Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton has been given a one-month deadline to sign a new contract with Mercedes after the Formula One team announced details of its new car unveiling.
Hamilton is effectively unemployed after his contract with Mercedes was allowed to run past its December 31 expiry date.
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The 26-year-old said at the back end of 2020 that he hoped to sign a new agreement before Christmas, however, that failed to materialise.
The Brit clinched his seventh F1 world title in 2020 with three races to spare, but decided to postpone talks with Mercedes until the championship was settled.
His positive test for COVID-19 delayed talks, with Mercedes eventually forced to shelve discussions after making only "baby steps".
Hamilton has given every indication that his intention is to re-sign with Mercedes on a two-year deal, likely to be worth approximately £40 million ($AUD 71 million) a year.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff - who has been recovering after contracting Covid-19 - revealed that discussions over the contract stalled, with lawyers brought in to assist matters because he and Hamilton "both argue over Zoom".
However, Mercedes are confident they will have both drivers in place when the reigning world champions unveil their 2021 F1 car in a digital launch on March 2.
It's a date. 😘 02-03-21. pic.twitter.com/9JKkLlrVry
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) February 2, 2021
It gives Mercedes and Hamilton one month deadline to come to an agreement.
Mercedes traditionally launch their new cars in February, with the later date allowing them to sort out Hamilton's situation first.
It would be a major shock if the sport's biggest star did not line up again with Finland's Valtteri Bottas at the team who have won the past seven drivers' and constructors' championships.
Hamilton deal to be agreed ‘soon’
Speaking to German outlet RTL, Wolff insisted that the deal between Mercedes and Hamilton will be signed "soon".
The season starts in Bahrain on March 28, with teams testing at the Sakhir circuit from March 12-14.
Hamilton's contract demands - which likely include salary, bonuses, image rights, sponsorship and media days - are understood to be the main sticking points in discussions.
Some outlets have reported that Hamilton may want a share of the team's prize money and to be given a limited edition Mercedes One hypercar - claims denied by the team.
The Mercedes boss says the team and Hamilton are "not far" away from a deal, adding that both parties must come to a "sensible agreement".
However, Wolff denies that the protracted saga has put a stain on his relationship with his star driver.
“Our relationship is not only professional, but also a friendship.
“Lewis is incredibly important, not only for our team, but also for the Mercedes brand.”
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