Hamilton future key to F1 driver market

The Formula One driver market is “on hold” until defending world champion Lewis Hamilton's future with Mercedes is resolved.

Championship leader Hamilton   -  Getty Images

The Formula One driver market is “on hold” until defending world champion Lewis Hamilton's future with Mercedes is resolved, rival team chief Christian Horner of Red Bull said on Friday.

Driver contracts were a recurring topic at the Austrian Grand Prix, with Sauber team chief Frederic Vasseur dismissing reports that highly-rated young Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc was poised to join Ferrari.

Horner suggested it was difficult for his team to decide on retaining Australian Daniel Ricciardo until Mercedes signed a new contract with Hamilton.

Championship leader Hamilton has been reportedly poised to sign for months, the team citing small details as the reason for its delays

“All of these things are interlinked in some way, shape or form,” said Horner, who was sitting alongside Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff.

“I think the whole driver market is waiting for Toto's driver to kick that off.

“I'm hoping that at Silverstone you're going to finally get your finger out and sign a contract. He's worth every penny!

“As soon as Toto signs his contract, or two contracts, that then will cascade and Carlos Sainz will be a mechanism within that, too. It's all down to Toto, really.”

Spaniard Sainz is on loan with Renault but remains under contract to Red Bull and could be recalled if Ricciardo left at the end of his contract this year.

Dutchman Max Verstappen has a long-term contract in the other car for Red Bull.

Horner said Sainz's future depended on whether or not Ricciardo stayed with Red Bull.

“It really depends on whether we have a requirement for him or not,” he said. “Our intention is to retain both drivers. Once that's cleared, then we'll sit down with Carlos.”

He said he was confident that Ricciardo would eventually agree a new deal to stay with Red Bull.

“I'm sure in the next couple of weeks, hopefully, we'll be entering the finishing straight to conclude things.”

Horner added that the team had been preoccupied with its new engine supply deal with Honda which will replace Renault next year.

'Nothing to do with reality'

Meanwhile, Vasseur said there had been no discussions with Ferrari about any deal for Leclerc, including a swap that would take veteran Kimi Raikkonen back to Sauber, the team with which he made his F1 debut.

Many well-informed paddock observers had suggested in the build-up to this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix that a deal taking Leclerc to Ferrari was already agreed, but not yet signed.

But Vasseur said: “We have a contract until the end of the season and we didn't speak so far about the future. I can understand we have some rumours in the press, but it's nothing to do with the reality.

“We are focused on our job, Charles is focused on the Sauber project and the future will be discussed later on...”

He rejected talk of a switch in time for the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August and said there had been no Ferrari approach for 20-year-old Leclerc.

“It did not come on the table, so far,” he said.

Leclerc, much praised by his rivals, has scored points in four of his last five races for Sauber.