Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Hamilton-Rosberg, McLaren and More
Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes future may be in doubt after the Mercedes implosion at Spa.
Talks about a contract extension had previously been ongoing, but are now on hold. Officially it's to ensure there are no distractions during the title run-in, but has one fallen out of love with the other?
Elsewhere in the driver market, McLaren are expecting answers soon from two of their targets, Jenson Button accepts he may have to retire and Kamui Kobayashi is set to miss another grand prix.
Read on for a full round-up of the week's top stories.
Roberto Merhi in for Kamui Kobayashi at Monza
Roberto Merhi is set to be Caterham's fourth driver of the 2014 season, taking the seat formerly owned by Kamui Kobayashi. It was occupied by Andre Lotterer in Belgium.
Reports in Spanish newspaper Marca (h/t inautonews) claim all the financial details are ironed out and Merhi will race for the team at Monza if he is awarded an FIA Super Licence.
The 23-year-old does not qualify under the normal criteria, but it's likely he will be awarded the licence nonetheless.
The report quotes Merhi as saying:
It’s not 100 per cent sure that I’ll race at Monza, but the chances are good depending on getting the super license on time.
I’m focused on getting the (Renault) world series title but if I can be in F1 it would be a nice prize, although it’s not a priority for this season.
Merhi will of course be paying for the seat, but he has a reasonable racing record which includes the 2011 Formula Three Euroseries title.
He left single-seaters in 2012 for the DTM series, where he was a part of the Mercedes Junior Team. Merhi had little success in his two seasons of touring cars, scoring points on only four occasions. His best result was a second place in his final DTM race.
The Spaniard returned to single-seaters for 2014, and currently lies second in the Formula Renault 3.5 series, behind runaway leader Carlos Sainz Junior.
A Mercedes logo remains on his helmet—whether it will still be there when he drives the Renault-powered, back-marking Caterham remains to be seen.
Lewis Hamilton Contract Talks to Wait Until the End of the Season
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have put talks over his contract on hold until at least the end of the current season.
The Brit's current three-year deal expires at the end of 2015, and before the summer break both he and the team spoke of their desire to sort something out.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told reporters in Hungary (h/t The Express), "We are already sitting together and negotiating with Lewis about a multi-year contract. Lewis is a fixed part of the team and I would hope for a long time to come."
But the recent explosion in tensions between Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg following their clash at Spa appears to have put a dampener on things—for now at least.
Wolff is quoted by Autosport as saying:
At this stage things are very intense and you have to stay concentrated on the season. But one thing is for sure: we are not going to talk to anybody else before having a very clear situation about how we can continue to work with Lewis.
This is what we said to each other—that we have no interest of having any other conversation with any other driver, and we are not having any, and Lewis is not having any discussion with any other team.
That is why we trust each other. At the moment we need to be concentrated on the championship and not get involved in intense [contract] discussions, because it is something that is one and a half years away from us.
Perhaps Hamilton and the team are waiting to see how the relationship with Rosberg—who signed a multi-year extension earlier this year—pans out before committing themselves in the longer term.
Mark Webber Weighs in on Mercedes War
Mark Webber has weighed in on the Lewis Hamilton-Nico Rosberg tension, stating he is unsure if it's realistic for the pair to continue as team-mates.
Speaking on Red Bull TV sports show Sport und Talk (h/t BBC), Webber said:
It's going to be interesting, not just for the rest of the year. At the moment it's not a team. Is it OK to have them together in 2015?
It looks like the drivers are doing their own thing. Can they drive together in the future?
Webber is well-placed to talk about such problems, as he had a long, uneasy relationship with former Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
It rarely boiled over on the track because Vettel was usually far enough ahead, but they crashed at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, and Vettel famously ignored team orders to not pass Webber and won in Malaysia last year.
Webber also gave his views on the Spa incident, placing the blame squarely on Rosberg's shoulders. He said:
Well, it's...a passing move. Nico is trying to have a look on the outside, but it's Lewis's corner. At this point [just before the contact] Nico knows he has no chance to get the move done. It's strange that he tried to come in so tight behind Lewis.
That was a little bit uncharacteristic of Nico—not normally his style, but he made contact.
On Thursday, Mercedes openly invited discussion on a possible sanction for Rosberg on their Twitter account, asking fans what they thought.
McLaren Expecting Answers from Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel
McLaren's pursuit of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel is nearing its conclusion.
Autosport reports both drivers have received approaches from the Woking-based team, and are expected to respond before the end of the European season.
Vettel is under contract with Red Bull until the end of next season, while Alonso has two years left on his agreement with Ferrari.
But the report states McLaren are willing to sign either driver in advance, and for them to join only after their current deals expire.
Speaking to Autosport, McLaren racing director Eric Boullier said:
I will try any driver that will suit our strategy for the future. We are still pushing and we will take the time we need. We don't want to do a mistake—we have one shot and we don't want to miss it.
McLaren is a top team, a big team, with a lot of history and we want to be back where we should be. So if we can afford to take the time to think and to prepare our strategy then we have to do it.
Honda will return to F1 with McLaren next season, and both parties want a big name on board. Current drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen, while both talented racers, do not fit the bill—but may be retained if other options are exhausted.
Boullier added he expects to know the team's 2015 lineup "a few weeks."
Jenson Button Contemplating Retirement
Jenson Button admits he may have to retire at the end of the current season.
The McLaren driver's future is uncertain. His contract expires at the end of the year, and McLaren have not been especially secretive about their desire to sign one of the sport's top talents.
Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have both been approached, and Sky Sports reported on rumours Valtteri Bottas and Stoffel Vandoorne are also being looked at as potential 2015 drivers.
Nico Hulkenberg is another name to consider.
Now, with time ticking away, Button admits he may be in his final year. When asked about his McLaren future, he told BBC Sport:
We haven't sat down and talked about it.
If I have to retire at the end of the season then so be it, but I feel I have so much more to give and I can't imagine life without motorsport and especially Formula One.
If McLaren don't retain his services, there will be few options on the table for Button. A return to Williams is possible if Bottas moves on, and a swap with Hulkenberg at Force India might work too—but only if Button was ready to drop down the grid.
Button's team-mate, Kevin Magnussen, is also out of contract at the end of the year. But as a first-year rookie with more potential for improvement, his place is probably a little more secure.