Lewis Hamilton has betrayed the burning ambition inside him by asserting that he is 'not here to race ten years and only win one or two world championships' and that his goal is rather to be 'one of the most successful F1 drivers of this generation' – but in order to do so, some suggest, he will first need to leave McLaren-Mercedes.
In his four seasons in the top flight to-date, the British star has done battle for the drivers' crown on three occasions – lifting the laurels quite literally at the last gasp in 2008, coming agonisingly close during his rookie campaign in 2007 and paying the price for a comparatively slow start by McLaren and a brace of errors of his own making last year.
The Woking-based outfit's new MP4-26 contender, however, thus far looks like anything but the car to carry Hamilton to his second title at the highest level, having struggled woefully for reliability during pre-season testing, and also for out-and-out raw pace in relation to chief rivals Red Bull Racing and Ferrari.
That has led to speculation that Red Bull could be eyeing the frustrated 26-year-old once his current McLaren contract expires at the end of 2012 – with a view to replacing Mark Webber – although Christian Horner has sought to downplay such a notion [see separate story – click here
], adding that 'Seb (Vettel) has never made any request, or claim, as to who he partners...he has a complete inner confidence in himself'. Hamilton is similarly quick to defend his own team.
“Look at the history of McLaren,” he told the Sunday Observer
. “They are an incredible team. I haven't been to other factories, but McLaren have some of the greatest people I have ever met in the team. The way they treat their drivers is fantastic. It is a great place to go to work, and I feel privileged to be part of the team. My heart is with them and I want to push with them – I want to help them become the most successful racing team. They are fighters – and I am a fighter.”
Hamilton knows he will need to rely upon all of McLaren's famed development prowess – as witnessed in 2009 – if he is to challenge for glory again this year, but whilst he has made it very clear that he will not stand for midfield mediocrity, he is confident he is in the right place to achieve his aspirations.
“I feel really proud when people say I have the ability to win more championships,” confessed the 14-time grand prix-winner, who has previously revealed that he would like to at least match the title haul of his hero, the late, great Ayrton Senna, F1 World Champion in 1988, 1990 and 1991, “but I am not here to race ten years and only win one or two world championships.
“I want to be one of the most successful F1 drivers of this generation, so I do want to win more world championships – and I think you have to continue winning and prove yourself time after time for people to really know that you are the best. I can't say right now that people can say 'he was clearly the best in the world'. I have only been here for four years, so I have got a lot more to do.”
Former McLaren driver John Watson, meanwhile, has suggested that Hamilton would do well to think twice before walking away from the multiple world champions, telling The Sun
: “The only [other] teams that can give him a winning car are Ferrari and Red Bull. Lewis is no longer the key in the driver market – Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel is.”