Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is eyeing the upcoming gaps in the Formula 1 calendar to finalise Lewis Hamilton’s new contract.
Six-time world champion Hamilton is on course for a record-equalling seventh F1 title, while Mercedes is poised for its seventh consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championship double.
Hamilton has won five of the past six championships with Mercedes and both parties have emphasised their desire to continue beyond 2020, but declined to set a specific target for when they planned to negotiate a new deal.
A whirlwind run of nine races in 11 weeks to start the 2020 season comes to an end this weekend at Mugello, after which there will be more time between grands prix.
“This is a work in progress,” said Wolff ahead of the Tuscan Grand Prix.
“And I wouldn’t want to commit to a specific date because we get on very well but obviously when it comes down to the detail, you just need enough time to do that.
“With one race after the other, we don’t want to really be distracted by contract talks.
“So, in between the larger gaps like next week, we’re moving towards a satisfactory outcome.
“But I don’t know when we will announce it.”
Wolff said the only deadline is to have it done before the end of the year so they have “certainty” over 2021.
But it appears a formality, or at least a straight choice for Hamilton between continuing in F1 or retiring, because there are no other competitive seats available to him.
Hamilton has said before that he did not yet feel comfortable discussing a new deal in the context of major global complications from the coronavirus pandemic – which include Mercedes’ parent company Daimler being among many big companies looking to cut spending.
Though F1 is such good value for Mercedes, which required a net contribution from Daimler of less than £30m last year, that it is unlikely the grand prix team will be cut, it may impact the negotiation process.
Wolff reiterated that “we didn’t look at the contract for the last three years and we never took it out of the drawer” but hinted there are other factors to consider.
“Sometimes situations change and the environment changes,” he said. “This is another part of the journey that we want to go together but we’re just debating.”
Like Hamilton, Mercedes is also short of alternatives as the other leading drivers in F1 all have deals covering 2021 and beyond.
That now includes four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who has signed for Racing Point to headline its transition into Aston Martin’s works F1 team next year.
Wolff, who has a private investment in the Aston Martin Lagonda car company, said it was good for F1 that Vettel will remain on the grid.
“If he would have left we would have lost, I think, audiences in Germany and that’s a very important market for Formula 1,” he said. “Seeing him go, it just wouldn’t feel right.
“In that respect. I’m very happy that he’s found a new challenge in a brand new team representing Aston Martin, a fantastic historic sports car brand.
“And I’m obviously happy that he stays because I get on well with him.”