McLaren shrug off Hamilton speculation
MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - McLaren are relaxed about Lewis Hamilton's Formula One future and will not be distracted by 'titillation' in the media about him possibly moving to Mercedes, team principal Martin Whitmarsh said on Friday.
Rumors about the 2008 world champion's future have been the main talking point at the Italian Grand Prix but Whitmarsh said it was business as usual for his engineers and mechanics.
"Media like that sort of speculation, but Lewis and his management have assured me of their intentions and we're focused on working together at the moment," he said at Monza where Hamilton was fastest in Friday practice.
"This weekend is important for Lewis. He needs to ensure that he gets his championship hunt back on track, and I think that's what he wants as well.
"There's going to be all sorts of speculation, but we are really focused on making sure we do a good job here in Monza," added the boss, whose team have won the last two races in Hungary and Belgium.
Whitmarsh later told the official formula.com website that he doubted Hamilton would leave because "he knows that the best place for him is at McLaren. I think it is a bit of titillation in the media."
Whitmarsh also addressed rumours that sticking points in a deal with McLaren were Hamilton's desire to build his own brand and to keep his race trophies.
"I think Lewis is going to develop his brand and we don't have a problem with that," he said.
"But first and foremost he is a race driver - and the best way to develop his brand is to win on Sunday and then win in two weeks' time and so on and so forth."
The issue of trophies, he said, would not be a big obstacle.
Hamilton was caught up in a first corner pile-up at last weekend's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa and retired on the spot, leaving him fifth overall in the championship and 47 points adrift of Ferrari's leader Fernando Alonso, who also drew a blank after being taken out in the crash.
The 27-year-old Briton had arrived in Spa deeply unsettled by the death of his aunt and triggered further controversy with a number of ill-judged messages on social network Twitter that were then deleted.
"He has been a little heavy hearted, with real and genuine reason of course, and those issues in his personal life have probably had a bigger impact than all of this media hype at the moment," said Whitmarsh.
Paddock opinion is divided on whether Hamilton will leave McLaren, the team he has raced for since his F1 debut in 2007 and that funded him through the various feeder series from karting upwards.
Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, has said he expects his team mate to stay but Mercedes have financial clout and are undoubtedly interested in a proven talent with huge name recognition outside the sport.
Hamilton's management have said they remain in advanced negotiations with McLaren. Mercedes have declined to comment on speculation.
Whitmarsh said he had been around too long in Formula One to be surprised by stories possibly blown out of proportion for various reasons, and would not be talking to Hamilton about contracts this weekend.
"I have plenty of personal contact with the driver, but he always gives me plenty of other things to talk to him about," he said. "I don't think it's right for him to get involved in negotiations, that's why we have managers.
"Ultimately a driver has to drive where he is happy to drive, so the team and I don't want anyone who is not 100 percent committed to it. You can't work like that. I've made that clear from the outset."
(Editing by Martyn Herman)