Hamilton hitting the road

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:40 AM ET

MONTREAL - With the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal on the horizon, there is growing speculation that the 15-year relationship between McLaren and Lewis Hamilton may be coming to an end.

There has been talk from the start of the season that the 28-year-old Briton is being wooed, variously, by Red Bull as a replacement for Mark Webber; Ferrari as a replacement for Felipe Massa; or Mercedes as a replacement for Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton, who won a world championship in 2008 and was first signed by McLaren as a 14-year-old right from youth racing, has yet to sign an extension to his current contract that expires at the end of this season.

There has been plenty of criticism of his performances the past two seasons from inside and outside the team. While he has yet to post a win this season, Hamilton is fourth in the world championship, only 13 markers behind Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

In a telephone conference call this week, McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale sent a mixed message about the future of his star driver.

He said that while the team would like to re-sign Hamilton, it was no rush to get the deal done just yet.

“Quite clearly, we would like him to continue racing for us, he’d like to continue racing for us,” Neale said. “We have plenty of time, we don’t need to make that decision until much later this year.”

But with Hamilton’s options growing daily, McLaren’s negotiating tactics could backfire.

Ferrari is certainly dangling Massa’s seat in front of Hamilton. However, he would want to be a clear No. 1 and that likely is not possible with two-time world champion Alonso also at Ferrari.

Then there is the very real possibility that Schumacher will quit Mercedes at the end of this season to resume his retirement.

There is also the fact that many in F-1 think that McLaren is under-performing this season and that might be another reason for Hamilton to jump ship.

Neale agreed that the team needs to step up its program if it wants to keep Hamilton in the fold.

“I’m not going to walk away from the fact we have to continue to work hard, eliminate mistakes and find upgrades,” he said.

“Six races, six winners; nobody is consistent at the moment. We sit second in the constructors’ championship at the moment, and our intent is to make both drivers feel comfortable in the car so they consistently score points. We haven’t done that in the past races, I’m sure we can in the future.”

As for Hamilton, if his remarks in a pre-Canadian Grand Prix release are any indication, he just wants to get some wins this season, preferably starting at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Sunday.

“This is turning into a unique season — one where every race provides new challenges and different outcomes,” he said.

“Even though everything hasn’t gone right for us, I’m confident that myself and the team are doing everything we can to ensure we’re in the best possible position to challenge for victory each and every weekend.

“I know the results we all want will soon come to us.”

Sounding very much like the company man, Hamilton said that McLaren is working overtime to reverse their underwhelming results so far this season.

“I am doing everything I can to extract every tenth (of a second) from the car, and I know the guys at the track and men and women back at MTC (McLaren Technology Centre) are doing everything they can to give me a car that’s worthy of winning.

“We are still very much in the hunt for this world championship and I’m looking forward to bringing that fight to Montreal, which is one of my favourite races of the season.”

FINISH LINES

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THE DEAN OF SPEED’S TOP 5 CONTENDERS TO WIN THE CANADIAN GRAND PRIX

1. Sebastian Vettel

The two-time defending Formula One champion may look like he is off his game this season in the Red Bull Renault, but he is still the odds-on favourite to win the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday. While his only win this season was at Bahrain, Vettel has five top six finishes in the six Grands Prix so far in 2012. And after last year’s rain-interrupted Canadian Grand Prix — in which Vettel lost in the final laps when his race car skidded in the wet conditions — the 24-year-old German is motivated to get that one back.

2. Lewis Hamilton

Despite going winless so far this season, Hamilton has delivered consistent performances, enough to keep him within spitting distance of world championship points leader Fernando Alonso. And Hamilton has plenty of motivation to win on Sunday at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with his contract with McLaren expiring at the end of this season. Hamilton is no stranger to the top step of the podium in Montreal, where he will be the only two-time winner — 2007 and 2010 — on the grid when the lights go out.

3. Mark Webber

Coming off his win at the Grand Prix of Monaco two weeks ago Webber is poised to become the only two-time winner this season. Like Hamilton, Webber is in the final year of his contract with Red Bull and would love to be able to add to his win total to strengthen his bargaining position with the Austrian energy drink company.

He is currently tied for second in the championship with Red Bull teammate Vettel.

4. Jenson Button

The defending champion in Montreal comes back to the Ile Notre Dame track with one win already this season — at Australia — but since then the McLaren driver’s performance has tailed off.

His two worst finishes — 18th place in Bahrain and 16th in Monaco — were both due to circumstance beyond his control. In Bahrain, Button’s McLaren Mercedes had a differential failure and in Monaco he suffered a flat tire.

5. Fernando Alonso

The 30-year-old native of Spain leads the world championship for the famed Ferrari squad in spite of admissions by both he and the team that the F2012 is underperforming this season. However, Alonso keeps getting the most of what Ferrari has given him. His racing talents have never been more in the fore as they have been this season. Alonso is also a former winner in Canada and admits that Montreal is one of his favourite tracks.

CHEATING ACCUSATIONS DON’T RATTLE VETTEL

Accusations that the Red Bull Renault Formula One team was cheating in the first six races of the season hasn’t affected how two-time world champion Sebastian Vettel is approaching Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix.

The FIA — F-1’s ruling body — ordered that Red Bull change the floor design on its two race cars before the start of Sunday’s race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Other F-1 teams complained after the race in Monaco that the holes on the floor of Red Bull’s chassis gave them an aero advantage, a charge denied by Red Bull.

Vettel, however, said Thursday that the change should not make any difference to the team’s performance. “I don’t believe it has a big impact on what we do on the circuit,” Vettel said at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

He said the team has made other advances on the car that will more than make up for any loss of speed from the new floor.

“We tried a lot of things, some things worked, some things didn’t work,” Vettel said. “I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the car we had at Monaco or before that. Nevertheless, I don’t think it will make a big difference.”

“I think it’s really difficult to understand what is going on. But it is as it is now.”


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