MONTREAL, Canada // The future of Lewis Hamilton's relationship with McLaren-Mercedes was thrown into doubt yesterday as it emerged the 26-year-old Briton had spent more than a quarter of an hour in a private meeting with Christian Horner, the team principal at Red Bull Racing.
Hamilton crashed out of Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix, but it is understood less than 24 hours beforehand, he had met with his rival team's chief decision maker.
The 2008 world champion has long been linked with replacing Australian Mark Webber at Red Bull when the Briton's contract expires in 2012.
A source from the constructors champions dismissed the meeting as "a social visit", but in a sport so filled with smoke and mirrors, there are rarely fumes without fire.
The accident came only seven laps after Hamilton had also been involved with an incident involving Webber, who later joined a growing list of critics to condemn Hamilton's overly aggressive driving style. Webber, who recovered from the shunt to finish third, said his rival's manoeuvre had been ill-judged.
"I think Lewis thought the chequered flag was in Turn Three," Webber said. "We made contact, I tried to give him some room. I know it's easy to clip someone, but I think it was a bit clumsy that early in the race."
Hamilton has been repeatedly warned this season by race stewards and was awarded two separate time penalties following incidents involving Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado in Monaco two weeks ago.
Yet he showed no signs of curbing his combative tactics at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as he tried an optimistic passing move on his own teammate after only eight laps.
Nikki Lauda, a three-time world champion, called for sanctions to be dealt to Hamilton, warning that if no action is taken, it could result in a fatal accident.
"What Hamilton did there goes beyond all boundaries," Lauda said of his move on Button.
"He is completely mad. If the FIA does not punish him, I do not understand the world any more. At some point, there has to be an end to all the jokes. You cannot drive like this - as it will result in someone getting killed."
Emerson Fittpaldi, the former world champion who was a race steward at Montreal, decided not to punish Hamilton, deeming the shunt as a racing incident. But he said before the race that Hamilton at times lacked respect.
"I think Lewis is an exceptional talent, a world champion, but sometimes he is too aggressive when he tries to overtake," the Brazilian said.
"It was like that in Monaco with Felipe, placing half of the car in the sidewalk and putting Felipe in a difficult position, at least. He put Felipe in a dangerous position, really. I think there has to be a limit for being aggressive, respecting the others and still being competitive. You can be competitive, but you have to respect the others."
Button, however, issued a passionate defence of his teammate, although whether he would be quite so understanding had he not recovered to win his first race since April last year is not clear.
"Lewis is in the headlines a lot, and a lot of it is because he is bloody good," said Button, who joined McLaren after winning the world championship in 2009.
"He's a racer, a fighter. For me that is the reason why I wanted to be here, against and with a driver that is super-talented, one of the best drivers Formula One has seen.
"It's good challenging him on the circuit. We have a lot of respect for each other. We've raced each other a lot this year and last year, and we've never touched. We've always given each other room. For me that's a great position to be in.
"I think his driving style is aggressive and he always goes for gaps. Sometimes he's right, sometimes he's not, but it's the same for all of us. He just finds himself in that situation more often than others."