F1: Leclerc says Ferrari career has 'exceeded expectations'
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Mercedes could be landed with a blockbuster opportunity to recruit Charles Leclerc if Lewis Hamilton decides to end his contract early at the end of the 2022 season. The Silver Arrows are currently pushing to fend off Hamilton’s retirement amid continued silence following a dramatic season finale in December.
Hamilton is currently contracted to Mercedes until the end of the 2023 season.
His deal was renewed in July of last year, midway through an electric F1 campaign in which he and Max Verstappen went toe-to-toe for the world title.
But when the Dutchman prevailed at Yas Marina in a thrilling but controversial final-lap shootout, Hamilton’s long-term reaction suggests that he may have had a change of heart.
Apart from receiving his knighthood, nothing has been heard from the Brit following Verstappen’s triumph, while he and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff risked punishment by snubbing the FIA’s prize-giving gala in the days following.
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The Silver Arrows, along with FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, are pushing for arguably the sport’s biggest name to return for the upcoming season.
At 37-years-old, arriving at a compromise where Hamilton completes one of the remaining two years on his deal could well be a realistic outcome.
If such an arrangement unfolds, an opportunity may present itself for Mercedes and Leclerc to join forces at the end of 2022.
It would require Ferrari’s downfall, however, to activate a break clause in the 24-year-old’s bumper contract.
According to Gazzetta Motori, Leclerc’s deal could be terminated early if Ferrari do not finish in the top three of the Constructors’ Championship in 2022.
Last season, the Prancing Horse did manage to seal third spot, but there was not a huge distance between themselves and McLaren, who trailed by less than 50 points.
A much-changed car ahead of the new season could reshuffle the pack in terms of performance, while Lando Norris’ continued improvement for McLaren could also threaten Ferrari’s spot on the podium.
If Leclerc was given the opportunity to end his contract early, he would likely have the pick of the bunch given that he is considered to be one of the top young drivers in F1.
Former McLaren and Benetton driver Martin Brundle placed Leclerc in his top four drivers back in December, alongside the likes of Verstappen, Hamilton and Norris.
If Ferrari do manage to finish third or better, the Silver Arrows may have to wait an awfully long time to get another crack at Leclerc.
The Monegasque signed a bumper deal with Ferrari as a youngster, and extended it to 2026 in September.
If Hamilton does step aside and Ferrari falter, however, Leclerc and George Russell could join forces in 2023 to make up a tantilisingly talented F1 duo.
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