HOCKENHEIM, Germany (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton’s megabucks new Mercedes contract puts the focus firmly on rivals Ferrari as the only top Formula One team likely to have anyone new in their lineup next season.
Thursday’s announcement that the reigning world champion had signed up for two more years and reported annual earnings of up to 40 million pounds ($51.98 million) was long in the making and well flagged up.
It also left the sport’s silly season — the paddock rumor mill about driver moves — looking a lot less excitable than usual.
Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes all now have big guns locked in until 2020 in Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Hamilton and it is now merely a matter of deciding who the team mates will be.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo looks a shoe-in to stay at Red Bull while Finland’s Valtteri Bottas sounded confident on Thursday about his prospects of keeping Hamilton company at Mercedes.
“I hope quite soon there will be some news. I’m pretty confident there will be, so it’s not that long to be sure everything is good,” Bottas told reporters at the German Grand Prix.
“We’ve had some talks and things are moving forward,” he added.
Ricciardo said Hamilton’s staying put had changed nothing for him.
“I knew he was going to sign,” grinned the 29-year-old.
Ferrari have the oldest driver on the grid in 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen and although the 38-year-old is enjoying a strong season, his chances of staying at the sport’s most successful and glamorous team remain uncertain.
Sauber’s 20-year-old rookie Charles Leclerc, a Ferrari protege and last year’s F2 champion, is tipped to join Vettel next year — a prospect the German was not going to go overboard about on Thursday.
“I don’t know Charles much. I know him a little bit through the program,” he said.
“I like Kimi. I think we get along. We have never any issue...I think the way we handle things is very similar, very straightforward, so I think it’s great to work with and great for the team, but it’s not my decision so we’ll see what happens.”
“Charles, one way or the other, will have a great career. He’s a great guy, he’s fast, he’s got everything, so yeah, definitely, he has no rush,” added the four times world champion.
If Ricciardo stays at Red Bull then their loan of Spanish driver Carlos Sainz to Renault is set to be made a permanent transfer.
With Renault a solid fourth in the championship, that closes down another desirable destination with knock-on effects elsewhere.
Both France’s Esteban Ocon, a highly-rated Mercedes-backed driver, and Mexican Sergio Perez might have been part of a wider merry-go-round had Hamilton made a different decision.
As it is, they too appear short of options with Perez’s future looking more uncertain amid speculation that Canadian Lance Stroll could be set for a move from Williams to Force India.
($1 = 0.7696 pounds)
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis