While Lewis Hamilton refuses to discuss his F1 future with the media, the speculation surrounding the tug-of-love for his attentions between McLaren and Mercedes continues apace.
The Briton insisted he would not take questions about his contract situation during a pre-Singapore GP media session, despite widespread rumours linking him with a move to Mercedes when his current deal expires at the end of the season. Although paddock rumour in Marina Bay now put the two suitors at 50-50 to win his services, Mercedes is understood to have put a stronger financial - and more endorsement-friendly - offer to Hamilton's management team, while McLaren attempts to rework a package that initially fell short of the 2008 champion's current deal in a bid to keep him on board for a seventh season.
Although it has been suggested that the outcome of the battle could be known by the end of this weekend, it is also thought that Hamilton could be waiting on a vital decision from higher up the Mercedes management chain before throwing his lot in with the Brackley-based F1 operation. According to Germany's Auto Motor und Sport
, the Three Pointed Star's place in the top flight, as a works team, remains in doubt until it signs up to the next edition of the Concorde Agreement, with Hamilton thought to be less willing to commit to what could become a privateer effort in the hands of tuning partner AMG.
As such, the Briton holds the key to this year's driver market, with the likes of Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Heikki Kovalainen, Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg all potentially affected by his decision. In the case of Schumacher and Massa, Hamilton's choice could spell the end of an F1 career, while the others wait on the possibility of joining a front-running team for 2013.
Hamilton insists that he has 'no timeframe' for picking his ride for next season, and his management company claims that there is no pressure for him to move to Mercedes, even though the move is thought to bring a bigger salary and greater freedom to exploit his 'brand' through commercial tie-ups that are limited by his McLaren contract.
Britain's Daily Telegraph
claims that XIX Entertainment boss Simon Fuller - who already looks after major sports figures David Beckham and Andy Murray - has yet to make similar financial gains from his relationship with Hamilton, and knows that the big money lies in exploiting the driver's image rights outside of F1. Despite that, however, the company is not going to compromise its clients chances of winning another world title.
“There is absolutely no way XIX would push Lewis to make a decision which would be to the detriment of his career,” a source close to the company told the Telegraph
, “The most important thing for Lewis right now is to win more world championships — and that is the most important thing for Simon as well. He wants Lewis to be as successful as he possibly can be on the track in order for him to be as successful as he can be off it. But there is plenty of time for all that. Simon is taking a long-term view of Lewis's career. This is a decision for Lewis and Lewis alone. 100 per cent.”
Because of that, McLaren - which has won five races in 2012 to Mercedes' one - could hold the upper hand in negotiations, despite the supposedly lower salary on offer. The Woking team already claims that its 2013 car is being designed around its current driver line-up of Hamilton and Jenson Button, with senior figures confident that a deal can be worked out to keep the younger Briton on board for a while longer at least.