Lewis Hamilton has reaffirmed his 'massive commitment' to McLaren-Mercedes, confessing that he hopes to be able to sign a new contract with the Woking-based outfit 'by the end of this year' and stressing that he is 'flat-out focussed on winning with this team' – possibly even as soon as this weekend's European Grand Prix in Valencia.
Hamilton's future has been the subject of fevered speculation inside the F1 paddock for several months now, with the 2008 world champion having first dropped hints around the time of the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne back in March that he was unhappy with again not having a title-challenging car at his disposal and prepared to consider his options elsewhere.
There were subsequent revelations that he had met with Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner in Montreal earlier this month – with the runaway F1 2011 World Championship leaders widely-held to be Hamilton's most likely alternative destination once his current agreement expires at the end of next season – but after brushing off the rumours of an impending team switch [see separate story – click here
], the 26-year-old Briton has once more re-pledged his commitment to the cause at his current employer.
“I think the team are massively committed to me, as I am to them,” he told The Associated Press
in Valencia. “I've been with them since I was 13, and I've known them for a long, long time. Of course, there are always positives and strengths you can have to help you in negotiations with your team, but that wasn't the aim [of meeting Horner]. Hopefully, by the end of this year I'll have something in-place and I can continue on [with McLaren], which is important to be able to do.
“I think [McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh] knows I'm flat-out focused on winning with this team. I showed that after the last race when I had a pretty poor weekend, yet the team won. I tried to be as much of a team player as I always have been – we win and we lose together. That weekend we won, and it was the most important thing. The guys are pushing massively to help us win more races.
“The rules are changing, we are the only team to have won a race other than Red Bull and we are the only other team to compete with Red Bull. What more can you ask for?”
Ah yes, the rule changes. Whitmarsh has opined that the FIA's impending ban on the use of engine-mapping to operate off-throttle blown diffusers – ostensibly one of the principal factors behind Red Bull's crushing dominance in qualifying thus far this season – could aid McLaren by as much as 'half-a-second' a lap [see separate story – click here
], thereby bringing Hamilton and team-mate Jenson Button right into play with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber on Saturday afternoons and immediately providing them with a better launch pad for the race.
At a gaping 76 points adrift of Vettel in the title chase – equivalent to more than three grand prix victories – and stung by his troubles in Monaco and Montreal, both races he had hoped to win, Hamilton knows he needs to hit back and fast. He assures he will be doing his utmost to do precisely that.
“It is definitely possible,” he asserted. “I think if you look at the previous races, every time in Q3 it looks like they (Red Bull) have done something with their engine mode which has given them the slight upper hand, and in the last race, while other people brought a new DRS, Ferrari had a new mode in Q3 which helped them significantly.
“We have had the same mode for a while now, and everyone will probably not be using their qualifying modes because their engines would not last. They will use their race mode – and we generally have good race pace, so I am hoping that it enables us to be a bit closer in qualifying. Fingers crossed it works for this race.
“With the points, people can have bad weekends and you can bounce back. It definitely feels like it could be the hardest championship from here to the end of the season. There is a long way to go, but I will not be giving up anytime soon.”