Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 September 2020

Abu Dhabi F1: Secret talks that could spark a half a billion dollar merry go round

Leading drivers out of contract next year and it could spark seismic changes

Lewis Hamilton in a Ferrari? Max Verstappen at Mercedes?

Abu Dhabi will host a string of secret talks over the future of Formula 1’s leading racers that will surely spell seismic change.

In a rare collision of fortunes, all of the sport’s key drivers, bar Charles Leclerc, are out of contract in a year’s time, as they eye dramatic new horizons with the ambitious 2021 F1 rules reboot.

That’s an eye-watering kaleidoscope of multi-year deals that could stack up to around half a billion dollars (Dh 1.83 billlion).

The talks could be rushed discussions in passing in corridors, VIP lounges, runways or private jets, detailed talks in restaurants, late night hotel assignations or benign-looking paddock chats as the giant ball of clay that makes up the sport’s leading players is kneaded and mashed, pressured and persuaded for the next six months to find its final shape for 2021 somewhere after next summer.

Hamilton has admitted he would like to drive for Maranello one day. It was one of the key ambitions that eluded his idol Ayrton Senna. Aged 34 this could be his last chance.

By then there is every chance he will be a seven-time champion and would he really step away from Brackley at such a significant crossroads?

Some say he is waiting, too, on highly-rated boss Toto Wolff to reject a rumoured offer to become F1 CEO but The National understands Ferrari’s veto is unlikely to allow that to happen.

Either way, his negotiating team are sure to weaponise Hamilton’s situation to push his astronomical salary past $55m.

But would Maranello even consider taking a driver steeped in so much Mercedes folklore?

Bernie Ecclestone, for one, thinks not: “If Ferrari had the choice of Lewis or Max I think they would go for Max like they would Leclerc.

“With Sebastian Vettel or Lewis they will only get a couple of years but with the younger two they might get 10 years.

“I’m not sure Max isn’t the best guy around at the moment, Lewis included.”

Verstappen, already publicly saying he is in no rush to sign for anyone as he tries to read where the balance of power – technologically – will lie. He, more than Hamilton, probably holds the key.

Red Bull remain key players with design genius Adrian Newey in their ranks and a commitment from Honda into 2021 to stack alongside an impressive recent victory in Brazil.

Some see Sebastian Vettel as a busted flush: after a poor season his salary demands no longer justified by his speed (or lack of it).

The young Dutch reincarnation of Giles Villeneuve is surely the answer to their looming vacancy.

Perhaps a Verstappen and Leclerc partnership is the golden ticket?

Or would Mercedes consider teaming Verstappen early with Hamilton as a segue way into a post-Hamilton world?

What a mouth-water proposition for F1 fans.

The lurking dark horse is Renault racer Ricciardo, every inch a match for Verstappen, and out of contract at Renault in time to be considered by Ferrari but perhaps a better fit for the Silver Arrows.

If Renault comes of age could he lead the French car giant with bottomless pockets to another F1 title by staying just where he is ?

Then again, in the age old wisdom of commentating legend Murray Walker, it’s important to remember: “This is F1, anything could happen and probably will do.”

Updated: November 29, 2019 08:22 AM

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