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Formula 1 Abu Dhabi GP

What was behind the Hamilton/Red Bull F1 soap opera

The Formula 1 paddock rumour mill erupted on the eve of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following claims that Lewis Hamilton had targeted a Red Bull seat earlier this year.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, 2nd position, congratulate each other in Parc Ferme

The story first emerged in the Daily Mail, claiming that Hamilton himself held talks with Red Bull before he signed his new Mercedes contract.

The newspaper suggested: “A representative of Lewis Hamilton contacted Red Bull about him partnering Max Verstappen at the world championship-winning team before he signed a £100million deal to remain at Mercedes, and he also held talks with Ferrari.”

The report had been triggered by a comment Red Bull team boss Christian Horner made to the newspaper as part of a lengthy end-of-season interview.

Horner was quoted as saying: “We have had several conversations over the years about Lewis joining. They have reached out a few times. Most recently, earlier in the year, there was an inquiry about whether there would be any interest.”

That remark was enough to kick off the story and dramatic headline, which then took a fresh twist as the F1 media arrived in Abu Dhabi and Hamilton was quizzed on it.

Speaking in his press briefing on Thursday, the Mercedes driver claimed the story was nonsense – and that it was he who had been approached by Horner.

Asked about the Red Bull links, Hamilton said: “I've checked with everyone in the team, and no one's spoken to them. But they have tried to reach out to us.

“Basically, I had picked up my old phone, which I just found at home, that had my old number on it and obviously, hundreds of messages came through. I realised there was one from Christian to get together and have a chat at the end of the season.”

The statements from Hamilton and Horner appeared to contradict each other – and were a classic case of F1 ‘he said, she said’ where there are conflicting interpretations of the same event.

However, from speaking to paddock sources with good knowledge of the situation, the paddock soap opera seems to have been whipped up from nothing more than fairly normal conversations that take place between leading players.

Christian Horner, Red bull Racing shakes hands with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Photo by: Erik Junius

Christian Horner, Red bull Racing shakes hands with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

And rather than this being a repeat of the infamous time when Hamilton visited Horner at his Red Bull motorhome in Canada back in 2011 to enquire about the possibility of a seat back then, this time matters seem to have been more just regular informal chatter that takes place all the time.

Let’s not forget that one of the jobs of every team and every driver is to know exactly what options are on the table for the future.

If a drivers’ manager does not speak to each team, and a team has not checked things out with every driver, then they aren’t doing their job.

It is therefore widely accepted that the so-called ‘approach’ that Horner was referring to came from Hamilton’s father Anthony, but was far from being an out-of-the-blue plea for a race seat.

Instead, it is understood that amid a lengthy text conversation about various topics, the subject of Hamilton’s future came up – and the suggestion put forward by Hamilton Sr that there would be no harm in Horner speaking to the seven-time world champion for a catch up.

That is what prompted Horner’s text message to Hamilton’s old phone – which went unanswered and had effectively been consigned to the history books until earlier this week when it was mentioned to the Daily Mail.

Whether Horner’s revelation of it was an innocent slip, or a deliberately cheeky stirring of the pot, is something only he knows.

But what is clear is that whatever conversations took place, it was not a matter of Hamilton trying to find a way out of Mercedes.

As Horner said about how big the story became: “It's remarkable how much traction this has got. So, thank you to the Daily Mail for going exclusively large on this item.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

“It's a question of: ‘he said, she said, who said, what said.’ It's entirely normal for drivers, drivers’ representatives, drivers’ parents, to have different conversations during the course of the year.

“But look, we haven't had any serious discussions with Lewis. There was never a seat available.”

He added: “I've known Anthony Hamilton for many years, he's a good guy. He's a proud racing father and inevitably, when drivers go through tough spots – and you know, let's face it, Lewis hasn't won a grand prix for two years – it's inevitable that questions will be asked up and down the paddock.

“But there was never any engagement, and I don't know who represents who or what, but with the same surname, you would think they were reasonably close. It's difficult to say, but there was no [offer], other than pleasantries.

“There was no specific ‘can I drive for Red Bull next year’, unless Anthony wanted to drive. So yeah, but that's, as I say, not unusual. I mean, there are many drivers, as you can imagine, that we hear from during the course of a year.”

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For the Mercedes driver, there was a sense of weariness about being at the centre of a media storm that was nothing of his making.

Perhaps it was the fact that it was a story that potentially questioned his loyalty to Mercedes that left him making a pointed remark about the origins of it.

Asked if he was surprised about it, he said: “Not really. If you really think about, I mean there's a lot of people here that like to drop my name in many conversations because they know it's going to make waves.

“And if you're a little bit lonely and not getting much attention, that's perfect thing to do. Just mention my name.”

We can imagine that Netflix is going to have a field day with this one.

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