Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team’s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda is confident Lewis Hamilton will continue to drive for them beyond the 2018 season despite the delay in extending his contract.
The British driver is out of contract at the end of this season and is yet to sign a new deal with the Mercedes team. They have been in talks since the end of last season, but cannot seem to reach an agreement that suits both parties.
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team’s CEO and team principal is clear they want to continue with Hamilton for the foreseeable future and the four-time world champion also expressed his desire to stay with the Silver Arrows team on a number of occasions.
Reports prior to the start of the season suggested they were close to reaching an agreement with Hamilton expected to put pen-to-paper on a new deal worth £40 million ($56 million) per season. The deal will potentially make him the joint highest paid on the grid with Sebastian Vettel also said to be on similar wages at Ferrari.
However, Mercedes’ poor start to the 2018 season is likely to have put contract talks on the back burner with the team still at a loss to explain why they have not won a race thus far. They were favorites coming into the season, but Ferrari won the first two races of the season with Red Bull Racing taking victory in the third round in China.
Former Williams driver Damon Hill seemed to suggest Hamilton could delay contract talks in order to ensure Mercedes are still the leading team or if he has to consider a move to one of their rivals, mainly Ferrari, who seem to be the fastest car on the grid at the moment.
Lauda, however, is confident Hamilton will remain with Mercedes beyond 2018 despite admitting contract talks have been a bit of a roller coaster in recent months. Hamilton is unlikely to discuss contracts until he can get back to winning ways with the next race at the Baku Street Circuit in Azerbaijan on April 29.
“It’s just about the details. Lewis will continue to drive for us,” Lauda told German publication Auto Motor und Sport, as quoted by Autoweek.
“Depending on the mood, it is sometimes more or less expensive,” the former Ferrari and McLaren driver added. “It always depends on how the last race went. But the money is not a problem. We agree in principle.”
While Hamilton remains Mercedes’ priority for next season, the driver market is abuzz with talks regarding the future of Daniel Ricciardo, the Red Bull Racing driver, who is also out of contract at the end of the season. He is also seeking a championship winning car and if his current employers cannot provide one this season, he is likely to seek a new challenge for 2019.
Mercedes’ second driver Valtteri Bottas is also out of contract at the end of the season and he could be asked to make way for the Australian. But the Finn put in some fine performances in the opening three races this season and staked his claim for a long-term future at Mercedes.
Ferrari are also likely to have a seat vacant with Kimi Raikkonen in the final year of his contract, but it remains to be seen if they will go for a proven race winner or give a chance to one of the upcoming drivers from the Ferrari young driver development program, namely, Charles Leclerc, who currently drives for the Alfa Romeo Sauber Team in F1.