Lewis Hamilton has sparked a new wave of rumours about a potential move to Red Bull after it was revealed he was seen in discussion with their team principal Christian Horner in the latter’s paddock home in Montreal on Saturday.
The two spent about 15 minutes chatting and even though it was described as “a social visit” Hamilton’s unusual presence will inevitably lead to speculation as to what prompted his visit.
It is understood that Hamilton arrived unannounced and asked one of the catering staff to fetch Horner. Had he wanted to talk to Horner he could quite easily have rung him in private. It is therefore safe to assume that Hamilton wanted the world, and specifically his McLaren team, to know about his visit.
So what prompted it? Hamilton, whose contract expires at the end of 2012, may have been trying to exert pressure on McLaren, using Red Bull as leverage in forthcoming contract negotiations.
It is understood that Simon Fuller, whose XIX Entertainment company was taken on by Hamilton prior to the start of the season, will be in the UK over the summer and that negotiations will begin then. Up for negotiation will be his basic salary, which is expected to rise sharply from the current estimated pounds 15 million a year, but an even bigger bone of contention will be his PR and sponsorship rights.
At the moment McLaren largely control these, which means Hamilton is unable to maximise other revenue streams as he is kept busy with team sponsors such as Vodafone, Johnnie Walker and Hugo Boss.
The 26 year-old’s presence at Red Bull may also have been an attempt to express his frustration at the fact that McLaren’s car has not been a pacesetter since his championship-winning season in 2008.
Red Bull, who Hamilton was linked with before the start of the season, have been the class act of the field for the last two years and, although 23-year-old Sebastian Vettel is tied up until 2015, Mark Webber is on a rolling one-year contract and is not yet signed up for 2012. It is thought extremely unlikely that he would make the switch for next year, however, with a fresh McLaren contract – equipped with a break clause in case of poor car performance – the most likely option.
Although Horner has in the past said that he could “never rule out” a move for a driver as talented as Hamilton, Red Bull might also wonder legitimately why they should break the bank and risk upsetting Vettel to bring in Hamilton.
A spokesman for Hamilton’s management denied that his client was angling for any move. “Neither Lewis nor his management team are in discussions with Red Bull,” he told London’s, The Daily Telegraph. “Lewis is happy at McLaren and feels positive that he can have a say in winning championships there.”
Hamilton has seemed far from positive these last few weeks. After two collisions in Monaco last month he lashed out at the stewards and two of his fellow drivers, while a clash with his own team-mate, Jenson Button, forced him to retire from Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix.
The fact that Button went on to win the race will only have added to Hamilton’s frustrations, since it proved he had a car capable of victory.
Hamilton’s recent actions have attracted widespread criticism with Sir Stirling Moss becoming the latest to question Hamilton’s mind set.
“He is a terrific driver, there’s no two ways about it,” Moss said. “He has great aggression. But I think his handling of himself is not that good now. His father is no longer his manager, which is a problem. He brought Lewis up from winning in karts at the age of five or something. Maybe if they could get together again it would be a good thing.”
That was nothing compared with the view of three-time world champion Niki Lauda, who told German television viewers on Sunday night that “someone is going to get killed” if Hamilton carried on driving the way he is.
“While we respect Niki’s views, he is plain wrong in this instance,” a spokesman for Hamilton said. “Lewis was cleared by the stewards of causing any accidents on Sunday and has never come close to injuring or purposefully taking out another driver.”
A McLaren spokesman added: “It’s a bit like Geoff Boycott criticising Kevin Pietersen for scoring a century too fast.”
Hamilton will attempt to erase the memories of a disastrous fortnight on Tuesday when he swaps his McLaren for a stock car at a promotional event at Watkins Glen, NY.
But as he gets down to some legitimate wheel-banging in two-time Nascar champion Tony Stewart’s Chevrolet, it is a very different kind of swap which will be exercising the minds of his fans back home.