Mark Webber believes George Russell’s call-up to replace Lewis Hamilton for the Sakhir Grand Prix couldn’t have come at a worse time for the seven-time Formula 1 World Champion, who is negotiating a new Mercedes deal.
Hamilton has yet to agree an extension to his current deal with Mercedes, with the Briton officially out of contract as of the New Year.
Negotiations have been ongoing and although a deal is somewhat of a formality, Webber reckons Hamilton’s hand has been weakened by Russell’s superb performance in Bahrain, where he qualified just shy of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and went on to control the race before things outside his control scuppered any chances of a victory.
“The timing for Lewis was was just horrible,” Webber told the At The Controls podcast. “I drove 1,000 days in a Formula 1 car with testing and practice and grands prix weekends. The whole thing put together over 12 years, if you look at how many actual physical days in the car, I think I had three days off, that’s because I didn’t want anyone near my car.
“You’re just trying to look out for your own share price. You don’t want people to have exposure to your material and your people. And it’s such a cutthroat industry. Even someone like Lewis, that was all downside for him, generally.
“George drove well. Yes, it was the easiest track in the world. It wasn’t exactly Suzuka. But he still drove brilliantly in a compromised environment in the car.”
Webber suspects wrangling over Hamilton’s value is holding an agreement up, especially with an incoming salary cap for 2023 which is likely to massively cut Hamilton’s potential earnings.
“Obviously him and Toto [Wolff] enjoy a very good relationship. I think that they would have liked it to have been nipped in the bud by now.
“But obviously the timing around certain things, particularly his virus right at the end and this budget cap for drivers, which is coming in for drivers in the future, whether that’s going to clip him in the back part of his [deal] – depending on how long the term of the contract is of course, it’s not going to be starting next year – but looking at how that would potentially challenge the back end of his contract in terms of how the numbers would look. So I’m sure that’s all on the table.
“He wants to extinguish every single opportunity you can, financially, out of the situation because he believes he has a value and he does. He brings a lot to the sport, he brings a lot to Mercedes. He is box office and he wants that to be recognised.”