Former F1 Team Principal EDDIE JORDAN said that British F1 driver LEWIS HAMILTON "is on the verge of leaving McLaren to drive for Mercedes next season," according to Andrew Benson of the BBC. Jordan said that Hamilton will replace MICHAEL SCHUMACHER, who "will retire from driving for a second time at the end of the year." Jordan said, "I believe Hamilton and Mercedes have already agreed to personal terms and a deal could be imminent." In a statement, Mercedes said that they did not comment on rumors, but they added: "Until we are in a position to confirm our full driver line-up for next season, it is inevitable that there will be speculation around this topic" (BBC, 9/5). In London, Tom Cary reported Hamilton's management team Tuesday night denied suggestions from former team Owner Jordan that the 27-year-old has "already agreed terms" with Mercedes, but the Daily Telegraph understands that "discussions have taken place." A spokesperson for Simon Fuller's XIX Management played down that story, saying Hamilton remained in "advanced negotiations" with McLaren. The spokesperson said, “As mentioned in the past by all parties, we are in advanced discussions with McLaren about a new deal. More importantly, at the moment, Lewis is focused on Monza [where this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix takes place] and competing strongly for the championship” (TELEGRAPH, 9/5).
BARGAINING CHIP: Also in London, Simon Cass wrote that their rivals' offer provides Hamilton with a significant bargaining chip. Questions of "team loyalty would also need to be considered by the Briton, especially when it comes to leaving a team he joined aged 13." However, Hamilton retains a strong bond with Mercedes Motorsport Division Chief NORBERT HAUG, whom he worked with during his early years at McLaren (DAILY MAIL, 9/5). The London GUARDIAN's Paul Weaver wrote that "at first glance, the move is implausible." Why should Hamiltion, 27, who spent more than half his life with the Woking, England-based marque, leave a team that has won the past two races? Hamilton himself won in Hungary, while JENSON BUTTON won in Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps last weekend. Hamilton's "heart yearns for more world titles to add to the one he won" in '08, and McLaren is a considerably more competitive car than Mercedes. One "cynical rumour" doing the rounds on Wednesday night was that the story "may have come from Hamilton's camp." With Red Bull and Ferrari not interested in signing the driver the story that "Mercedes were keen might be used as a bargaining chip" (GUARDIAN, 9/5).
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: The London INDEPENDENT's Ian Parkes reported that "all eyes will be on" Hamilton when he walks into the Monza paddock Thursday after Jordan "threw the cat among the pigeons" Wednesday. McLaren issued a "cleverly worded but unequivocal statement, passing the buck on to XIX Entertainment" that looks after the 27-year-old's business interests. A McLaren spokesperson said, "We have been told by Lewis Hamilton's management team the story is untrue" (INDEPENDENT, 9/6). In London, Paul Weaver wrote that there was only one topic of conversation, "Will Lewis Hamilton join Mercedes or stay at McLaren?" There has been so little movement among the drivers in the past two years -- at least, at the sharp end of the grid -- that "when a big name like Hamilton is linked with a monolith like Mercedes it will dominate all other gossip." And, appropriately for a world, which "is part sport and part showbiz, there is an awful lot of gossip" in F1. Mercedes is the only other gig in town for Hamilton, and if Schumacher "does decide to quit," the British driver would join up with NICO ROSBERG. The pair were pals way back in their karting days at Mercedes, and the team "could give Hamilton both the money and the love for which he craves" (GUARDIAN, 9/6).