Lewis Hamilton’s new £100m contract with Mercedes, which was announced here on Wednesday, is unlikely to make him the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, that surreal place where he still qualifies as only a medium-high roller, but it still propelled him to a rare status within British sport.
He was already the richest British sportsman, with an estimated wealth of £88m, according to the latest Sunday Times rich list, some £20m up on last year. Now he can also be counted as the best paid British sportsman in the world, ahead of the plutocrats of football, such as Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale. He is also now the best paid driver in Formula One, ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton’s new three-year contract – his current three-year deal expires at the end of the season – comes six months after he won his second world title, and his first with Mercedes, in Abu Dhabi in November, following his success with McLaren in 2008. The deal means he will be almost 34 by the time his new agreement comes to an end. It is an age when drivers, even those as good as Hamilton, are forced to consider how long they have left in the sport.
Talks between Hamilton and Mercedes have been in progress, loosely, since last year, but have been intense since January. The situation has been further complicated by Hamilton’s desire to negotiate on his own behalf, although he has received advice from a number of quarters, particularly from the London-based lawyer Sue Thackeray.
Although both Mercedes and their star driver denied that the protracted negotiations were a distraction, they were precisely that, with both parties repeatedly asked to field questions about the future of the relationship beyond the current season. And he was frequently linked with Ferrari, where Kimi Raikkonen’s future is uncertain.
So was Hamilton relieved now it was all over? “No,” he replied. “I don’t feel any different to the last race.” But then he added: “But I guess sitting here, waking up this morning knowing that contracts will be announced today, thinking another four years here – I’m excited. It’s an exciting feeling. A real positive feeling. Solidified. I don’t have to worry about it, don’t have to give it a second thought, it is how it is and now I can go away and work towards my goal.”
Any other decision on his part would have been foolish, of course – though most people said the same thing when he walked out on McLaren at the end of 2012. Mercedes enjoy an advantage over the rest of the field that is unlikely to be reined in – even by Ferrari – before the end of the year. Unlike football, which celebrates such occasions in the proper manner, there was a minimum of fuss about the confirmation of Hamilton’s new deal with Mercedes. Why can’t F1 handle these things in a better way?
“I wasn’t even there [at the factory] when I signed. I printed off the documents and signed them on my own, and then the documents were released,” revealed Hamilton. “You don’t send it in the post. Someone else sends it for you.
“I remember my first contract that I signed in 1997-98 and I remember sitting in the room with Ron [Dennis] and Martin [Whitmarsh] at the old McLaren factory. I think we just signed there in front of them and then we shook each other’s hands and went away excited.”
Hamilton said he was always going to re-sign for Mercedes. “There was never any doubt, honestly. I was led to believe that the team wanted to continue with me and naturally with the success we’ve had and the relationship we have, it felt certain.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton’s team-mate Nico Rosberg looked decidedly downbeat over a deal that could condemn him to be a world championship also-ran for the rest of his career. “I congratulated Lewis because it is great for him to sign a new contract,” he said, with an impassive shrug. “We have a neutral relationship and it is working.”
The German, who extended his own deal with Mercedes last year, added: “It is a complicated battle because it is internal. We have to think about the team as well as thinking about each other. Both of us want to win and there are ups and downs and there will be another down but everything is OK right now.”
And everything is OK right now, but it was at this street circuit one year ago that there was a famous coming together of the two, when Rosberg was accused of ruining Hamilton’s bid for pole position.
There have been plenty of incidents since and now that both drivers are going nowhere, one of the most edgily competitive of team rivalries is scheduled to continue until 2018.
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