Six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton appeared to open the door for a possible future move to Ferrari when he refused to deny meeting with its chairman John Elkann.
Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reported Saturday that the Mercedes driver has met Elkann twice this year, and that they discussed Hamilton potentially replacing Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari from 2021 onward.
Both four-time champion Vettel and Hamilton have yet to renew contracts expiring at the end of 2020.
Hamilton was asked after winning Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix — the 11th win of another dominant season and 84th overall — if he did meet Elkann.
“Naturally, everything that happens behind closed doors is always private with whoever it is you end up sitting with,” Hamilton said. “For many years, I’ve never ever sat down and considered other options, because we (Mercedes) have been driving straight ahead, on the same path. We’re still on that path, and there’s very little that’s going to shift it.”
Hamilton started to add “But there’s no harm in …” before saying “I know (Mercedes team principal) Toto (Wolff) is also looking at his options, in terms of his future, and only he will know what is best for him.”
Hamilton’s stint at Mercedes has brought the Silver Arrows unprecedented success.
Under the stewardship of Wolff, he has won five world titles to add to his first with former team McLaren in 2008. But Wolff’s future is also undecided, amid reports he could possibly move into another role within Formula One.
“I love where I am, so it’s definitely not a quick decision to go and do something else,” Hamilton said. “But it’s only smart and wise for me to think about what I want, if it is the last stage of my career.”
Ferrari’s team principal Mattia Binotto called Hamilton “an outstanding driver” on Friday and tantalizingly added “knowing that he’s available in 2021 can make us only happy.”
“I think it’s the first compliment I’ve had from Ferrari in 13 years … Thank you. I’ll take it,” Hamilton said Saturday after clinching a record-extending 88th pole position. “It’s taken all these years for them to recognize me. I’m grateful … It’s positive. I think it’s never a waste of time to ever be nice to someone.”
The 34-year-old British driver added: “(Ferrari is) a team I’ve always appreciated. To earn the respect from them is obviously very high up.”