Time is ticking on and we are awaiting more driver announcements for 2013. Red Bull Racing is done, but beyond that there is plenty of room for manoeuvre, but very little obvious action. Felipe Massa’s future at Ferrari remains uncertain, but the big question for the Italian team is who would be best to drive the second car, scoring lots of points, without destablising Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard says he does not care who he has as a team-mate but his adventures at McLaren suggest that things might go wrong if he is put under pressure and so it is probably better for Ferrari to look for that most rare of all F1 animals, a good number two, or to be more polite perhaps one should say a sensible number one and a half. Mark Webber would have been a very sensible candidate but he still has ambitions and so decided to stay at Red Bull, no doubt pressured by the team to make a quick decision, in order to take him off the market. If one had a free choice then it would obviously be an idea to talk to Lewis Hamilton, but it would be a huge risk to try to pair Alonso and Hamilton again, after the mess that occurred in 2007 at McLaren. In any case, Hamilton’s recent seasons have seen a rather more inconsistent player than was the case earlier in his career. He is still blindingly quick and exciting to watch, but he seems to make more mistakes. Some think that his much-publicised personal stresses and strains have had some influence over his performance, and it is hard to say one way or the other, but on paper he has been less consistent. He might argue that the closeness of the current field is such that one can shoot up and down the order in dramatic fashion with very little change in lap times. In fact, one could argue that most of the drivers have been inconsistent this year.
The problem for Lewis is that he does not have any obvious leverage to make McLaren pay what he thinks he is worth. He cannot move to Red Bull Racing and Ferrari is unlikely. The only real option for a competitive car would be to join Mercedes-Benz or Lotus F1, but who is to say that they will be quick next year? A job at Mercedes would be dependent on Michael Schumacher deciding to retire – and there does not seem to be any sign of that happening just yet. Lotus seems to be very satisfied with the drivers it has, despite the fact that the team has yet to win a race. Either move would involve a leap of faith for Hamilton. And why take the risk when you know that McLaren will have a competitive car. The team has provided him with all of his 19 wins to date. he knows the people well and the team provides him with stability, which may be something that he thinks is valuable.
So the negotiations continue. The most likely outcome remains that Lewis will re-sign for the Woking team. The world economy is troubled and teams have less money to play with, something which drivers may not always understand, so perhaps he will have to compromise on money. One way to solve the problem would be to have performance clauses which pay hefty sums for wins.