Hamilton, whose STG 40 million ($A76 million)-a-season Mercedes contract expires at the end of next year, did little to play down Ferrari’s flirtatious advances by refusing to rule out a move to the famous Italian team.
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Leclerc, 22, enjoyed a strong first season with Ferrari, scoring more points, more wins and more pole positions than his teammate, the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
And if Ferrari continue their pursuit of Hamilton, 35 next month, it will surely be as a direct replacement for the German, rather than Leclerc who is viewed as the team’s man for the future.
“Of course I would welcome Lewis,” said Leclerc, who finished third at Sunday’s season-concluding race in the desert.
“We are in Formula One and we want to fight against the best.
“I have had a big opportunity to have had Seb next to me who is a four-time world champion and I have learnt a lot from him so you can always learn from these types of champions.”
Hamilton will have time to ponder what could be the last contract of his Formula One career over the winter break with Toto Wolff revealing Mercedes’ attempts to convince him to stay will not begin until the end of January.
Wolff’s own future will be a factor in Hamilton’s decision-making process with the Mercedes team principal, who has overseen five of Hamilton’s six world championships, courted by owners’ Liberty Media to run the sport.
What an off-season it’s been for 25-year-old Queenslander Jack Miller who in May achieved a lifelong dream when he was signed to the Ducati factory team for 2021.
Miller has also benefited from a rare, extended stay at home in Townsville where he was able to train consistently on his self-made motocross track while the majority of his rivals were in lockdown across Europe.
In 2019 he enjoyed the best of his five seasons in the premier class, finishing 8th in the World Championship.
“The Jack I know is going to exude confidence now, he’s pumped by this,” Vermeulen says.
“I mean the pressure’s off, he’s got his deal signed, he’s with the factory bike next year so now he just needs to go out there and do what he does best and that’s ride a MotoGP bike to its full potential.
“He’s been improving every year so this should be the best one yet and it can start with a win in Jerez.”
DUCATI’S BIG DECISION
The big question at Ducati is who will be Miller’s teammate next year?
The ride is Andrea Dovizioso’s if he wants it AND is willing to forego a pay rise.
The Italian believes three seasons as runner up to Marc Marquez, and 12 wins in that period, are evidence enough for an increase.
Normally it would be but there is nothing normal about negotiations in the current climate especially when a three time world champion like Jorge Lorenzo is lurking for a return.
“It’s a difficult decision but I’d probably go with Lorenzo because he’s the only guy that has beaten Marquez to a title whereas Dovi’s been there the last three years finishing second but he’s not getting closer to Marc, if anything he’s getting further away,” Vermeulen says.
“You’ve got to change something and Lorenzo is the guy that pushed the bike forward more than Dovi did and the guy that could probably challenge Marc more than Dovi can.”
ROSSI TO RETIRE?
The 41-year-old icon looks set to continue for a 21st season in MotoGP with the Doctor expected to move his practice to Petronas.
2019 was his toughest year since the dark days at Ducati a decade ago, yet he still managed a pair of podiums and 7th in the Championship.
Was it the underwhelming M1 or is Father Time catching up with Vale?
Rossi’s last win was now more than three years ago at Assen in 2017.
“I do believe that the deal is all but done and it’s going to be huge, Valentino Rossi is still the biggest star of the sport and massive in the Asian countries so to have him ride for the Malaysian-based Petronas would be great,” Vermeulen says.
“This is not a demotion, Valentino is going to be on the same motorbike as he was in the factory team and look what Fabio Quartararo did last year so the team is strong has the speed to win races.”
WHAT HAPPENS IN JEREZ?
Jerez hosts the opening two rounds of the championship over consecutive weekends, the races officially named the Spanish Grand Prix and the Adalusia Grand Prix.
Jerez is usually held in May and marks MotoGP’s first race in Europe after the opening flyaway races in Qatar, America and Argentina.
Marc Marquez won in 2019 ahead of Alex Rins and Maverick Vinales.
“It’s smart by Dorna to have a day of testing on Wednesday just to shake the nerves off because there’ll be plenty of them – it’s bloody tough on the mind and body to be back on a MotoGP bike after a break, especially one of this length,” Vermeulen says.
“And it’s going to be bloody hot, it could be 40 degrees down there in Southern Spain which would be a good 10 degrees ambient temperature above what they normally race in and that’s a huge curve ball for the performance of each team, recent data goes out the window.”
The current calendar features 13 rounds in Europe with Dorna to include races in Asia if fans can attend and make the events financially feasible.
The Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island has been cancelled.
“With so few races, you can’t sit back and let it come to you, you’ve really got to take it on,”
“Someone like Quartararo or Vinales they’ve really got to take the bull by the horns and try to force the point, to force Marquez to make a mistake and there are no races in Germany or America where Marc has been unbeatable so it opens the door.
“Throw in the new Michelin tyre which is a total unknown, early signs are it suits Suzuki and Yamaha, so anything is possible.
Renault signed Fernando Alonso rather than Sebastian Vettel to succeed McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo next year because his level of motivation was more convincing, Alain Prost said Saturday.
The four-time world champion, who is an advisor to the French team, said Renault also considered signing Valtteri Bottas, currently with Mercedes, but preferred Alonso, who will be 40 next year, for the same reasons.
“There were three great champions — Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas,” he explained.
“It was a little less obvious for Sebastian, in the sense that his motivation was not very clear. It was also difficult for Valtteri in that he has the best car.
“We wanted someone who is not a replacement option, but someone who is fully motivated for the project.”
Both Alonso, who is leaving Ferrari at the end of this year, and Bottas, who won last weekend’s season-opening Austrian Grand Prix for Mercedes, are currently under contract with top Formula One teams while Alonso has no ties.
Prost said he had talked to Alonso regarding concerns about his age and his motivation, notably in relation to widespread reports of his negative attitude during his final period with McLaren before he left in 2018.
Alonso ‘stronger than ever’
“Yes, that is a subject that I raised with him,” Prost told RMC Sport. “Frankly, this is the risky side, but he talks about it openly.
“He says that he has changed a lot and that his sabbatical years have matured him. In a way, he knows that he has no right to disappoint on this level.”
Prost also rejected suggestions that Renault had signed Alonso for marketing objectives, rather than his racing talent – which brought him two titles, in 2005 and 2006, when he was previously with the team.
Prost admitted money was a factor, but added: “Making a choice only for marketing would be a mistake, but all the manufacturers in F1 want to reduce costs.
“It is normal that there is a marketing aspect, but that is not the main reason.”