LEWIS Hamilton will face a substantially reduced pay offer from Mercedes when the two parties resume contract talks at the end of the season.
The news is likely to attract the attention of Ferrari and McLaren, potential rivals for the 29-year-oldâ€™s services, whose three-year Â£60m contract with the German manufacturers expires at the end of the 2015 campaign.
It is the latest awkward development in relations between Hamilton and Mercedes, which have come under strain after a series of incidents involving the Briton and his colleague Nico Rosberg, culminating in a collision in Belgium two weeks ago. Toto Wolff, the teamâ€™s motorsport director, warned both drivers that they could be split up if there was any repeat.
Hamilton is happy with his decision to join Mercedes, and the German team, in turn, have found Hamilton as fast and committed as they hoped he would be. But Mercedes also feel that they were bargained into a corner by the driverâ€™s agents, XIX Entertainment, when the original three-year deal was signed at the end of the 2012 season.
They are also in a stronger bargaining position to attract other leading drivers, having established themselves as the most competitive car in the paddock by some distance.
A Mercedes spokesman would only say: â€œWe donâ€™t discuss contractual details.â€ But at the teamâ€™s Stuttgart headquarters there are concerned voices who say Hamiltonâ€™s deal is too high. When the contract was negotiated it also included commercial work away from the track that the driver has not been required to fulfil.
Rosberg has recently negotiated a fresh deal that will take him up to the end of the 2017 season. It narrows the pay gap between himself and Hamilton but he is still being paid only two thirds of the British driverâ€™s pay packet, about Â£40m over three years.
The notion of a pay cut is likely to be resisted by Hamilton and his agents, especially if he wins his second world championship this year. But if he does not â€“ and he is 29 points behind with seven races to go â€“ he will be pressed to sign a less valuable deal for 2016 and beyond. That would catch the eye of those slumbering giants Ferrari and McLaren, though Red Bull would be unlikely to be interested.
Talks about a fresh contract between Mercedes and Hamilton were recently put on hold until the end of the year. Wolff said on Friday: â€œThis is an ongoing discussion between us and we very much want Lewis to stay in the team and to enter into a new contract with him â€“ and he wants the same. We have agreed that because the situation is so intense at the moment, we want to get over the season and then intensify the discussions about a contract renewal. It is good and intelligent to put it on hold to fully concentrate on the world championship.â€
Wolff also created a stir here when he said the Hamilton-Rosberg team could be split up following a number of incidents and their crash in Spa.
Wolff was talking about an extreme scenario but it was another warning that the drivers will have to clean up their act in the remaining seven races of the season. Mercedes, like a number of previous teams whose drivers have sensed the chance of winning a world title, are finding Hamilton and Rosberg difficult to control.
Wolff, who appears to have lost little of his anger at Spa almost two weeks ago, told BBC Radio 5 Live: â€œWe have made it very clear this is an unacceptable scenario for us, actually for both of them.
â€œWe donâ€™t want this to happen ever again and the consequences are very easy. If we are not able to manage the two of them following the Mercedes Benz racing spirit then we need to admit that and take decisions and take consequences of having a different lineup probably.â€ – The Guardian