Mercedes seem confident that Lewis Hamilton will commit to racing for them beyond 2021 after the team principal, Toto Wolff, said the world champion has been energised by the world title fight with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen this season.
Hamilton is now in his 15th season in F1 and his current contract ends this year. However, before the Styrian Grand Prix in Austria this weekend, the 36-year-old British driver revealed that positive discussions on a new deal had now begun.
Having claimed seven world championships with six coming in a largely dominant Mercedes, Hamilton is in a battle with Verstappen for the title, with the Dutchman leading by 12 points after seven races and the pair sharing three wins apiece. Wolff said last week that he could not imagine Hamilton would not continue to race for Mercedes and confirmed at the Red Bull Ring that his driver was as eager as ever to continue.
“He is very hungry,” Wolff said. “It’s a very new situation for him also in that it’s so tight in the battle with another team and another driver and he is in very good spirits.”
Having won at the last round in France, Verstappen was once more quickest in first practice in Austria, in front of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly in second and four-tenths clear of Hamilton in third.
There has been little to choose between Mercedes and Red Bull this season but the latter have had the edge recently, especially in straight line speed using their low-drag rear wing, which was once more of benefit on the straights of the Red Bull Ring. Their strong form continued in the afternoon session run initially with light spots of rain falling. Verstappen was again on top by three-tenths from McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, with Hamilton in fourth, although the world champion had his quickest time deleted for exceeding track limits.
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas has been given a three-place grid penalty for dangerous driving after he spun his car in the pit lane when released from his pit box. Bottas told the stewards Mercedes had been losing time in exiting their box and had attempted a new method in second gear. In doing so he experienced an unexpected amount of wheelspin, oversteered and spun, losing control of the car in the pit lane close to team personnel.