Hamilton responds to Ferrari rumours, keeping options open

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ABU DHABI — Lewis Hamilton says he is keeping his options open amid mounting speculation he will move to Ferrari when his Mercedes contract expires at the end of 2020.

The news gathered pace over the final race weekend of the year in Abu Dhabi after it emerged in the Italian press that Hamilton had recently met with Ferrari president John Elkann. The six-time world champion is out of contract at the end of next year and could replace Sebastian Vettel if Ferrari decides not to renew the German’s contract.

Hamilton did not deny meeting Elkann, saying “everything that happens behind closed doors is always private”, but said his future was not yet decided and would partly rest on whether Mercedes boss Toto Wolff stays at the team.

“For many many years I’ve never sat down and considered other options [beyond Mercedes], because we’ve been driving straight ahead onto the path we’ve been on and the journey we’ve been on,” he said in the post-race press conference in Abu Dhabi. “To be honest I think we’re still on that path. I think there’s very little that’s going to shift it from that.

“I know Toto is looking at his options in terms of his future and only he will know what is the best thing for him and his family. So I’m waiting to see what he’s doing with that.

“I love where I am so it’s obviously not a quick decision to go do something else but I think it’s only smart and wise for me to sit and think of what I want and if it is the last stage of my career.

“Naturally I want to keep winning and keep fighting with these guys [Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc]. I can’t really tell you what else is going to happen moving forward.”

Wolff has faced a barrage of questions about the situation this weekend and on Sunday night gave an honest assessment of Mercedes’ chances of keeping Hamilton.

“I would rate it at 75 percent, and I give you the number because I think from a rational perspective, everything speaks for continuation of the relationship from both sides. But equally, there is a 25 percent chance that we are not in control of. So we’ll see how the next months pan out.”

Wolff’s contract as the head of Mercedes motorsport is also believed to expire at the end of 2020, but he is also tied to the role by a 30 percent stake in in the team, which is majority-owned by Mercedes’ parent company Daimler.

Asked about his own future at the team, Wolff said he would need to receive a better offer than his current one to move on.

“What has worked well for me in Mercedes is the opportunity and trust that was given to me in 2012 — I will always honour that. I think for a company like Daimler to allow a shareholding from their managing partners, including myself, is not something that came easily, and the relationship has got stronger since then.

“If I’m given the freedom to continue to manage the team in an entrepreneurial way like so far, and I have no doubt that they will, it’s a place that is simply enjoyable from my side, and provides me with entrepreneurial opportunity. So I don’t see myself like a football manager that maybe does a three or five year stint, and needs to reinvent himself in another team that’s different because of the opportunity that was given to me as a shareholder.”

The Mercedes boss also said he understood Hamilton’s concerns about how the team may change in the future.

“We have started this Mercedes journey together in 2013, and over these seven years, I think the trust between us has grown, and has been a contributing factor to our success. Of course from a personal level, we both want to know what the other one does. Equally, there is so many other team members, contributors to the performance that are equally as important as Lewis or myself.

“I think the most important is to understand who that is, who has contributed, whether they are still motivated and energised, and I think as much as I am visible in the media, Lewis will also be interested to know if the team stays together overall. So I think it’s just exploring whether what we have built together is still intact, and in a way energised to push the needle further.”

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