Lewis Hamilton played coy on Thursday when he declined an opportunity to deny that Ferrari were the only team to approach him before finally agreeing to his blockbuster two-year contract extension with Mercedes. The defending four-time world champion, who will reportedly become Formula One’s first £40 million ($52 million) a year driver, admitted that another team had attempted to lure him away, but he gave them no encouragement.
Talking to reporters during a team news conference ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix, in which he seeks to beat local hero Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari and regain the leadership of this year’s title race, Hamilton was full of praise for Mercedes and team chief Toto Wolff for their patience during seven months of prolonged negotiations.
“In terms of other teams approaching me, one did, but I didn’t give it any air,” said Hamilton, whose contract extension will keep him with Mercedes until the end of 2020, matching Vettel’s commitment to Ferrari. Asked if the other team was Ferrari, he said: “You can make whatever assumption you want.”
The 33-year-old Englishman’s new deal makes him the highest-earning British sportsman. Both Red Bull and McLaren intimated they had not been in contact with Hamilton, leaving Ferrari, a team he respects and admires, as the only remaining organisation with the financial muscle required. Hamilton was more clear when he said he had not sought offers from rival teams, having made an early commitment to Mercedes and Wolff.
“Toto is a great human being and a great manager,” said Hamilton. “We have got a great relationship and it has gone from strength to strength. We have had our ups and downs, as every relationship does, but it has been one of a lot of growth and I really appreciate Toto being so patient with me. Most people would not have been given the time-frame I chose to take, but the one thing that shows is the trust we have between each other. I said from day one ‘I am not looking anywhere else… I’m not talking to anyone else. I am not investigating to see what other options there are. I’m not playing you against anybody else. While I know there are drivers calling you, which I expect, I also trust you are not thinking to do anything else. So, we can take our time’.”
He explained that he had agreed a basic contract by the time of the Monaco Grand Prix in late May, but subsequent delays were due to his own preoccupation with details.
“I just kept delaying it,” he added. “I had a contract in place, I just didn’t feel like I had to rush. Eventually, we sat down at home and got through it real quick.”
As to his future beyond 2020, when he could join Ferrari alongside Vettel, or have the German join him at Mercedes, he said it was “impossible to say where I am going to be”.
“I wasn’t expecting to feel as excited as I am now in signing this extension. I am also very conscious of how long it is beyond retirement.”
Like Vettel, he is bidding to become the third driver in F1 history to win five titles, joining seven-time champion Michael Schumacher and five-time champion Juan Manuel Fangio in that revered company.