim that Hamilton and Horner met for 15 minutes in the paddock of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – scene of the former's first DNF of the F1 2011 campaign, after he pointed his McLaren MP4-26 down the inside of team-mate Jenson Button heading along the start/finish straight early on, aggressively aiming for a gap that was not really there and finding himself squeezed into the pit wall when his countryman did not realise he was half-alongside him. Hamilton had already collided with Red Bull's Mark Webber on the opening lap.
There has already been speculation this year that – frustrated by his own team's inability to provide him with a title-winning car in recent seasons – the 2008 world champion could be contemplating a switch from McLaren, who supported him all the way through the junior formulae, brought him into F1 and that only two-and-a-half years ago he described as his 'dream' team and with whom he insisted he wanted to 'see his career out'.
Hamilton's present five-year contract with McLaren expires at the end of 2012, and the 26-year-old was vocal indeed in his criticism of the Woking-based outfit earlier this year, raising questions about his commitment to his current employer – particularly when he asserted that 'loyalty has its limits' and that he doesn't think 'there is any attraction whatsoever' to being merely a one-team man [see separate story – click here
Horner only added fuel to the fire by musing aloud that 'you would think he is not going to be happy if he has another barren year', although when asked about the possibility of a Hamilton/Sebastian Vettel line-up at the energy drinks-backed operation, the Englishman was swift to counter that 'there tends to be fireworks [when two top-line, fiercely-competitive drivers are paired up together], as we saw with Fernando Alonso and Lewis [at McLaren in 2007]'.
There seems little doubt that Hamilton is unsettled at the moment, following such persistent and public censure of his team, a string of uncharacteristic errors in Monaco and Montreal, a series of run-ins with FIA stewards and his extraordinary Ali G-esque post-race outburst just over a fortnight ago that could have resulted in a six-race ban for suggesting – even light-heartedly – that he was being penalised for the colour of his skin.
Controversy appears to be following the 15-time grand prix-winner around, but whether his malaise
is sufficient to drive him elsewhere is unknown. Whilst RBR sources have confirmed that a 'social visit' was indeed made in Montreal, a spokesman for Hamilton's management company, Simon Fuller's XIX Entertainment, stressed: “Neither Lewis nor his management are in discussions with rival teams, and Lewis remains totally committed to winning the world championship with McLaren.”
Sceptics have added that in an arena as rumour-strewn and gossip-hungry as is the F1 paddock, a meeting in the Red Bull motorhome – right next to that of McLaren – would be unlikely in the extreme, whilst others contend that with the sport set to usher in a whole new technical era in 2013 with different engines and significantly revised aerodynamics, a change of team before it is evident how the new balance of power is shaking out could be regarded as somewhat premature.