There is nothing like a little sea air on the Cote d’Azur to usher in a sense of renewal; that and a car with a new floor, new sidepods and new front suspension architecture. Though Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff warned against expecting too much of the Merc redesign around Monaco harbour, there is a keen mood of anticipation in the Principality and a more favourable race circuit beckoning just a week hence in Barcelona.
Following talk of a move to Ferrari, Mercedes lifer Lewis Hamilton walked into a wall of questions about his future and, swept along by the swelling optimism at the Brackley campus, claims he is ready to renew his vows with the German marque that has powered his whole F1 career. Hamilton denied any negotiations with Ferrari had taken place, which, uncannily enough, mirrored the position at Maranello.
Negotiation is a bendy concept in Formula One. Perhaps Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur, an old friend of Hamilton’s, and the seven-time world champion were just talking about the weather in their many conversations in recent weeks. Either way Hamilton expects to continue at Mercedes.
“This is the first time I have not been negotiating myself,” he said. “I have a great team in the background doing all the work and I can focus on the job. I say what I want and that’s what we’re working towards. Naturally, when you are in contract negotiations, there is always going to be speculation and unless you hear it from me, that’s what it is. We are almost at the point of having a contract ready.”
Hamilton denied the success of contract talks were conditional on the immediate performance of the revamped car, which is said to look much like the fiery Aston Martin that burst from the midfield this year making Fernando Alonso the quickest non-Red Bull pilot.
“It doesn’t have a bearing, I think, because we’re still a championship-winning team. It’s just we’ve had the wrong car.
“We have a new upgrade this weekend, the team have worked incredibly hard to bring this upgrade.
“I was a little bit gutted when the last race [Imola] got cancelled, because I was excited to try this new package. And so, whilst here is not the best platform track-wise, to really see those come to fruition, we’ll hopefully experience that more next week.”
Whilst that may be the case, Monaco is the variable that offers the likes of Aston Martin, Ferrari and, yes, Mercedes a more substantial crack at Red Bull. There are none of the fast corners and rapid straights that have propelled the world champions to victory at every circuit this season. Furthermore, the one-lap vulnerability displayed by Red Bull in qualifying is exacerbated here by the difficulty in overtaking.
Should Charles Leclerc deliver the chilling pace over a single lap that took him to pole in Baku, he might just hold on for victory, as he would have done last year had the Ferrari pit wall not botched the pit calls. Alonso is another with an eye on adding victory to the four podium finishes that have lit up what has been an arresting start to his Aston Martin career.
“If I tell you that I don’t come here thinking that I can win the race, I would lie to you. Because this is a one-off opportunity,” he said. “We know Monaco. I will attack more than any other weekend.”