F1: Lewis Hamilton extends Mercedes contract
Lewis Hamilton has leapt to the defence of his Mercedes F1 team-mate Valtteri Bottas by telling the Finn’s critics to cut him some slack.
Hamilton was speaking to reporters at the official pre-race press conference ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, and shared his take on the rumours that are piling the pressure on his on-track colleague ahead of this weekend’s race.
Earlier this week, reports from the Daily Mail quoted a source within the wider Mercedes team stating the Finn was “not up to it,” and that the team was “losing faith” in the Finnish racer.
Bottas fired back at those claims ahead of this weekend’s Spanish GP, calling the rumours “bull****.”
“I know that I’m not going to be replaced in the middle of the season,” said Bottas. “As a team, we don’t do that.
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“I have a contract for this year and I believe there’s only one team that does that kind of thing in F1 and we’re not that.
“So [there’s] no pressure from my side. I know how things are and there’s always bullshit around. That’s part of the sport.”
And now Hamilton has waded into the debate, and told people to get off his team-mate’s back.
“I think he’s been an amazing team-mate, as I’ve always said,” he explained.
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“If I’m really honest, I feel we have the best line-up currently in terms of deliverables, in terms of the equilibrium that’s within our team and the general knowledge, in terms of moving our car forwards.”
Rumours have suggested that Bottas could be replaced by Mercedes junior driver and current Williams ace George Russell, with some even believing Mercedes could consider making a rare mid-season change to better support Hamilton in his battle against Max Verstappen and Red Bull in the title fight.
But, with both Hamilton and Bottas only contracted to the end of the current season, the Brit hinted that the lineup at the team could be set to change soon, regardless.
“At some stage, it’s going to shift, it’s going to change,” he stated.
“I’m not going to be here forever, Valtteri won’t be here forever. But right now I think we’ve delivered time and time again over the years and we continue to.
“Valtteri just qualified on pole the last race. it’s only the fourth race. I think people need to give him a break and just let him focus on doing what he’s doing.”
Hamilton heads into race weekend in Barcelona in excellent form, both in terms of the 2021 season and from his prior visits to Catalunya. The Englishman has won each of the last four races at the circuit, and hopes to make it five in a row on Sunday.
But Hamilton said he doesn’t think Mercedes will have a clear run from the lights to the flag on Sunday’s race, with Red Bull looking much stronger in 2021, and the chasing pack, including McLaren and a seemingly revitalised Ferrari, edging closer to contention.
It means Mercedes, Hamilton and Bottas all know that they have to be on their game to maintain their place at the head of the field in Spain.
“Definitely the first test (at the start of the season) didn’t look great and at the first race we were still up there, but you could see the deficit from us to the Red Bulls,” he explained.
“But I think in terms of overall output through the weekend, we’ve managed to do a better job.
“We really can’t continue to rely on mistakes from others, we’ve got to get our heads down and continue to work. We’ve got a good package but it does have its weak areas that we need to continue to work on.
“In terms of my side, I’m really happy with the output. Naturally, you’re always trying to raise the bar, make as few mistakes as possible but they’ve been there but I’m grateful for them as they make you stronger when you learn from them.
“Max performing exceptionally well,” Hamilton added. “He has a championship-winning car, no doubt, and a championship-winning team who can really pull off the job this year if we don’t do our job.
“So I definitely think experience will help us in terms of how we approach weekends and how we battle back from touch weekends and I think, from my side, I would like to think experience will help, but you still have to do the job and minimal mistakes.
“Reliability is going to be a big deal this year, and as you’ve seen, even these fastest lap extra points are going to be significant by the end of the year.”