Lewis Hamilton is ready personally to negotiate a new contract at Mercedes once this year’s world championship is over, as he prepares for life after Formula One following his split with Simon Fuller’s XIX Management.
Hamilton’s contract with XIX expired a month ago after a four-year relationship during which he made a £20million-a-year move to Mercedes. It has also delivered a winning car and the very strong possibility of a second drivers’ title this year.
Fresh from his victory in the United States Grand Prix, extending his lead over team-mate Nico Rosberg to 24 points, Hamilton indicated he would be the driving force behind any new deal, with his contract due to expire at the end of next year.
“I’m quite comfortable doing it myself,” he said last night. “Nico [Rosberg] did his himself, Sebastian [Vettel] did his himself, and there’s no reason I couldn’t do it myself. Whether or not I will, I haven’t decided myself. I hope to see a long future with this team. Nothing needs to be changed too much.”
Hamilton, 29, has long spoken of his interest in following girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger into the music industry once he retires from racing, or even setting up his own record label. Those close to him suggest the move is also part of an attempt to prepare himself for major charitable projects after Formula One. In 2008, the Briton set up a foundation with the help of his father, Anthony, who is not in line for a return to Hamilton’s management. It has not proved a success. It received nearly £180,000 in 2009 but has been wound down and recorded no income last year.
Representatives at XIX have since produced analysis for Hamilton on Oprah Winfrey and Madonna’s charitable work, with a view to doing something similar. While there is nothing definite in Hamilton’s mind at this stage, it is thought he would like to build something — a school, or a hospital — in an impoverished part of the world. He has worked for Unicef and Save the Children as an ambassador and is serious about pursuing humanitarian work after F1.
Hamilton said: “A lot of drivers come back after F1 and do commentary, but I have different plans and aspirations. So, it’s about positioning myself so that when I stop I have something to continue on with. At some stage, when I retire, I’ll have something that I’m also really interested in that is a substitute for racing. So that’s something I want to start working towards.”
Hamilton made clear last night he did not see a pressing need to hire a new management team. He now travels with his trainer, while his father has been to a few races. The split with XIX remains amicable enough, with several staff at Fuller’s agency still doing work for Hamilton. The 29-year-old said in Austin that Fuller remained a “dear friend” and people at XIX are optimistic that Hamilton will re-sign with in a few years.
Relationships are less harmonious at the back of the grid. Anger remains at the demise of the two smallest teams — Marussia and Caterham — but there is hope that CVC Capital Partners, the sport’s owners, will offer a “base payment” so that the small teams can survive. The unlikely threat of a boycott, most seriously considered by Force India, was averted by the hope of an acceptable deal from Bernie Ecclestone and CVC, expected by Friday at the earliest.
The biggest teams have ruled out handing any of their prize money to the smallest squads, so a top-up payment from CVC seems the only solution. The private equity firm stepped in after the weekend in Texas proved a PR disaster for Formula One.
Gérard Lopez, the Lotus team principal, said: “I know CVC and Bernie have been looking at this but it’s going to be a base payment that is given to the smaller teams, let’s call them the racers, which is going to make it possible for a normal budget to be pretty much close every year.”
Ferrari received more than £100million in prize money last year while Marussia were handed £6million. Representatives of Marussia were in Austin working on a rescue deal.
–Daniel Johnson in Austin