By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton’s former team McLaren are watching his contract situation with interest, even if the four times Formula One world champion and Mercedes have said they want to stay together.
The 33-year-old Briton has a season left to run on his current contract but is expected to sign a new multi-year agreement with the team that has won both championships for the past four years.
Nothing appears to have been signed yet, however, allowing rivals to indulge in what may be little more than flights of fantasy.
“I don’t think there’s a team in the pitlane that wouldn’t be interested in having Lewis drive for them, us included,” McLaren’s executive director Zak Brown told reporters when asked about the situation.
“If anyone got Lewis, it would be great for the team. He has a great history here and he is very friendly with the shareholders,” added the American, who joined the Woking-based outfit at the end of 2016.
Hamilton won his first title with McLaren in 2008, a year after his debut, before moving to Mercedes in 2013 and taking three more championships.
The sport’s most high-profile driver, who enjoys a private jet and all the trappings of success, said last November he expected a new contract to be straightforward — a sentiment echoed by team boss and shareholder Toto Wolff.
“Lewis has become such an important pillar within the team that it’s a no-brainer that we continue with each other,” said the Austrian.
Brown felt any delay in signing was likely to be more down to Hamilton than the team.
“I am going to guess that he’s contemplating how much longer he wants to go,” he said. “If you’re Lewis, with what you’ve done with Mercedes and where Mercedes are headed, you’d re-sign with the team.
“He’s talked about when he stops, so that would be my guess. I can’t imagine it’s money or the quality of the team.
“He just might be going ‘let me see how this year goes, what’s the rush? They’re not going to sell the seat from underneath me’. That would be my speculation.
“We might find they actually have signed and are just not telling us.”
The season starts in Australia on March 25.
Ferrari are likely to have a vacancy at the end of the season, with 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen out of contract, and the sport’s oldest and most successful team also have a special allure.
McLaren are the second most successful team but have not won a race since 2012 and finished ninth of 10 teams last year, splitting with Honda and starting a new partnership with Renault.
They are hoping to be challenging for the podium again this campaign.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Greg Stutchbury)