Ever since Lewis Hamilton
had a casual chat with Christian Horner in Montreal, Canada at the 2011 Grand Prix, there has been non-stop speculation that the British driver was looking to split with current team McLaren
at the end of 2012 when his current contract expires, with Red Bull, Ferrari
and Mercedes among those mentioned as possible new pastures for the 27-year-old.
team principal Martin Whitmarsh says that talks with the driver have been going well, and that he has every expectation that Hamilton will be staying right where he is next season.
"If Lewis wants to stay in the team, which he has told me he does, then he should do," BBC Sport
reported Whitmarsh as saying.
McLaren's hopes of retaining Hamilton's services started to look shaky earlier in the year when a lack of results and various slip-ups in pit lane left the driver feeling frustrated. But since then two Grand Prix victories have put him back in a much more positive frame of mind and right back into contention for the 2012 drivers' championship, and Hamilton's appreciation of McLaren's merits has been renewed in the process.
"Our conversations have been about how we are going to beat the other teams, and how we are going to try and win races," said Whitmarsh, revealing that they had recently spoken two or three times at length. "I think we are closer than we have ever been."
Whitmarsh described the contract situation as "ultimately relatively straightforward," which likely means that the discussions are boiling down to money and to the duration of the contract.
McLaren Group chairman Ron Dennis has previously said that while he expects Hamilton to remain with the Woking squad in 2013, the downturn in the economy since Hamilton signed his original contract meant that the driver shouldn't expect a huge amount of money to be on the table.
"He's on the end of a contract which was signed at a time when the economy was somewhat different," Dennis said in June.
Whitmarsh has said that he expected any new contract with Hamilton to be longer than a single-year extension. McLaren
typically opt for two-year contracts which contain an option for a third year - like the one Jenson Button
is currently on - but the contract that Hamilton signed with the team upon his graduation from GP2 to F1 in 2007 was for much longer.
A single-year deal might suit Hamilton if he still has his eyes set on pastures new in the near future. While there is no longer a vacancy at Red Bull
for 2013, Mark Webber's new deal is only for one year meaning that a seat may open up alongside Sebastian Vettel
in 2014. Similarly, Michael Schumacher is looking increasingly likely to stay at Mercedes for another year but may then decide to retire for good at the end of next season.
In terms of 2013, that would leave a move to Maranello as the best option around for Hamilton in regards to the chances of winning championships. But it's questionable how appealing a move to Ferrari
would be for Hamilton, given his bumpy history with Fernando Alonso
when the two were team mates at McLaren
in Hamilton's maiden season.