EDITORIAL: The ‘Verstappen Clause’ and other fairy tales

© LAT Images for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd

By Adrian Mann

Rumours about the details of Lewis Hamilton‘s new Mercedes contract are coming out every day. While some could be true, others are just slander.

So, the newest batch of rumours published by F1-Insider.com are saying that Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton have come to an agreement about the terms of his new deal. According to those rumours Hamilton would sign a one-year extension with an option for a second season. He would receive the same salary of 40 million EUR per year.

Considering the state of the automobile industry, that was hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, it has been rumoured that one of the stumbling blocks in the negotiations was Daimler’s unwillingness to offer Hamilton a pay raise. Of course this has not been confirmed by any credible sources, but according to these newest rumours, to get around the problem the new deal would allow Hamilton to market two highly sought after advertising spaces on his helmet and overalls, brining in additional income for him. Considering it is believed that Lewis was instrumental in bringing the Tommy Hilfiger sponsorship to Mercedes, it’s not a stretch to assume these advertising spaces could really boost the Briton’s earnings.

Whether these rumours are true or not doesn’t make a ton of difference, as it doesn’t really affect Lewis’ reputation, but this next one certainly does. Another persistent rumour concerning the contract talks is the existence of the so called ‘Verstappen Clause’ that allows Lewis to have a say in the selection of his future team-mates.

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At first it was said that Lewis doesn’t want Mercedes junior driver George Russell as his team-mate. However, now rumours are saying it is actually Max Verstappen that he wants to avoid. It is also stated that it’s an “open secret” that Verstappen is on Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff’s future driver wish list.

Now, that, is what I’d call irresponsible journalism. Not only are these rumours completely unsubstantiated, they are only aimed at discrediting Lewis and furthering the narrative that says he is ‘afraid’ to face Verstappen in the same car. Firstly, Toto Wolff never indicated that he has any serious interest in Verstappen, especially while the combination of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas works so well for the team. On the Beyond the Grid podcast in October of last year, while talking about the possibility of Verstappen driving for Mercedes, Wolff specifically said the team is satisfied with their current lineup and want to avoid a new Rosberg-Hamilton situation.

“[The Hamilton and Rosberg line-up] was very difficult, because when you have so much negativity in the room… there was a lot of negativity, and that would drag the whole room down,” Wolff explained.

“We came to a point where we said, ‘That’s just not feasible anymore.’ And we talked about it, but the animosity between the drivers was still there, and much beyond the point that Nico retired.

“And that’s why it’s so refreshing that since the year Valtteri joined, we haven’t had any of that.”

Furthermore, in the same interview Wolff said Mercedes’ junior drivers would be the team’s first picks if they were looking for a replacement for either of their current drivers.

“Valtteri does a great job and Lewis does a great job for us and they are both at the peak of their performance levels.

“Then we have juniors that are coming up that have been with us for many years and could be the future for us, and this is what we look at.”

And, ultimately, Wolff said Verstappen being at Red Bull is the best situation for everyone involved.

“The situation around Max doesn’t provide any opportunity now. He’s bound to Red Bull, I respect his loyalty a lot. I think it’s important for Red Bull to have Max.

“There is a lot of narrative around that and Red Bull picked him up from very early on when he joined Toro Rosso, so the situation is what it is, it’s good for him and good for us.”

So, to sum it up, there is absolutely no credible proof that Hamilton wants any say in the decision on who his team-mate will be, it’s all just ‘reports’ based on statements from ‘anonymous sources’. And these sources seem to be indicating that a seven-time champion, and the most successful driver in the history of Formula 1, is ‘afraid’ of being partnered up with a zero-time world champion Max Verstappen, and a driver that is only approaching his third season in Formula 1, George Russell.

I don’t know about you, but I would want to have a bit of a stronger case than just a statement from an ‘anonymous source’, before I would be comfortable with publishing such slanderous rumours.

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