Lewis Hamilton is flattered by Ferrari’s interest and has refused to flat-out deny that he could head to Maranello in 2021 at Sebastian Vettel’s expense.
Ferrari ‘happy’ and Hamilton ‘positive’
Speaking ahead of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto told the media that he was “happy” to know that Hamilton would be a free agent in 2021.
The Italian continued, calling Hamilton an “outstanding driver, a fantastic driver”, which once again sparked rumours that Ferrari is considering Hamilton as Vettel’s replacement.
24 hours later this was given some weight when Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Hamilton had met Ferrari president John Elkann on “two” occasions this season.
Gazzetta added that ‘Elkann is a big fan of Hamilton, so too is Ferrari vice president, Piero Ferrari, who is in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
‘This is a courtship that has lasted for years. Even from the times of Luca di Montezemolo and Stefano Domenicali, the interest in the English champion has been constant and is still very strong today.’
Hamilton was asked about Ferrari’s very public courtship, saying it was “nice” to hear such comments coming from the Scuderia.
“I think that’s the first compliment I’ve had from Ferrari in these thirteen years,” he said.
“I honestly don’t remember them ever mentioning me ever so thank you, I’ll take it, doesn’t really mean anything, it’s all talk.
“It’s nice that finally… it’s taken all these years for him to recognise maybe but I’m grateful.”
Pressed as to whether Ferrari is ‘wasting their time’, he replied: “It’s positive. I think it’s never a waste of time to ever being nice to someone.
“As I said, it has been a long, long time and a team that I’ve always appreciated over the years, so to earn their respect from someone from there who’s obviously very high up is obviously not a bad thing.
“I think they’ve got two great drivers as is so who knows what the driver market’s going to be doing over the next year.
“But if I’m really honest, I’m not really focused on that right this second.”
Mercedes ‘totally OK’ with Hamilton’s talks
Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff has no issue with his driver speaking to rival teams, saying it is part of the process.
Mercedes signed Hamilton in 2013 and this season they won a fifth Drivers’ Championship title together, Hamilton’s sixth overall.
The Brit’s prolific form has seen him become the highest-paid driver on the grid with a salary of some £40m per season for his current two-year deal.
Wolff told Motorsport.com that it is only right that Hamilton explores his options.
“I’m totally OK with that,” he said. “I think this is a free world and I recognise that everybody needs to explore career options, and make the best decision for themselves. Drivers and everybody else included.
“So, I have zero problem, a racing driver will always try to be in the quickest possible car, and the quickest possible car is always going to try to have the best racing driver in there.”
One reason Wolff isn’t fazed by Hamilton meeting with others teams is because he believes at the end of the day he can convince the 34-year-old to continue with Mercedes long-term.
“I am totally relaxed about the situation,” he added. “We need to push very hard to provide the drivers with the quickest possible car.
“And if we are able to do this, I’m 100 percent convinced that we will have the best possible driver line-up in the car.
“And everything points to our relationship [with Hamilton] to continue, but in life you never know.
“And therefore, as I said before, I am very open about this.”
Possibly good news for George Russell
Amidst all of this, Mercedes has announced that junior driver George Russell will spend three days testing the W10 during December.
Although contracted to Williams for 2020, Russell is hoping his time at the back of the grid will one day yield a promotion to Mercedes.
Wolff, though, insists the Brit’s December outings are not part of a wider audition.
“I’ve said to George this test is not benchmarking him because we are absolutely certain that he has the qualities of a potential future Mercedes driver.
“He has the raw speed, he has the talent, he has the intelligence.
“There is a reason why he’s won F3 and F2 as a rookie. That hasn’t been done many times before. And he has a flawless record in F1.
“It is more about the experience. So there’s nothing to prove during the during these upcoming tests.
“George is under contract with Williams and we will always honour all contracts because they have given him the chance to step into F1.
“Probably if he does the test it will just confirm what we anyway know.”
Next season will mark Russell’s second year of his three-year Williams deal but with Mercedes engines in play, Williams is a Mercedes customer, the Grove team could easily be persauded to part with the driver.