While the team is yet to publically confirm a new deal with Lewis Hamilton, McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh remains calm about his driver line-up for the 2013 season and beyond.
With few other competitive drives available, Hamilton is all but assured of re-signing with the team, with whom he has driven all of his races since he made his Grand Prix debut in 2007.
His one realistic alternative option remains a seat at the Mercedes team, but this would only be a possibility should Michael Schumacher elect not to extend his contract with the Brackley squad beyond the end of this season, his third and final year of a three-year deal with the Ross Brawn-run outfit.
Hamilton would also need to factor in the works squad’s less-than-sparkling performance this year. While team took an excellent win with Nico Rosberg at the Chinese Grand Prix, its form has slipped over the course of the season, leaving it vulnerable to being overhauled by the privateer Sauber team in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
This leaves the cards very much in McLaren’s favour when it comes to renegotiating a deal with Hamilton, who is understood to be demanding a higher retainer and the right to keep all of the trophies he wins – the latter is something McLaren has not afforded to any driver in the last thirty years.
And with the Belgian Grand Prix set to kick off the second half of the championship season in just over a week’s time, Whitmarsh believes that the lack of a publically-announced deal, at this stage, is a non-issue.
“You get a few questions over a weekend about it, and it is clearly fascinating to some people, but I really don’t think it is an issue,” he told AUTOSPORT.
“Lewis and I have spoken two or three times at length. I think we are closer than we have ever been, and I have known him [Hamilton] since he was 11, and our conversations have been about how we are going to beat the other teams, and how we are going to try and win races. We don’t talk about these issues at race tracks because I don’t think it is the right environment.
“Ultimately it [the contract situation] is relatively straightforward. If Lewis wants to stay in the team, which he has told me he does, then he should do. And if we want to keep him, then we should do.
“If the answer to both those matters is yes, then I think it is eminently doable – so not something that has to have as much focus as turning up at races, trying to bring the quickest car you can and doing the best job possible.”
There are hopes all round in the McLaren camp that the upcoming race at Spa-Francorchamps – a race the team has won ten times in the last 25 years – will serve as the launchpad to get Hamilton back into the championship fight with Fernando Alonso, who lies 47 points ahead of the Englishman in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
“I think anyone who has closely observed Lewis in terms of where he is in his head, where he is in his focus, and in his confidence – I think he is actually in a much stronger position now than he was last year,” Whitmarsh continued.
“He has gone through some interesting cycles, and it has been interesting for some of us who have known him for a good many years to see that. He is in a stronger place and, although it doesn’t mean everything is going to go right for him, he is stronger mentally than he has ever been.
“He has had some big challenges, and last year by his extraordinarily high standards was not one of his better years. But he is a passionate driver who wants to win races, and I would be very worried if he did not exhibit those characteristics – and he is stronger minded and clearly more experienced than he has ever been.”
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