Lewis Hamilton’s laundered overalls on the balcony railing while inside his boss speculated that there is a 25 per cent chance the star driver will be moving to Ferrari.
Just along the paddock, Hamilton declined to deny he has met John Elkann, the Ferrari chairman, to discuss signing for 2021.
That is how talk of the six-time champion’s future employment status occupied conversation after fireworks lit up the night sky to mark his 11th victory of the season.
It was a commanding drive in a tranquilising race — the Brit took pole, led every lap, set the fastest lap and finished 17 seconds clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Which is part of the reason his services are so coveted.
First, to Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. The Austrian said: ‘I am leaning myself out of the window here but I would rate Lewis’s chances of staying at 75 per cent. I give you that number because the rationale speaks for the continuation of the relationship by both sides.
‘But, equally, there is 25 per cent that we are not in control of. So we must see how the next months pan out. We have not given ourselves a date to sit down and talk again. At the end of January/February we will define the schedule we want to work to.
‘A sports team is not static. It is dynamic. That means there is always going to be change and change can provide opportunity.’
ABU DHABI GP RESULTS AND FINAL STANDINGS
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1hr 34mins 05.715secs
2 Max Verstappen (Hol) Red Bull 1:34:22.483
3 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:34:49.150
4 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1:34:50.096
5 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:35:10.068
6 Alexander Albon (Tha) Red Bull 1:35:14.919
7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point at 1 lap
8 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren at 1 lap
9 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Toro Rosso at 1 lap
10 Carlos Sainz (Spa) McLaren at 1 lap
11 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault at 1 lap
12 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault at 1 lap
13 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo at 1 lap
14 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas at 1 lap
15 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas at 1 lap
16 Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo at 1 lap
17 George Russell (Gbr) Williams at 1 lap
18 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Toro Rosso at 2 laps
19 Robert Kubica (Pol) Williams at 2 laps
Not Classified: 20 Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point 45 laps completed
Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton 1min 39.283secs lap 53
FINAL DRIVERS’ STANDINGS
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 413pts
2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 326
3 Max Verstappen (Hol) Red Bull 278
4 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 264
5 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 240
6 Carlos Sainz (Spa) McLaren 96
7 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Toro Rosso 95
8 Alexander Albon (Tha) Red Bull 92
9 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault 54
10 Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point 52
11 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 49
12 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo 43
13 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Toro Rosso 37
14 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 37
15 Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point 21
16 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas 20
17 Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo 14
18 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas 8
19 Robert Kubica (Pol) Williams 1
20 George Russell (Gbr) Williams 0
CONSTRUCTORS’ STANDINGS: 1 Mercedes 739pts, 2 Ferrari 504, 3 Red Bull 417, 4 McLaren 145, 5 Renault 91, 6 Toro Rosso 85, 7 Racing Point 73, 8 Alfa Romeo 57, 9 Haas 28, 10 Williams 1
We will look at the subtext to those words in a moment but before that, Hamilton on his possible talks with Elkann, the favoured grandson of industrial giant Gianni Agnelli.
A report in Italy has claimed Hamilton and he have already talked about a move.
True or false?
‘Naturally, everything that happens behind closed doors is private, whoever you end up sitting with,’ said Hamilton, who turns 35 next month.
‘For many years I have never considered other options because we have been driving straight ahead on the journey we have been on at Mercedes. We are still on that path and there is very little that is going to shift that.’
Wolff spoke of possibly missing a few races next season — his own future uncertain, further muddying the waters. ‘Only he will know what is best for him and his family,’ added Hamilton. ‘So I am waiting to see what he is doing.
‘I love where I am so it is definitely not a quick decision to move somewhere else but it is only wise to think what I want if it is the last stage of my career. I want to keep winning. I cannot tell you what is going to happen.’
Here is a thought based on the comments of Hamilton and his boss. Mercedes want Max Verstappen and Hamilton wants Ferrari. Even if that is the case, neither can say so yet with both drivers sticking where they are for another year.
Wolff is remarkably relaxed about the whole situation, rather than promising to move heaven and earth to keep his main man.
On-track entertainment was scarce, with the highlight being Verstappen, who finished second, passing Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc halfway through proceedings. He piled down the inside of the red car and poked himself ahead into Turn Eight, pushing the Monegasque aside.
Leclerc fought back and the two touched wheels soon afterwards but there was no way through. Verstappen duly claimed third place in the drivers’ championship behind the two Mercedes.
Speaking of Ferrari, there was no let-up in their penchant for shooting themselves in the foot. They botched Vettel’s pit stop. It took them nearly seven seconds to reboot him as both left tyres proved hard to fit.
And Leclerc, who finished the race in third place, was called before the stewards for a fuel irregularity. The team were fined £43,000Lewis, be warned.