We will probably remember this Formula 1 season for a while. This is already apparent after four of the 23 targeted grands prix. Lewis Hamilton versus Max Verstappen, the duel of the generations, king versus crown prince, veteran versus daredevil – in two cars of equal value. That alone guarantees a hit. There are additional dimensions: The quarrel between archenemies Mercedes and Red Bull. Dispute over engineers. Teasing about the technology. The question of the jump for 2022. And the question of a new Hamilton contract.
Hamilton won three times in the first four races. The seven-time title holder played on the entire experience of 270 grands prix. And luck was at his side when he needed it. Like in Imola, when he was actually already outside and yet crossed the finish line in second place. Hamilton has never started the season better. Neither did Verstappen. The challenger has the talent to overthrow the superstar. But is it mature enough already?
Fires between the rivals
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and Red Bulls sports director Helmut Marko are shooting poison arrows back and forth with a conspicuous frequency. Red Bull is digging for the Mercedes engine engineers for its new drive project on its own. Six have already been lured away. Brixworth is not left without a trace. Mercedes has to replace six good engineers. At least. Red Bull wants more.
On the other hand, the defending champion blames the challenger’s car. Mercedes has observed that the rear wing on the RB16B bends unusually backwards on the straights. This lowers the air resistance and increases the top speed. Until Spain the conflict swelled underground. Then Hamilton suddenly addressed it publicly.
Red Bulls team boss Christian Horner said. “That’s why Toto came to me once before. Now it seemed to me as if Lewis had been sent on by his team. We all pass the bending tests at the FIA.” Wolff didn’t want to say anything on this subject on race Sunday.
George Russell is currently driving at Williams. He actually deserved promotion to Mercedes in 2022.
What happened to russell
There will be other issues that will come up to us. For example the contract negotiations at Mercedes. Both the world champion’s contract and that of Valtteri Bottas’ contract expire after the season. We can already see the reports in Great Britain speculating about the remuneration for the record winner of the premier class. The Corona crisis will again have an impact on what he can claim for himself without overshooting the mark.
Bottas already counted the revolver blades before the fourth race weekend of the year. They reported that Wolff was flirting with swapping his second driver for George Russell during the season, which was immediately denied. What would Mercedes get out of it? Nothing but restlessness.
And yet the personnel is likely to be hotly debated. Bottas is a reliable number two. But how long can Wolff allow himself to put off the huge talent Russell and park with Williams? Actually, his ascent should take place in the coming year. How good the young Englishman is, he shows Formula 1 practically every weekend by reliably making it into Q2 in the Williams – sometimes even on the threshold of Q3. In his only appearance in the Mercedes in Bahrain 2020, as a Hamilton representative, he ironed Bottas. Williams will be far-sighted enough to probe the market.
New contract? Hamilton steps on the gas
The only question is, how would Hamilton react if team boss put Russell by his side? The veteran knows the duel between world champions and aspiring youngsters. However, so far only from a different perspective. In 2007 he was the super rookie at McLaren and Fernando Alonso the champion.
In any case, Hamilton doesn’t seem to be thinking of quitting. On the contrary: The duel with Verstappen made the already great hunger for success even greater. In Spain, the 98-time GP winner was asked whether there were already talks between him and team boss Wolff regarding a further contract extension.
The world champion took it as an opportunity to step on the gas pedal. “We don’t want to rush anything, but we have to be sensible and start the talks. Contract negotiations are never easy, always complex. But we should start with them as long as it doesn’t interfere with our actual work.” That makes you sit up and take notice. In 2020 it all sounded very different.
Hamilton shines in the world championship fight and shows that he is worth every penny.
Clarity before the summer break
The champion had only signed the employment contract for the current season in February. Both parties agree that they don’t want to wait that long again. “We never want to be in the situation we were in January, February. That ruined my whole winter. I’m sure it wasn’t helpful for Toto either to switch off. It didn’t feel like a break for either of us.” says Hamilton. His boss adds: “We shouldn’t let it slide for so long again.”
The seven-time world champion already has a schedule in his head. “There are still 19 races to go. It would be great, however, if we had set something up by the summer break so that we have a clear picture of the future.” There are still around twelve weeks until the break. The trick will be not to be distracted. The task on the track is difficult enough. Verstappen and Red Bull are real opponents for the World Cup for the first time. Wolff: “At the moment, the head is trimmed for the World Championship fight against Max and Red Bull.”
Red Bull is in a more comfortable situation. Verstappen’s working paper is finalized until 2023. And as long as the Dutchman has a car that fights on equal terms with the Mercedes on every racetrack, there is probably no option for an early exit.
30 million for two drivers
On the fringes of the Spanish GP, the scene didn’t just talk about a new Hamilton contract. She is also discussing a future cap for drivers’ salaries. It is said that all racing teams would be for it in principle. According to the motto: There is an upper limit for development, soon one for the engines, then why not also for the driver’s salaries. There are 30 million dollars in the room – for both pilots on the team together.
Income that drivers receive through personal sponsorships would of course not be included. In principle, only the three top teams would have to limit themselves to this amount. The paddock radio reports that Hamilton, Verstappen and Leclerc (with bonus payments) are currently above it.
The talks about capping drivers’ salaries are still at an early stage. Many fundamental questions and even more details need to be clarified. For example: Should driver salaries fall below the general budget cap, which is currently $ 147.4 million and will drop to $ 135 million in the next two years? How should the salary streams be monitored in a watertight manner? What happens to current long-term contracts. “In principle we are for it. But we have to respect existing contracts,” says Red Bulls Helmut Marko, for example.
Alpha Tauris team boss Franz Tost advocates packing the drivers under the current budget cap. “The driver can make a difference of half a second. The team then has to decide: Do I bring in a driver like that, or do I prefer to develop the car? I would include it in the budget cap. Because only then do I have a warranty that creates a balance. If it is outside, the team just has to find the money. In quotation marks. Otherwise everything stays the same. “
McLaren has put in its own proposal on the driver pay cover.
McLaren’s driver proposal
McLaren agrees in principle, but makes a different proposal. For the drivers and the three top-paid engineers, the regulations should fix a sum X (the so-called “Allowance”), by which the budget cap is then extended. Each team can choose whether to use this amount to the full or to use it as an additional development budget. This would guarantee what Tost wants to see: a team has to decide whether to invest money in top drivers or in technology.
McLaren sees a great advantage with its approach because it is supposed to protect workplaces in the team. You see this at risk when it is included in the current budget cap. A team that might decide from one season to the next to sign a star and push the limit to do so would have to save elsewhere. Because you don’t do that first with the development budget, it affects employees. 100 could quickly be put in front of the door.
There is no quick fix in sight. Some in the paddock are talking about not expecting a driver’s salary limit in the next two or three years. Others are even more pessimistic. One betrays us. “I have the impression that no one would ever want to turn a button and just postpone it.”