The BBC’s Eddie Jordan has broken a story today that Michael Schumacher is set to retire from driving at the end of this season and that Lewis Hamilton is shaping up to replace him.
It was clear from the “Tweetgate” incident that Hamilton and McLaren were not on the same page last weekend, with the driver making public a telemetry set up sheet, to the disappointment of his team mate and team boss, who described it as “an error of judgement”.
Hamilton is said by Jordan to be discussing terms with Mercedes, via his management team led by music impresario Simon Fuller, which doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen; it could be an extreme negotiating tactic to bring McLaren and its sponsors to the table with an improved offer. Mercedes has always been Hamilton’s only real bargaining chip when trying to scare McLaren into paying him more money.
But have they had enough of him and are they willing to let him go? That is one of the key questions here, especially after the weekend.
I have to admit I heard a whisper about this on Monday, but didn’t have any more evidence than a word from an insider, who seemed to have an insight. But this site doesn’t really deal in rumour, unless it is opened up to public debate as this one has now been.
“I believe Hamilton and Mercedes have already agreed personal terms and a deal could be imminent,” Jordan said on the BBC Sport website this afternoon.
A McLaren spokesman commented this evening, “We have been told by Lewis Hamilton’s management team that the story is untrue.”
This is different from McLaren saying that the story is untrue. The nuance between the two is to be noted.
If Hamilton pulls the trigger and leaves the team that raised him as a driver and brought him into F1, it looks as though Force India’s Paul Di Resta is at the front of the queue to replace him.
And what of Schumacher’s role in all of this? The seven times champion has been saying that he will not decide his future until October and if this Hamilton development turns out to be true he will not be pleased that his retirement has been anticipated in this way.
Could there be an ongoing role for Schumacher in the management team at Mercedes or AMG, if that is the brand they choose to run it under? The team which has been assembled around Ross Brawn is interesting in that it features a number of “chiefs” in all the technical areas; design, technical management, research and development and operations. It is a set up that doesn’t necessarily need Brawn to run it in the future, if he sees his own retirement in prospect at some point in the next year or two.
So a role for Schumacher in the management of the team might be the next step. It’s hard to see him moving to Brackley, so the role would not be as hands-on as Brawn has been, but it gives him an ongoing role and a reason to get up in the mornings.
Maybe this is what Bernie Ecclestone meant at the weekend when he said it was sad to lose Schumacher as a driver without him winning a race on his comeback.
Mercedes has had an up-and-down season, indeed the last few years have not met expectations, so if Hamilton does make this move, on the face of it, he is taking a gamble.
But Brawn is on the record as saying that he is confident that the team he has assembled will come good next season, that is what they have been building towards, so they may be about to deliver a car to bear comparison with the 2009 car from that group, which bore Brawn’s name.
More is bound to emerge over the Monza weekend and as Ferrari is not set to make any driver announcements, this story will be at the centre of attention in the F1 paddock.