Hamilton and Vettel could swap F1 seats in 2018
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No sooner had Lewis Hamilton celebrated his Silverstone heroics than he admitted he was not sure if he would race in the British Grand Prix again.
At least part of the triple world champion's uncertainty appears to be linked to whether his title rival Sebastian Vettel commits his long-term future to Ferrari.
Hamilton has confided to friends that he hankers after a move to the Italian team, relighting a desire his father Anthony openly talked about a decade ago.
Asked whether he would see out his contract at Mercedes, which has one season to run, Hamilton said: 'I can't really say what is going to happen six months from now, except to say I am loving racing. I am at my best. You could say it (stopping or moving) is unlikely but you can't predict what frame of mind I will be in at Christmas.'
It is impossible to second-guess Hamilton's next move given his own uncertainty, but it seems likely he will wait to see which way Vettel jumps before committing to any of the three options that might then be open to him: to stay at Mercedes, to quit the sport, or to join Ferrari.
There is believed to be a clause in Hamilton's contract that would allow him to go earlier than next year. If Vettel joins Mercedes, they could conceivably swap places.
Vettel's position is intriguing. Ferrari chief executive Sergio Marchionne is on record as saying the German, who becomes a free agent this winter, has been offered a new three-year contract, but that he has yet to sign it. It appears that Vettel, who leads Hamilton by a single point in the overall standings, is waiting to gauge Ferrari's long-term competitive prospects before shutting the door on Mercedes.
Nor will Mercedes rule him out of contention, especially given Hamilton's stated unpredictability. The fact Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was slow to condemn Vettel after he deliberately crashed into Hamilton in Azerbaijan last month suggests he is attempting to keep the channels to Vettel open and as friendly as possible.
That notion was reinforced by Wolff attending Vettel's 30th birthday party a day or two before the FIA hearing into his illegal driving.
Although Wolff says the team has no preference about engaging a German driver, members of the Stuttgart-based parent company Daimler have traditionally had a German-centric outlook.
They care about their media coverage in Germany, for example, more than elsewhere. And this season is the first time since the team returned to Formula One as a factory team in 2010 that they have not had a homegrown driver in their line-up.
While the main players resolve their futures, Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who has done an impressive job since replacing Nico Rosberg, must wait to see if he is offered a new contract.
Wolff said: 'I'd just like to set the puzzle together. It's not only about 2018, it's about looking forward to what happens in '19 and '20. That's why after Budapest (the race on July 30), I'm going to contemplate on a beach about what's right and wrong for the team.'
Wolff continues to dismiss Hamilton's desire for a Ferrari fling, but of course he would be about the last man to be informed of that. Just as McLaren were blindsided when Hamilton left them for Mercedes.