McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh appeared to have a fight on his hands on Monday as news leaked out that dissatisfied controversial 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton has held talks about his future with Red Bull.
Hamilton, it was reported, spent some time at the Red Bull team’s offices in the paddock at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Saturday evening — 24 hours before he made his crashing exit from Sunday’s spectacular rain-hit Canadian Grand Prix.
According to sources at Red Bull, the 26-year-old Briton spent more than 15 minutes in a private meeting with Red Bull team chief Christian Horner.
Asked what they talked about, the source said it was just “a social visit”.
Hamilton is under contract to McLaren to the end of 2012 and has often declared that he wants to complete his racing career with the Woking-based outfit.
But it has been long-rumoured by paddock insiders that Hamilton would be prepared to leave McLaren and be a teammate to his greatest rival, defending world champion Sebastian Vettel, in exchange for a chance to win the title again in a truly competitive car.
He believes McLaren have struggled not only to build a competitive machine, but also to deliver the upgrades or on-track management performance required to compete at the very top level despite the team delivering the only two non-Vettel wins this year in seven races.
Compatriot and 2009 champion Jenson Button’s astonishing and dramatic triumph in Sunday’s rain-hit race will have buoyed the team, but is not regarded as likely to have done more than paper over the cracks in Hamilton’s view, according to paddock insiders.
Hamilton arrived in Montreal last week as favourite to win Sunday’s 70-laps contest, but discovered that the McLaren team had not prepared the car for the outright speed required for him to take pole position.
He started sixth and then crashed out early after colliding with Button.
His crashes in Monaco and Canada, which have led to criticism of his mindset, have all been seen as part of his desire to succeed and may have tried to push too hard to beat Red Bull.
Vettel finished second on Sunday, but now has a 76 points lead in the title race.
Hamilton signed a new management team for his career this year and is now in the same stable as former England soccer captain David Beckham with Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment.
This management agency played a leading role in Beckham’s switch from Real Madrid to Los Angeles and may this time help Hamilton move his loyalty from Woking to Milton Keynes.
Vettel’s Red Bull teammate, Australian Mark Webber, has a rolling one-year contract and could be seen by McLaren as a good replacement for Hamilton alongside Button.
It was previously believed that Hamilton might move to Ferrari, but old rival and two-times champion Fernando Alonso has recently agreed a long-term deal with the Italian team.
An ‘unfortunate run’
Hamilton’s current boss Whitmarsh said he felt sympathy for Hamilton in his current difficulties following crashes at both Monaco and Montreal, amid the speculation over his “aggressive and dangerous” driving style.
He said: “I think he has had an unfortunate run, but I think he has to be the racer he is, and I am sure he will be. I am sure he is disappointed, but he is enjoying the win for the team.”
Hamilton was supported also by seven-times champion Michael Schumacher and his Mercedes-Benz motor sport boss Norbert Haug.
Haug said: “I understand Lewis perfectly and I will defend him.
“He is a good driver, he is a friend and I do not share the criticism that is on him. We will support him and he is a great driver.
“There are phases that you have to go through. There are difficult times, but he will deliver okay and he is one of the great guys in the field. Of course he gets a lot of criticism, but this will make him only stronger.”
Earlier on Sunday, Hamilton had been branded as dangerous by former champion Niki Lauda who declared, during a television commentary rant, that he believed he had to be stopped before someone was killed.
His comments were directed specifically at the collision he had with teammate Button, but this was put into perspective after the race when the victorious Button admitted he had not seen his teammate in his mirrors and apologised. — AFP