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GP Week : Issue 166
20 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Rumours of a possible departure from McLaren threatened to destabilize Lewis Hamilton as he set about his preparations for the Italian Grand Prix. He responded with one of the best performances of his career, bossing qualifying and the race from start to finish. Whether it convinces McLaren it’s worth matching Mercedes-Benz’ £20 million bid for the Briton, we’ll have to wait and see but it does put him best of the rest behind Fernando Alonso in the championship with seven rounds still to go. A week on from Lewis’ Twitter faux pas, when he broadcast a highly confidential telemetry print-out to his one million followers and provoked the ire of his McLaren team, now the chatter is about where he’ll be racing next year: Will he jack in his 14-year relationship with McLaren, with whom he has won 19 grands prix, for Mercedes AMG which has taken just one victory since joining the sport in 2010? It would seem an illogical move given where the cars are on the grid, but Mercedes are said to be promising a £60 million pay packet over three years - £15 million more than engine customers McLaren – and more flexibility when it comes to personal sponsors, an area where he can boost his earnings considerably, but is rather restricted by McLaren. In the FIA press conference at the Autodromo di Monza last Thursday, Hamilton answered questions with a straight bat. Does he know where he’ll be driving next year? “No” . What might attract him to driving for Mercedes? “I have no idea, I haven’t really thought about it.” When will he make a decision on his future? “I don’t have a deadline, but obviously before next season would be useful.” Most of the Fleet Street scribes I spoke to in Monza reckon the Mercedes talk is a crude negotiation ploy by Hamilton’s management team at XIX Entertainment. What other seat options are there? Red Bull have two drivers signed up for next year, Lotus don’t have the money to meet Lewis’ salary demands and, after their destructive partnership at McLaren in 2007 when both men let the title slip from their grasp, Alonso is hardly likely to open the door for him at Ferrari. It seems unthinkable that a born racer like Hamilton would take more money over a better car, and all he would say on that matter was: “I want to win. That’s why us drivers exist and why the teams exist, and you want to be in a place [where you can] do so.” But Mercedes need Hamilton, a driver that could finally drag them up the order. Bernie Ecclestone blurted to the BBC in Spa that Michael Schumacher is on the verge of retiring for a second time, and Mr E never lets something slip without meaning to. I’ve long been of the understanding that Bernie would like to see Hamilton leave McLaren, and no doubt he’s doing what he can to engineer this. Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug brought Schumacher back to F1 and, if the seven- times champ now returns to his armchair winless, Haug will be seen to have failed. So he needs to replace him with the only available driver who can equal Schumacher’s stature: Hamilton. Haug’s job may depend on it. OPINION OPINION ADAM HAY-NICHOLLS F1 Editor HAUG’S JOB HINGES ON GETTING HAMILTON