McLaren is ready to match Mercedes' wage offer to Lewis Hamilton in a bid to persuade the former World Champion to remain at his current team.
After frenzied speculation about Hamilton's future caused by Eddie Jordan's claim that he would move to Mercedes in 2013, negotiations have been ongoing between the Briton's management team, XIX Entertainment, and McLaren. Although no deal has yet been agreed, high-level sources suggest that the wage deal on offer is no longer an issue.
McLaren is believed to be offering at least, if not more, than the approximate $18.7 million-per-season deal that it is understood Mercedes has put on the table. The main issue to be debated now is whether or not the greater commercial freedom that Hamilton could have at Mercedes – because personal sponsorship deals with that team are not as tightly controlled as they are at McLaren – is worth enough for Hamilton and XIX to consider it a better option.
McLaren has a number of extensive commercial tie-ups with companies like Hugo Boss that limit the personal sponsorship possibilities that are open to its drivers. However, as Hamilton's current deal with Reebok shows, there is scope for personal deals to be part of a McLaren package. And sources suggest the team may be willing to be more flexible in what it allows Hamilton to do if it guarantees securing his future. The financial situation is also further complicated by the fact that any deals Hamilton could get at Mercedes may not be as much as win bonus possibilities he could have at McLaren.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said over the Singapore Grand Prix weekend that he felt Hamilton appeared more focused.
"I have to say that Lewis has been incredibly strong," he said. "I've spoken to Lewis first hand and he is in a very focused frame of mind. He came around, thanked everyone in the team for their efforts this weekend and it was a much stronger-minded Lewis that we have seen before.
"He is very focused, he knows there are 150 points that are available and he knows we are going to work hard to collect all of them, or as many as we can."
The situation for Hamilton is also further complicated by suggestions that Mercedes may be poised for a management shake-up.
Speculation in the Singapore paddock pointed to the Mercedes board pondering a re-organization of how the team is run, having finally given agreement to a deal that will commit it to Formula 1 until 2020. A decision could come at a board meeting that is scheduled for this week.
Sources have suggested that former World Champion Niki Lauda (LEFT, with Bernie Ecclestone) could even be drafted in to take a role with the team, following his successful involvement in negotiations between Mercedes and Bernie Ecclestone to frame a new Concorde Agreement deal. Lauda himself denied that he had a firm offer in place from Mercedes, but did not dismiss the possibility completely.
"I've not been asked," he said about speculation of a role at Mercedes. "It would be wrong of me to say anything because I haven't been talked to about it. The only thing I did was help Mercedes with the Concorde Agreement discussions, and that was just to get the ball rolling between the two parties."