Ferrari have admitted for the first time that Lewis Hamilton has discussed joining them.
Ferrari’s no-nonsense chief executive Louis Camilleri also scuppered any ambition rival boss Toto Wolff has of leaving Mercedes to run Formula One by stating that the Scuderia would be prepared to block such a move.
Hamilton’s £40million-a-year deal with Mercedes expires at the end of next year.
And although Britain’s six-time world champion refused to deny a report at the final race in Abu Dhabi that he has already met with Ferrari chairman John Elkann, Camilleri confirmed that preliminary discussions over one of the sport’s biggest transfers have taken place.
“It has been made public that Lewis has had conversations with our chairman,” said Camilleri in a revealing end-of-year debrief at the Italian team’s Maranello headquarters.
“We clearly are very flattered that Lewis in particular, and other drivers, want to come and join us. Every driver on the grid would like to drive a Ferrari.
“We have a long-term agreement with one driver [Charles Leclerc] and with the other driver [Sebastian Vettel] the agreement expires at the end of 2020.
“It would be premature to decide anything now for the future. We will look at our options and see what is the best fit for our team.”
Hamilton, who turns 35 next month, has indicated that his next move will depend on the future of Mercedes team principal Wolff.
The 47-year-old Austrian has been touted by the sport’s American owners’ Liberty Media as a prime candidate to take over from Chase Carey and run F1 beyond next year.
But Camilleri says Ferrari would be prepared to use its veto to stop Wolff – who has presided over Mercedes’ unprecedented run of success in recent years – being handed the keys to the sport.
“Anybody who has been an active and important player in a certain team within the last years to take on the responsibility at F1 would create a conflict of interest,” added the American, 64.
“It would not be a good thing [that Wolff] should ultimately run F1.
“Our position is if [Ferrari team principal] Mattia Binotto was the candidate to replace Chase, the rest of the paddock would not be too happy.
“Our veto is the last resort tool. Should we be confronted with that [Wolff taking over from Carey] we would explain our position quite clearly to the folks at Liberty.”
Ferrari’s campaign was blighted by a series of errors by their drivers and strategical mistakes.
Leclerc’s breakthrough season has also forced Ferrari to drop Vettel as their number one. The four-time world champion, who is paid £36million a year, would be moved on if the Italians signed Hamilton.
“Clearly Charles’ performance has had an impact.” said Camilleri. “That’s inevitable when you’re the world champion and this young kid comes along and has a phenomenal season.
“Charles has a lot of talent. He has surprised even ourselves as to what he has been capable of.
“Their collision last month in Brazil was a nightmare. However, the air has been cleared. And sometimes you need a crisis to put the goalposts in the appropriate place.
“Going forwards it gives Mattia a much better way of managing them because they realised how much they screwed up.”