Lewis Hamilton: Ferrari chief admits to ‘conversations’ with world champion
Ferrari admit they have held talks with world champion Lewis Hamilton about joining them in the future.
Ferrari chief executive officer Louis Carey Camilleri said at a media lunch that Hamilton has had “conversations” with chairman John Elkann.
Camilleri said Ferrari were “very flattered Lewis in particular, and other drivers, want to join us”.
“It’s totally premature – we’ll look at our options at the appropriate time and see what is the best fit,” he added.
He added that the meeting between the British driver and Elkann was at “a social event, which has been blown somewhat out of proportion – they have some common friends”.
Hamilton, who is 35 next month and will be gunning for a record-equalling seventh world title in 2020, comes to the end of his Mercedes contract next season.
He said at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on 1 December that it was “smart and wise” to consider his next move carefully, adding: “I love where I am, so it is definitely not a quick decision to go and do something else.”
At the time, Hamilton refused to confirm or deny reports in Italy he had met Elkann twice this year.
Hamilton said he was “waiting to see” whether Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff remained with the team.
Wolff has been touted as a potential replacement for F1 chief executive Chase Carey in 2021.
However that prospect has receded in recent weeks, and Camilleri said Ferrari could use its veto to block any move by Wolff to run F1.
“Anybody who has been an active and important player in a certain team within the last years to take on the responsibility at F1 would create a conflict of interest,” Camilleri said.
“It would not be a good thing [that Wolff] should ultimately run F1. Our position is if [Ferrari team principal] Mattia Binotto was the candidate to replace Chase, the rest of the paddock would not be too happy.
“Our veto is the last resort tool. Should we be confronted with that, we would explain our position quite clearly to the folks at Liberty (the US media group that owns F1’s commercial rights).”
Managing Ferrari’s drivers
If Hamilton was to join Ferrari in 2021, it would almost certainly be as a team-mate to Charles Leclerc and a replacement for Sebastian Vettel, whose contract runs out at the same time as the Briton’s.
Camilleri said: “We have a long-term agreement with one driver [Leclerc] and with the other driver [Vettel] the agreement expires at the end of 2020.”
Vettel, a four-time champion, started the year as Ferrari’s number one driver but Leclerc has earned equal status with his performances in 2019.
He out-scored the German in terms of wins, pole positions, points and in their qualifying head-to-head.
Their rivalry led to a number of flash points last season, culminating in a crash at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Camilleri said: “Clearly Charles’ performance has had an impact. That’s inevitable when you’re the world champion and this young kid comes along and has a phenomenal season.
“Charles has a lot of talent. He has surprised even ourselves as to what he has been capable of.
“Their collision last month in Brazil was a nightmare. However, the air has been cleared. And sometimes you need a crisis to put the goalposts in the appropriate place.
“Going forwards it gives Mattia a much better way of managing them because they realised how much they screwed up.”
What about Ferrari’s car?
Ferrari had a disappointing season in 2019, generally lagging behind Mercedes on pace, winning only three races and facing controversy as rival teams suspected them of bending the rules with their engine.
Binotto has always insisted their speed on the straight was primarily due to a different car philosophy from Mercedes, with less overall downforce and drag.
And he said Ferrari would change that for next season.
“We are not expecting to be as fast on the straight as we have been,” Binotto said. “Our car is aiming for more downforce and, by consequence, we are certainly working more on drag.”
He also said there would be “quite significant changes on the engine for next season”.
Binotto added: “We didn’t have the best car in 2019. So, we cannot be the favourites. The ones that won the championship this year, the ones that won the last titles are setting the bar and are having the fastest car by the end of the season. So we are the challengers.”
The new car will be launched on 11 February, ahead of the start of pre-season testing on 19 February and Camilleri said he saw encouraging signs for Ferrari even if the team had not yet met their ambitions.
“If you look back in the history of Formula 1, where teams have done very well… there is one common thread, which was that there was a lot of stability within the team and therefore they learned to work very closely together,” he said.
“That is something we are very focused on, Mattia has been spending a lot of time to ensure we have a cohesive, united team.”
Camilleri said Ferrari was prepared to invest in people and infrastructure, with a new simulator under construction and he says the team will have a bigger budget to prepare for the major rule changes coming into force in 2021.