Lewis Hamilton will be a McLaren-Mercedes Formula 1 driver until at least the end of the 2012 season, after the team announced it has prolonged his deal for a further five years - boosting his pay packet and extending the 23-year-old's relationship with the squad to 15 years.

The young Briton narrowly failed to clinch the world drivers' championship in his maiden campaign in the top flight last year, having led proceedings for the majority of the season, triumphing four times and setting six pole positions en route. With the new contract all signed and sealed, he will now have five more chances behind the wheel of one of the Silver Arrows to make amends for missing out on the 2007 laurels by just a single point.

"We are pleased to announce that we have extended our contract with Lewis," team chief Ron Dennis stated, "which will now run for a further five years until 2012. Following our initial Formula 1 agreement with Lewis - which we announced in November 2006 - he went on to exceed all expectations for a rookie in Formula 1, even those of us in the team who have known him for over a decade.

"Given Lewis's performances over the course of the 2007 season, it is clear that improved financial terms were fully deserved, and this formed part of the friendly negotiations with Lewis's manager Anthony Hamilton. Today's announcement will take the length of our relationship with Lewis to a total of 15 years, which we believe is among the longest-running associations between a sportsman and a team in the history of sport, particularly motorsport. This is a great achievement for everyone involved, including Anthony.

"Lewis is an exceptional human being, on both a personal and professional level, and will continue to be a credit to this team. McLaren-Mercedes is looking forward to the new season, and we all expect that, with Heikki [Kovalainen] coming on-board to partner Lewis, we will have a very competitive year."

Hamilton was equally effusive about the new agreement, even going so far as to hint that he may never drive for another team as long as he remains in the top flight. He also spoke about the task that remains for McLaren if it is to return to competitive action in the thick of the fight for victory once more come Melbourne in March.

"It's fantastic for me that McLaren-Mercedes has extended my contract until 2012," the Stevenage-born star enthused. "Whilst last year was my first with the team in Formula 1, I have been connected to McLaren and Mercedes-Benz since 1998 and feel that I could easily drive for this team for the whole of my Formula 1 career.

"I am with the right team to compete for race wins and both the drivers' and constructors' world championships in the future. We will have a lot of challenges ahead, but I am 100 per cent positive I am with the people to take them on.

"The first of those challenges is the 2008 season. I am enjoying working closely with Heikki, Pedro [de la Rosa], Gary [Paffett] and the team as we push hard with the development of the MP4-23. We have 57 days to go until the lights go out on the grid at Albert Park, and we are motivated to make the most of this time and arrive in Melbourne with a competitive car."

McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh and Mercedes-Benz Vice-President Norbert Haug echoed Dennis' sentiments about the new deal and forthcoming campaign, predicting that together Hamilton and Kovalainen would drive the team on to new heights.

"Since the end of the 2007 season, during which Lewis broke every rookie record standing, the McLaren-Mercedes team has been focused on getting our 2008 challenger on-track," Whitmarsh explained. "That was successfully achieved on Wednesday, 9 January, and led to an appropriate time for the team to hold discussions with Lewis's manager, Anthony. This was certainly not a discussion that was under any particular timeframe, as our previous contract with Lewis was ongoing.

"Since Heikki joined the team in December, it has become more apparent how well he and Lewis will work together to become a competitive force for the team. We feel confident we have the prospect of another exciting season ahead."

"Lewis proved his exceptional skills in his rookie season last year by finishing as runner-up, one point behind the world champion and with four victories and six pole positions in 17 races," Haug added. "It is well known that McLaren, Mercedes-Benz and Lewis have worked together already for ten years - he was still a boy when he started in the MBM karting team.

"Lewis's performance and successes last year - and the way he represents the team and our company Mercedes-Benz in public - are first-class. His father Anthony and Lewis' family play an important part in his development.

"Together we have now created a long-term base for a successful collaboration in Formula 1, and everybody inside McLaren-Mercedes will work very hard and concentrate to achieve our goals."