Call it an experiment that worked out for everyone – McLaren have extended Lewis Hamilton’s 2006 contract for a further five years and agreed to pay him a shedload more money.
This time last year he was the wide-eyed rookie whose contract wasn’t in the same league as his double-world-champion team-mate. It’s a little different this time, though no-one’s admitting to how much he’ll be earning.
McLaren boss Ron Dennis, sounding misty-eyed despite the prospect of opening his chequebook, said: “Lewis is an exceptional human being, on both a personal and professional level, and will continue to be a credit to this team.
“Following our initial Formula 1 agreement, which we announced in November 2006, he went on to exceed all expectations for a rookie in Formula 1, even those of us in the team who have known him for over a decade.
“Given Lewis’s performances over the course of the 2007 season, it is clear that improved financial terms were fully deserved and this formed part of the friendly negotiations with Lewis’s manager Anthony Hamilton.”
Team CEO Martin Whitmarsh said there had been no pressure to renegotiate the contract that was already in force, but once next year’s car was up and running and new driver Heikki Kovalainen had got his feet under the table, it made sense to look at it.
He said: “This was certainly not a discussion that was under any particular timeframe as our previous contract with Lewis was ongoing. Since Heikki joined the team in December, it has become more apparent how well he and Lewis will work together to become a competitive force for the team. We feel confident we have the prospect of another exciting season ahead.”
Hamilton himself repeated his belief that he may never drive for another team: “I have been connected to McLaren and Mercedes-Benz since 1998 and feel that I could easily drive for this team for the whole of my Formula 1 career.
“I am with the right team to compete for race wins and both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championships in the future. We will have a lot of challenges ahead, but I am 100 per cent positive I am with the people to take them on. The first of those challenges is the 2008 season.
“I am enjoying working closely with Heikki, Pedro, Gary and the team as we push hard with the development of the MP4-23. We have 57 days to go until the lights go out on the grid at Albert Park and we are motivated to make the most of this time and arrive in Melbourne with a competitive car.”
By the time the contract expires in 2012, Hamilton will have been with the Woking-based team for 15 years. Dennis (perhaps forgetting Darrell Green) said: “We believe this is among the longest running associations between a sportsman and a team in the history of sport, particularly motorsport. This is a great achievement for everyone involved, including Anthony.”