LONDON (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton wanted to move to Red Bull and had advanced discussions with the champions before he agreed a deal to race for Mercedes this season, according to Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
The Briton told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that the 2008 world champion asked him to broker a move to Sebastian Vettel’s team but talks ended when Red Bull’s billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz insisted on Australian Mark Webber having first refusal.
“Sebastian wouldn’t have cared if Lewis had signed for the team,” said the 82-year-old, who is close to the 25-year-old Vettel.
“Dietrich is a very honest, straightforward guy and told Mark the door was open for him to stay. That was good of him,” added the Briton.
“Had Mark gone, Dietrich would have signed Lewis.”
Webber, who has been with Red Bull since 2007 and is now the oldest driver in Formula One at 36, had been approached by Ferrari but opted to stay alongside his German team mate who is now a triple champion.
The Australian signed a one-year extension at the British Grand Prix in July, a race he won. Hamilton’s move from McLaren to ambitious but far less competitive Mercedes was announced in September.
Ecclestone said he had advised his compatriot to talk to Mercedes.
“Lewis rolled his eyes...but I told him that he had nothing to lose as he wanted out of McLaren,” he recalled.
In the interview in London, ahead of Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Ecclestone also indicated he was open to the Brazilian Grand Prix switching from Sao Paulo to 2016 Olympic host city Rio de Janeiro.
“The mayor has told me they can get it done,” he said.
“I have been unhappy with Sao Paulo for a long time. It’s a super race track but the facilities need a big facelift. We could be there (Rio) for Olympic year, but I know how hard it was for London to run just the Olympics.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Nick Mulvenney