It is inarguably not what he would like people to be talking about and a distraction he could well do without as he approaches his home race on the F1 2011 calendar in the shape of this weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone – an event he so famously won in torrential conditions three years ago – but Lewis Hamilton has once again found himself in the headlines, following the revelation that there is a 'get-out' clause in his contract with McLaren-Mercedes.
Hamilton's relationship with his current employer has veered unnervingly from ultra-committed to distinctly questionable this season, with comments such as 'loyalty has its limits' swiftly followed by reassurances that 'there's no questioning my loyalty to my team'.
The speculation linking the 2008 F1 World Champion to Mark Webber's seat at Red Bull Racing in 2013 – he is contracted to McLaren until the end of 2012 – then quietened down a touch, until fuel was poured onto the fire when it emerged that Hamilton had met with the energy drinks-backed outfit's team principal Christian Horner in Montreal, over the weekend of last month's Canadian Grand Prix in the city.
And now it transpires that there is a release clause in his agreement that would allow the 26-year-old to leave the team that has supported him for more than a decade should he not clinch a second drivers' crown this year. It is McLaren's inability to provide Hamilton with a title-challenging car – for the third season in succession – that is at the root of the British star's malaise
and seeming disenchantment with life at Woking.
Horner, however, has reiterated that even if the 15-time grand prix-winner is eyeing a new challenge, there is no room at the inn for him at Red Bull, pointing to the potential for friction between Hamilton and defending F1 World Champion and current runaway world championship leader Sebastian Vettel, who earlier this year signed a deal tying him down to the Milton Keynes-based squad until at least the end of 2014.
“A Hamilton/Vettel combination, on paper, would look very attractive, but what we have to look at is the dynamics of a partnership,” the Englishman told Press Association Sport
, seeking to pour cold water upon the latest wave of conjecture. “You have to look at the reality of how these things work, and it's difficult to see how two sportsmen at the absolute top of their game could work in harmony under one roof.
“I think it would be difficult to envisage a driver of Sebastian's calibre and that of Lewis under the same roof. Lewis is a wonderful driver, he must be very frustrated this year and you can understand why he might want to drive a Red Bull – it's obvious – but would it be the best thing for us? We have severe reservations it would be.
“History demonstrates – whether you look at Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna or Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet or even [Fernando] Alonso and Hamilton – that it doesn't tend to work, that two world-class drivers in the same team has not always been the best pairing. Lewis is one of the top three in the world, but we are very happy with the combination we have.
“We are hugely happy to have Sebastian committed to the team long-term, and with Mark, we're very pleased with the job he is doing. Our focus at present is on those two drivers rather than looking to change anything. We are not looking for anybody else, and I don't believe Mark is looking to go anywhere else. When the time is right, we will sit down and have what is hopefully a very straightforward conversation.”
Meanwhile, having stated last week that it is 'very, very likely' that Webber will be staying put next year [see separate story – click here
] and after the Aussie got to 'the closest I have been [to Vettel] for a while' in the European Grand Prix in Valencia last time out, Horner is confident the driver of the #2 RB7 is now inexorably narrowing the gap to his dominant team-mate.
“It was the best race of the season from Mark in terms of the performance from the tyres,” he told French publication L'Équipe
, alluding to the six-time grand prix-winner's well-documented struggles since F1 switched from Bridgestone rubber to Pirelli.
“He has never been this close to Seb [in 2011], and he controlled it well. I hope he will stay on his (Vettel's) heels, because it's no secret that he has had problems with the tyres this year. Now he understands them better. Just look at the difference in [Valencia]; for 90 per cent he was four-to-five seconds from Seb. I hope this result gives him great confidence for the future.”