Lewis Hamilton has met with Ferrari chairman John Elkann twice in 2019, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport as Italian news media ramp up calls to replace wayward Sebastian Vettel with the six-time Formula 1 World Champion.
The news comes amid a new firestorm of speculation in Abu Dhabi about Lewis Hamilton’s future in which both Ferrari and Mercedes team principals have become involved as new details of talks between the World Champ and the Scuderia emerge.
Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto started it by saying he is happy the six-time F1 world champion is out of contract at Mercedes after 2020.
“I think that’s the first compliment I’ve had from Ferrari in 13 years,” Hamilton, who has driven for Mercedes since 2013 and won five titles in that period, said after qualifying on pole.
“I honestly don’t remember them ever mentioning me so thank you, I’ll take it. It doesn’t really mean anything, it’s all talk, but it’s taken all these years for them to recognise maybe. But I’m grateful.”
The background story to the Ferrari speculation is Hamilton’s impending negotiations with Mercedes over a contract for 2021 and beyond.
Daimler CEO Ola Kallenius has indicated Mercedes will cut costs for the future, and Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has been linked with Chase Carey’s top job at Liberty Media.
Hamilton continued, “I think [Ferrari] have two great drivers already so who knows what the driver market is going to be doing over the next year. I honestly don’t know how the next phase is going to go when it comes to contract.”
La Gazzetta dello Sport claims Hamilton has actually met with the 43-year-old Elann twice in 2019 and adds that Ferrari president and Piero Ferrari are “big fans” of the British driver.
Wolff responded to the exchange of niceties between Hamilton and Ferrari by saying: “I’m totally ok with that. It’s a free world. Everybody has the right to explore career options and make the best choice for themselves, racing drivers included.
“We have to push hard to provide the drivers with the best possible cars. If we are able to do that, I believe we will have the best driver lineup. My priority is to continue this successful journey with Lewis but if that ends one day I’d be the first to cheer for him,” added the Mercedes chief.
If the Silver Arrows do need to replace Hamilton, it might make sense that Wolff starts making positive noises about drivers like Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who is also out of contract for 2021.
Wolff went on to reveal, “We will not embark on a fishing mission with other drivers before Lewis and I have the discussion and it hasn’t yet taken place.”
While Charles Leclerc has firmly entrenched as the future for the team, Vettel has done himself no favours this season as the pair fight for number one status at the expense of the team.
The questions are: How long can Ferrari tolerate two warring drivers? Will Hamilton versus Leclerc be any less volatile than the latter versus Vettel?
The Hamilton to Ferrari tale is not a new one as months ago Autosprint cheekily ran a cover depicting the Mercedes driver in a red Ferrari F1 race suit.
Late last season former Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo told Sky Italia, “With Lewis Hamilton at the wheel I think Ferrari would have won the world championship. I believe that this year Hamilton made the difference, he has had the best season of his career.
“He is a driver who has his moments of weakness but I certainly believe that this year’s Hamilton in a Ferrari would have won. I don’t say this to belittle Vettel but Hamilton this year has been really extraordinary.”
A year later, and another title in the bag, the 72-year-old Italian said, “Hamilton is a great man, and I think his victory will be a great pleasure for his and my friend Niki Lauda, who from up there will be very satisfied because it was he who did everything to bring him to Mercedes.
“He is very fast, he knows how to use the engine and the tyres intelligently, [he is] great at bringing the results home. Furthermore, the six world titles speak for themselves: he is a driver who enters the Formula 1 legend, who last year won even when his car, in certain races, was not the best.
“We put him between the among the greatest: starting from Fangio, he is at the levels of Lauda, Schumacher, Senna, Clark, Stewart. As a person, I would have liked to have him with me on a team,” added Montezemolo.
Big Question: What chance Lewis will move to Ferrari?