The forgotten story of when Hamilton actually did hold Red Bull talks

A Lewis Hamilton-Red Bull F1 soap opera dominated much of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season finale, though it was not the first time the rumour erupted. 
The forgotten story of when Hamilton actually did hold Red Bull talks

Back in 2011, an impromptu meeting between Hamilton and Red Bull team principal at the Canadian Grand Prix triggered a frenzy of speculation about his future. 

Amid McLaren’s competitive struggles and with his contract running down, Hamilton sounded out Red Bull - McLaren’s biggest rivals at the time - about future plans. 

Autosport reported at the time that Hamilton met Horner for “private talks” within Red Bull’s office buildings on the Saturday evening of the Montreal race. 

The meeting was believed to have lasted at least 15 minutes but both Hamilton and Horner remained tight-lipped about what they discussed. It took place after Hamilton had qualified fifth, while Vettel had taken his sixth pole in seven races. 

Reports of a possible switch to Red Bull were later downplayed by Horner, who told BBC Sport in June 2011: "Lewis is a great driver. He's a McLaren driver so it's not even something we're thinking about.”

The forgotten story of when Hamilton actually did hold Red Bull talks

Hamilton would later make a bombshell switch to Mercedes for the 2013 season, going on to become the most successful F1 driver of all time. 

Back in 2011, Horner suggested that a partnership consisting of Hamilton and then reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel would risk destabilising the harmony at Red Bull. 

"I think [a partnership between Hamilton and Vettel] would be interesting,” Horner added. 

"They're two of the best guys in the world but sometimes, as a team, you've got to look beyond what looks most attractive on paper. It's all about harmony and about the team at the end of the day.”

Horner’s position over a decade ago was remarkably similar to that of the present day. 

"I can't see Max [Verstappen] and Lewis working out together. The dynamic wouldn't be right. We are 100 per cent happy with what we have,” Horner told the Daily Mail, whose story sparked the F1 rumour mill into overdrive on the eve of the 2023 season finale. 

(L to R): Winner Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing in Sprint parc ferme with second placed Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes
(L to R): Winner Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing in Sprint parc ferme…

The story claimed that Hamilton had held talks with Red Bull before signing his new two-year deal with Mercedes in August.

It included the following quote from Horner: “We have had several conversations over the years about Lewis joining. They have reached out a few times. Most recently, earlier in the year, there was an inquiry about whether there would be any interest.”

But after a back-and-forth of conflicting accounts from both Hamilton and Horner, it eventually emerged that it was in fact Hamilton’s father, Anthony, who had initially reached out to Horner. 

The contact was not believed to relate to a direct approach for a race seat, however, but rather a general catch up. 

And Horner effectively put the rumours to bed later in the weekend. 

“It's remarkable how much traction this has got,” he said. “So, thank you to the Daily Mail for going exclusively large on this item.

“It's a question of: ‘he said, she said, who said, what said.’ It's entirely normal for drivers, drivers’ representatives, drivers’ parents, to have different conversations during the course of the year.

“But look, we haven't had any serious discussions with Lewis. There was never a seat available.

“I've known Anthony Hamilton for many years, he's a good guy. He's a proud racing father and inevitably, when drivers go through tough spots – and you know, let's face it, Lewis hasn't won a grand prix for two years – it's inevitable that questions will be asked up and down the paddock.

“But there was never any engagement, and I don't know who represents who or what, but with the same surname, you would think they were reasonably close. It's difficult to say, but there was no [offer], other than pleasantries.

“There was no specific ‘can I drive for Red Bull next year’, unless Anthony wanted to drive. So yeah, but that's, as I say, not unusual. I mean, there are many drivers, as you can imagine, that we hear from during the course of a year.”

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