x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lewis Hamilton gives nothing away on his Formula One future

The McLaren man refuses to discuss his plans, but Sergio Perez confirms a move to McLaren is not an impossibility for him.

Lewis Hamilton has yet to confirm where he will be driving next year in Formula One.
Lewis Hamilton has yet to confirm where he will be driving next year in Formula One.

SINGAPORE // For the past two seasons, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have seemed like a perfect partnership: both British, both world champions and both content with the demanding schedule of McLaren-Mercedes. It is a pairing so quintessential that it has even spawned its own animation series, Tooned.

Yet the end appears nigh and yesterday the different ways both men deal with their popularity was made starkly clear.

It has been confirmed that Hamilton, whose contract expires at the end of this season, has two final contract offers on the table: one to remain at McLaren and one from Mercedes-GP, where it is expected he would replace Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, who would consequently retire from the sport.

The ball is firmly in Hamilton's court, which has left everyone vying for a glimpse of where the 27 year old's head might be at.

Yet the 2008 world champion was giving nothing away.

Last night, he pre-empted another round of rumours by announcing ahead of his pre-race media briefing that he would not be discussing anything other than this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix.

"Before we start, I'm not here to speak about anything but the weekend," he told assembled reporters in the paddock at Marina Bay Street Circuit.

"I've no extra news for you, so use your time wisely to speak about other things if you can."

In contrast to Hamilton, who responds to unwanted questions with a mumble and a face as straight as his bat, Button said he thoroughly enjoys the conjecture, adding that whenever he has found his future the subject of speculation during his 12-year career, he has treated the whole process as a positive experience.

"I quite like it," Button said. "It's quite exciting being in that situation.

"I've never found it a bad thing when people have asked me where I'm racing, and when you've more than one interested party it's always nice for a driver.

"The only difficult time for me was with Williams and BAR, but that was for different reasons [there was an ongoing contract dispute].

"But when people have talked about whether I'm going to be at one team or another I've never had a real issue with it before."

Even when Hamilton was relayed teammate Button's viewpoint, however, he refused to get too drawn into the subject.

"I've not even thought about it," Hamilton said, when asked if he also found it exciting to be the focal point of such frenzy.

"I'm just focusing on this weekend. The most important thing is not to get excited about the pace we had in the last race because it is going to be different this weekend. So I've other things to focus on."

Hamilton has triumphed at two of the past three races to close the gap on the championship leader Fernando Alonso, of Ferrari, to 37 points in the standings with seven races to go.

Yet his celebrations on top of the podium in Monza two weeks ago were subdued amid talk that he was preparing to say goodbye to the marque he has been with since the age of 13.

Ironically, it was the man stood next to Hamilton that afternoon in Italy who is understood to be lined up to replace him.

Sergio Perez, Sauber's 22-year-old Mexican who finished second at Monza after starting in 12th place and has been on the podium three times in all this season, was asked last night whether his long-term involvement in the Ferrari Driver Academy would stand in the way of any potential move to McLaren.

His answer was a resound "no".

"I have a nice connection with Ferrari through the Ferrari Academy, but I am just part of the academy, not part of the Ferrari team, so it doesn't affect anything," said Perez, who has also recently been linked with the seat of Alonso's teammate Felipe Massa for the 2013 season.

Button, meanwhile, is simply enjoying the guessing game. "I think it's great," the 2009 world champion said. "

"Every day I read the papers - because we all do, even if we say we don't - and there's a lot of good reading out there.

"I'm not sure how much truth is in any of it, but there's a lot of interesting things going on.

"You have [the Ferrari president, Luca di] Montezemolo saying [Perez] is not ready for Ferrari and you have [Perez] also saying he's now ready for a top team, so it's an exciting part of the season for everyone."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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