Lewis Hamilton has responded to remarks made by Martin Whitmarsh suggesting he would like to retain the services of the 2008 F1 World Champion and team-mate Jenson Button at McLaren-Mercedes for 'another five years at least' by extraordinarily firing back that 'loyalty has its limits' and that he doesn't see 'any attraction whatsoever' to staying with one team forever.

There has been considerable speculation surrounding Hamilton's future in recent weeks. The British star is contracted to McLaren until the end of 2012, but following the truly abject MP4-24 of the first half of the 2009 campaign and the slow start to 2010 that arguably cost him the chance to fight for last year's crown, when the Woking-based outfit's new MP4-26 proved to be both unreliable and off-the-pace during pre-season F1 2011 testing, the whispers began to intensify.

Red Bull Racing was the most likely alternative destination, paddock insiders mused, and whilst seeking to dismiss the link, the Milton Keynes-based squad's team principal Christian Horner did concede on the subject of Hamilton that 'you would think he is not going to be happy if he has another barren year' [see separate story - click here].

Over the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix weekend in Melbourne last month, the 14-time grand prix-winner sought to reassure McLaren team principal Whitmarsh of his continued commitment to the cause, and the latest development in the story was the latter's pronouncement on the eve of this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, to the effect that he sees no reason to part company with either Hamilton or Button for the foreseeable future [see separate story - click here]. And now this.

"I've always enjoyed racing here and would like to continue, but at the end of the year, you have to assess what position you're in and what's happened," Hamilton told British newspaper The Guardian, having issued a veiled warning to his employer only a matter of weeks ago when he made it clear that he wants to go down in history as a multiple F1 World Champion.

"I have got only a short period in F1, and I want to be competitive. I want to win championships. If you're in a good enough place and you're happy, then there's no need to go anywhere - but loyalty has its limits."

Those are hardly words of encouragement for McLaren, for whom the 26-year-old has competed ever since joining the top flight back in 2007, and with whom he has been affiliated since the age of just eleven - even claiming at the end of 2008 that he wanted 'to see my career out with this team'.

Last weekend in Malaysia, Hamilton overtook the late Jim Clark as the driver to have begun the most races in F1 for just a single team - but now he concedes that he doesn't really 'envisage anything, to be honest' when he looks to the future and, even more tellingly, that he doesn't think 'there is any attraction whatsoever' to being merely a one-team man.

That much can be interpreted as tantamount to an ultimatum to McLaren that unless he is given a car with which he can genuinely duel it out with early-season F1 2011 pace-setters Red Bull and do battle for a second drivers' crown, Hamilton will walk away. His frustration after finishing eighth from second on the grid at Sepang was palpable - but he is determined to knuckle down and fight.

"They're better this year," he reflected of the defending double world champions. "They're just getting better. The car is the quickest, so now they can focus on other areas. Their pit-stop is the fastest. They're in and out...boom...it's like clockwork.

"We've got some upgrades that we're trying to get to work, though, so hopefully they'll help us to fight. I definitely plan to be at the front this weekend. We're knocking on their [Red Bull's] door, but from track-to-track it's going to change quite a bit. In the last race, it looked like they stepped back - I don't think we improved or were closer - but I definitely feel we're right there in the chase. They do have a slight advantage, but I'm hoping we can find some performance this weekend so we can compete for pole position."

Compatriot and fellow former title-winner Button, meanwhile, admitted that Whitmarsh's revelation that he is eager to keep hold of both drivers for another five years had come as a surprise to him, confessing: "He hasn't spoken to me about that yet; no-one has mentioned it to me, but it's lovely to hear and I'm obviously doing something right. I will grill Martin on it!"



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