Lewis Hamilton could have been lining up alongside Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull this season had it not been for the team's loyalty to long-serving Mark Webber, according to Bernie Ecclestone.
The F1 ringmaster claims that Hamilton had targeted the world champions as his alternative to another year at McLaren, but was thwarted in his efforts to move by Red Bull's decision to offer Webber the option of another contract extension. The Australian had been the subject of attention from Ferrari, which had doubts over whether it should retain an under-performing Felipe Massa for 2013, and clearly pondered the wisdom of remaining alongside Vettel for another year, but victory in the British Grand Prix prompted him to accept RBR's offer, closing the door on Hamilton, who had infamously paid a visit to team boss Christian Horner in Montreal the previous season.
"[RBR team owner] Dietrich [Mateschitz] is a very honest, straightforward guy and told Mark the door was open for him to stay. That was good of him," Ecclestone told Britain's Mail on Sunday
newspaper, "Had Mark gone, Dietrich would have signed Lewis."
Dismissing suggestions that Vettel may have objected to Hamilton joining him in the Red Bull line-up, Ecclestone went on to claim that it was his prompting that turned the Briton towards Mercedes, where he now partners Nico Rosberg in what appears to be a potent W04.
"Lewis rolled his eyes, but I told him that he had nothing to lose as he wanted out of McLaren," he recalled.
Ecclestone still believes that Hamilton would rather have taken a year out of F1 had he not been able to engineer a move away from Woking – although the driver insists that that was never an option.
“Lewis told me that he would have rather taken a year off,” the octogenarian claimed earlier this week, “I don't know why it came to blows. Ron Dennis said that he could have kept Lewis if he had wanted to, but he didn't want to [and], in fairness to Lewis, he didn't leave over money. I don't know what it was, but it wasn't to do with money. He just wanted a change I think. He probably thought he had been there long enough and wanted to move on.”
Whilst not denying that he needed to break the shackles of the team that had nurtured him through the racing ranks, Hamilton insisted that he would not have stepped out of F1 for a year.
“I don't think I would leave this sport unless I didn't have a good feeling about it, or a smile and an energy when I got in the car,” the 28-year old said, disputing Ecclestone's claim, “I love racing, so there is no need to stop.”