Lewis Hamilton on defensive over possible Mercedes switch
The question gripping the paddocks and pit lanes as the Formula One circus rolls up here for the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday is whether Lewis Hamilton is really going to turn his back on a winning ride and leave McLaren for Mercedes next season.
There's also a supplementary: Is this all something cooked up in a meeting between the Formula One chief executive, Bernie Ecclestone, and Hamilton at Spa last weekend?
Soon after that meeting Ecclestone dropped the first hint that Michael Schumacher would be retiring again. Then, just on the eve of the Italian GP, Eddie Jordan, a close associate of Ecclestone, just happened to plant a story to the effect the deal was done.
Hamilton, his XIX Entertainment management and McLaren all deny the Jordan story, so could it all just be a ploy to dupe McLaren, who are unwilling to match the driver's financial demands, into believing that their man has other options, even though the doors at Ferrari and Red Bull are firmly closed? Is any part of what Jordan said true?
"No," Hamilton insisted yesterday. So how does he feel about the allegations? "It's not great for the team. We need to keep our guys motivated because they are working non-stop back at the factory to provide me with a car with which to win the World Championship. So it's not necessary [Jordan's comments].
"But what will be, will be. It will all come out when it's done. But at the end of the day, nothing has changed since the last race."
He denied that all the speculation has been distracting, but his body language has gone back to being awkward, a far cry from the super-relaxed racer who dominated the Canadian Grand Prix in June. He also disingenuously deflected questions about his meeting with Ecclestone by claiming: "He was telling me about getting married…"
But is he as unsettled at McLaren as a possible move to Mercedes might suggest? "No. We have got some great people in this team. Great people. I have been with them since I was 13, which is a longer relationship than most people here [at McLaren]. I do appreciate the special people here, they are incredible. When I go back to the factory I have great relationships with people I have grown up with, from when I did my work experience."
It's been an uncomfortable week for McLaren's 2008 world champion, after the furore over the tweet he posted of some team telemetry in Belgium, the shunt he suffered in the first corner, and then the Mercedes rumours.
He denied that the tweet was harmful. "Nothing happened," he claimed. "The head of the media department asked me to take it down, so I did." Questions about the potential attraction of Mercedes were avoided. "I have no idea, I don't want to talk about it," Hamilton said. "I want to stay concentrated on this race. I don't have a deadline for sorting out next year, though obviously before next season would be useful. I'm in a great position right now and I need to focus on preparing for these upcoming races. There's a long way to go to the end of the season, and last weekend Jenson [Button] showed the great potential in our car and I just want to focus on that."
Those who believe Hamilton will decamp to Mercedes think it would all be about the money, but he was trenchant on that point. "I want to win. You always want to win, every year that you compete. That's why I exist, that's why the team exists. You just need to ensure you are in a place where you can do that."
Since their formation in 2010, Mercedes have won one race; McLaren have won 15.
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