EXCLUSIVE: Ferrari are set to offer Lewis Hamilton £40MILLION deal to race in red next season and the chance to eclipse hero Michael Schumacher – with chief John Elkann already in close contact with the British driver

♦ Ferrari are set to offer Lewis Hamilton £40million to join the Italian racing giants

♦ 38-year-old’s current contract at Mercedes is due to expire at the end of the year

♦ Ferrari plan on pairing Hamilton with Charles Leclerc should he choose to move

Ferrari are set to offer Lewis Hamilton the chance to win his dream eighth world championship in their famous red car.

Mail Sport understands the Italian team are willing to break the bank to land the superstar in a £40million deal, and offer him the opportunity to eclipse the Scuderia’s greatest hero, Michael Schumacher, who won five of his seven titles with them.

Conversations over the extravagant signing are not only advancing at the highest level in Ferrari, but company president John Elkann is already in close contact with Hamilton.

The staggering news busts the myth that the British driver, whose Mercedes contract expires at the end of the year, would never budge on his avowed intention to finish his career where he is.

However, Mercedes remain firmly in the 38-year-old’s thoughts and he may yet decide to stay put.

Ferrari are set to offer Lewis Hamilton a bumper deal worth £40million to race in red next season

Ferrari, as an iconic constructor, would appeal to Hamilton and talks are ongoing

Several well-placed sources in the UK and Italy confirmed that the Ferrari hierarchy are seriously considering two Hamilton-related scenarios.

The first, and favoured option, is to partner the veteran with current No 1 Charles Leclerc from next season.

Leclerc from next season. That would mean shipping out Carlos Sainz to another team, something they would be prepared to do.

The second is to sacrifice Leclerc to sign Hamilton. This would amount to a swap. In this scenario, Hamilton drives alongside Spaniard Sainz at Ferrari, while Leclerc is paired with George Russell at Mercedes.

Mail Sport understands that money will not be a factor in Hamilton’s determination, in that both Mercedes and Ferrari are willing to grant him equally gargantuan sums, pretty much matching his current salary of some £40m, or more if required. Drivers, like top team executives, fall outside the budget cap.

The Hamilton family have long harboured a nagging ambition to see Lewis drive for Ferrari one day. His father, Anthony, confided as much when he was still his son’s manager, not long after Lewis made an unforgettable impression on his debut in 2007.

Hamilton may also be influenced by the knowledge that his hero, Ayrton Senna, was due to drive for Ferrari in 1995, but for his death at Imola the previous year.

In truth, Hamilton’s future direction probably comes down to this simple equation: at 38, he hasn’t too much road to run, and he needs to be driving the car most likely to carry him to an eighth world title in the next couple of seasons.

A determining factor may be the success, or otherwise, of the Mercedes upgrades due at the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend — a new floor, front suspension and sidepod — which represent an attempt to address their deficit to Red Bull that has persisted since drastic new regulations were introduced last year. Should the modifications prove a roaring success, Hamilton’s mood would doubtless be lifted.

Ferrari hierarchy plan on pairing Hamilton with current no 1 Charles Leclerc should the Brit make the switch

Mercedes have secured just one podium finish this season, with Hamilton placing second in Melbourne back in April

Should the upgrade backfire, however, the failure may accelerate a move away, not least as the once super-dominant Brackley-based team have shipped key personnel in the last couple of years and are not quite the force they were.

History suggests Hamilton is not averse to making a tough and bold call when opportunity knocks, as he proved by moving from McLaren, the team who nurtured him, to Mercedes in 2013, to start the most successful team-driver alliance in the history of grand-prix racing.

Red Bull, supreme for now, are a closed shop — however alluring the prospect of Hamilton-versus-Max Verstappen might be for Formula One’s marketeers. Verstappen is top dog there, and everyone knows it.

The Dutchman is only 25, in the form of his life, and is signed up to 2028. Nobody internally wants to destabilise him for short-term box-office appeal. Nor, Mail Sport understands, do they necessarily want to manage the showbiz whirl that comes wrapped up in the Hamilton mega-star package.

Hamilton may move based on what team can offer him the best chance of usurping Red Bull star Max Verstappen at the top of the drivers’ standings

Aston Martin, the second best team right now, might be considered Hamilton’s only other possible route.

However, the Silverstone-based challengers are well-served by Fernando Alonso, a Peter Pan of 41 and among the greats himself, and owner Lawrence Stroll’s son Lance, who, for obvious reasons, is hardly vulnerable to the sack. Lance also holds his own.

Hamilton would bring stardust to Ferrari, wounded by not having won a drivers’ title since 2007.

But he will need to be convinced that the most celebrated marque in racing offer him a reliable chance of an eighth wonder of the world after so many hiccups and near-misses of their own.