Abu Dhabi F1: Lewis Hamilton denies speaking to Red Bull and Ferrari

Team boss Christian Horner claimed British driver made overtures to Mercedes' rivals

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton speaks to the press ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit. AFP
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Lewis Hamilton has accused Christian Horner of "stirring" after the Red Bull boss claimed representatives of the seven times world champion approached him about switching teams before he penned his new deal with Mercedes.

Horner said that Hamilton's team had reached out to both Red Bull and Ferrari at a time when his Mercedes future was in doubt.

Hamilton, whose new contract until 2025 was confirmed in August, told Sky Sports at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Thursday that he did not know what Horner was talking about.

"I know it's come from Christian. I don't really understand what he's been talking about because no-one as far as I'm aware from my team has spoken to him," he said.

"He did reach out to me earlier in the year about meeting up but that's it. I just congratulated him on an amazing year and said hopefully soon I'll be able to fight against you guys in the near future. That was it.

"So I'm not really sure, I think he's just stirring things. There aren't any confidential discussions. You know Christian. He loves that kind of stuff."

Horner had indeed caused controversy when he claimed Hamilton had been sounding out his team's biggest rivals.

“We have had several conversations over the years about Lewis joining,” Horner told the Daily Mail.

“They have reached out a few times. Most recently, earlier in the year, there was an inquiry about whether there would be any interest.

“He met John Elkann [Ferrari CEO], too. I think there were serious talks. It was around Monaco [late May].

“There were definitely conversations, perhaps with [Ferrari team boss Frederic] Vasseur, too. But certainly with Elkann.

“But I can't see Max and Lewis working out together. The dynamic wouldn't be right. We are 100 per cent happy with what we have.”

Meanwhile, Elkann has this week admitted Ferrari’s blame culture has cost them dearly in the past but believes the appointment of Vasseur as team principal has cracked the problem.

“If you trace it back we haven't had that culture [of accountability] since Jean Todt and then Stefano Domenicali were leading [the team in 2008]. It just left us,” Elkann said. "Accountability is that you own your responsibility and somehow a blame culture deflects that.

“So it's not about blaming, it's about being responsible. And that was a major cultural difference that we had.”

Elkann appointed veteran motor racing boss Vasseur last Christmas in a bid to pull F1’s greatest team out of the doldrums. Without a title since 2008, internal politics have often stymied their progress.

Maranello believe they have overturned around a two-tenths of a second deficit to pacesetters Red Bull in the summer to arrive on Yas Island with the fastest car.

Pole in five of the nine races since the summer break and a victory in Singapore makes them the form team, but it is their strategy calls and race day tyre wear that have cost them victories. Vasseur is optimistic his changes are bearing fruit.

"We were able to perform on different tracks with different race conditions, different [tyre] compounds, and we can be more than motivated for Abu Dhabi," he said. “The momentum is with us so let's see what happens."

Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said they are confident they will make a strong challenge for runners-up spot in Abu Dhabi despite some disastrous recent races.

It doesn’t feel like we’re winding down. If anything, it feels like its winding up because we’ve got quite a big fight for second,” he said. “So we are optimistic we can have a strong weekend.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff added: "It's all down to the last weekend. Ferrari are very quick, they have done a good job. I think we could have been on par [in Las Vegas] but the result shows something different. So let's race.”

Although both championships are decided there is plenty to play for and more than just pride on the line with tens of millions extra to be won with every step up the finishing order.

Just 11 points separate McLaren and Aston Martin in the battle for fourth and Williams, AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo and Haas are in the shoot out for the final four places in the constructors' championship.

In the drivers' battle, the first three places are decided but five points separate Spaniards Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in the scrap for fourth. Even Charles Leclerc, 12 points behind, is in with a shout.

Updated: November 23, 2023, 2:08 PM