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The Crofty Blog – Post Bahrain

F1 contracts and the rumour mill!

What a gorgeous Monday morning it is? Made more beautiful by the fact that I write this blog from the back seat of a taxi on the M25. A traffic jam is surely only just around the corner, but what the hell. The sun is shining and pretty soon I’ll be home after what has been a thoroughly enjoyable, but nonetheless, tiring trip to China and Bahrain.

Beside me on the back seat lies my copy of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. I thought I’d read a classic whilst I was away but alas, other than the first paragraph, it remains unread and just a little bit battered from spending far too long in my rucksack. 490 pages await and I’m struggling to get started on it. But then I should count my blessings that it’s not an 80 page driver contract, because judging by the current situation between Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, they can be even trickier.

I have absolutely no inside information as to where the contract negotiations are at. But what I do know is this. Speaking in Malaysia Lewis said “It would be sorted out by the end of the week”, but two races later in Bahrain it still wasn’t sorted. In fact, in the words of Mercedes Head of Motorsport Toto Wolff, he was now “carefully optimistic” that Lewis would sign.

You can see where I’m going here can’t you. A deal that once upon a time looked as much a formality as a Mercedes Grand Prix win in 2014, now has Paddock observers thinking that the two time world champion might have had second thoughts.

But would Lewis really jump ship from the team that helped him to a second world title? And if so, where would he go?

Back in China, the media gathered outside the Mercedes hospitality unit for their regular post qualifying press conference with the team. A Press Conference that was delayed because Toto and Lewis were deep in conversation with Bernie Ecclestone. A conversation that as you can see from my awful attempt at photography, was played out in full view of those waiting outside Hospitality Unit No.14. We couldn’t hear the conversation, but I can tell you it was quite animated and it looked like Mr E was doing most of the talking. Were they talking about Lewis contract? According to the British driver, amongst other things, yes, Bernie did ask what was happening.

The Formula 1 supremo also spent time talking to Lewis in his office in Bahrain and it would be hard to envisage that the contract issue wasn’t discussed once more. It’s a situation that reminds me a little of 2012 and the behind the scenes chats in the build-up to Lewis leaving McLaren and signing for Mercedes.

During his grid walk on Sunday Martin Brundle asked Bernie outright, “Was he trying to help Lewis with a move to Ferrari?” Yes, Ferrari, the only realistic option should Hamilton decide he wants a change of scenery. It was a theory that was flatly denied, Bernie wasn’t trying to broker a deal, despite saying previously that it would be ‘great’ for the sport, ‘100 per cent’. But you do wonder if the chance to join the Scuderia isn’t on Hamilton’s mind?

Potentially there is a seat going at Ferrari too. The team has an option for Kimi Raikkonen for next season and have said publicly that if his results are good enough they’d want to him to stay. Personally, I’d say that his performances on a Sunday are more than good enough and had he made his final pit stop a couple of laps earlier in Bahrain, he could well have won the race at the weekend. But I’m not Maurizio Arrivabene so who knows exactly what is good enough?

Now all of this is theory, speculation and guess work of course. The rumours may fizzle out and Lewis could stay put. But the Ferrari resurgence this season won’t have gone unnoticed and therefore it would be understandable if he was asking himself whether a move wouldn’t be in his best interests? Lewis made a comment about Sebastian having a Number 1 status in his contract too. Now was that said with full knowledge or floated out into the public domain in an attempt to get the four time world champion to privately confirm or deny. If he did deny it, the lack of a number 1 clause for the German would remove at least one potential stumbling block.

As it stands with the on track battle getting ever closer, it wouldn’t hurt Ferrari to try a bit of mischief making and make contact with Hamilton’s camp, assuming of course they haven’t already.   But who knows, now we’ve got a small break before the next race, this could be the perfect time for Lewis to sit down and finally thrash out an agreement on those 80 pages. Maybe I’ll find time for my book too, let’s hope so.

COULTHARD CHASING THE WORLD ON MAY 3

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