• British driver may sign five-year contract worth £100m
• Hamilton could pass Alonso with salary and bonuses
McLaren want Lewis Hamilton to sign a new five-year contract worth £100m, which could see him emerge as the best?paid driver in Formula One. Hamilton’s existing five-year deal, worth an estimated £75m – or £15m a year – expires in December.
It is understood that the Woking-based team want to tie him up until he is 33 – for what, in effect, could be the rest of his driving career. That would mean that Hamilton, who went within a point of winning the world championship in his brilliant rookie season of 2007 and took the title the following year, would be a one-team man. He has already spent more than half his life with McLaren, signed by the former team principal Ron Dennis as a boy prodigy when he was only 13.
The best-paid driver in Formula One is believed to be Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, on €30m (£24m) a year. But, at almost 31, the Spaniard is four years older than Hamilton, his great rival at McLaren in 2007, and the younger man could jump ahead on the back of bonuses and off-track earnings.
A basic salary of £20m a year would make Hamilton the most highly paid British sportsman in the world before endorsements are factored in.
No formal talks have taken place yet between McLaren, Hamilton and the driver’s agents, XIX Entertainment, fronted by Simon Fuller. But it is believed that McLaren, who have never made any secret of the fact they want to retain the services of the sport’s biggest box office attraction, are ready to make their move.
When they do so it will end speculation that Hamilton could be set for a move to Mercedes, where he is greatly admired and where Michael Schumacher, at 43, is coming to the end of a rather protracted and recently disappointing career.
Ferrari, who are ready to dispense with the services of the underperforming Felipe Massa at the end of the season – or perhaps before – have also been strongly linked with Hamilton. But Red Bull, who have dominated the sport for the past two seasons and to where a frustrated Hamilton infamously turned in Canada last year to sound out the prospects of alternative employment, are thought not to be interested in signing the gifted but volatile driver.
Hamilton, as even McLaren would ruefully confirm, can be a handful. Last year, when Jenson Button became his first McLaren team-mate to outperform him over a season, Hamilton was distracted by personal issues. He was constantly crashing into other drivers on the track and arguing with stewards off it. And it all started to go wrong for him here, in Monaco, his new home from earlier this year.
In the Monaco Grand Prix last year Hamilton was twice penalised and ranted afterwards: “It’s an absolute frickin’ joke. I’ve been to see the stewards five times out of six [races] this season.” He then invoked Ali G’s catchphrase when he said: “Maybe it’s because I’m black.”
This year, however, McLaren have been greatly impressed by a new-found maturity in their star driver. Hamilton has been the most impressive performer this season, winning three pole positions in the first five races. But, frustrated by wretched luck and pit?lane mistakes, he is still looking for his first win. In the last race, in Barcelona, he again drove heroically in qualifying to win pole, only to be banished to the back of the grid because his fuel levels had fallen too low.
He still produced another outstanding drive to move himself from 24th to eighth, despite yet another wheel-change fumble. Afterwards, Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, said of his prize asset: “I have to say Lewis had some greatness I had not seen before. By the end of our chat he was consoling me. To say I was disappointed is a modest expression of what I felt.
“He was saying we win and lose as a team. His was a great, great driver this weekend. To be a great driver like [Juan Manuel] Fangio you need greatness in handling setbacks, challenges off the track and he has excelled in that. My affection and admiration for him have been enhanced by events this weekend. It would be wrong to discuss negotiations publicly. But the relationship with Lewis and team is stronger and better and hopefully we will work together for a long time.”
Hamilton himself is aware of his new maturity. He said here on Wednesday: “I don’t want to speak too early but something has definitely changed this year. Things are a lot better. Just in life. That’s enabling me to get on with my job without having any baggage. I don’t have any baggage this year.”
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