Hamilton wants closer fight with young rivals

Lewis Hamilton has said he’s impressed by youngsters Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, and hopes to enjoy a closer battle with them going forward.

While the Brit has battled the two on track, neither has had a strong enough car to consistently challenge Hamilton in the Championship.

This has briefly changed in recent times however in the case of Max Verstappen, who has won two of the last four races and enjoyed a titanic fight with Hamilton in Hungary.

“We’ve seen a big step with Red Bull. They’ve really taken a leap forward with their [Honda] power unit this year and it’s pretty great to see,” Hamilton said to the official Formula 1 website.

“They’re going to go from strength to strength and Max is naturally just… he’s not a youngster necessarily in the sport anymore. While he’s young, he’s been here for a few years.”

While Leclerc hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success as the Dutchman, he’s been a precious few laps away from victories in Bahrain and Austria.

“Charles is only in his second season, so he’s grown and I can only see him getting stronger and we’re already seeing some great performances from him this season and that one is definitely one to watch out for,” Hamilton added.

“Whether or not Ferrari are going to pick up their pace, I don’t know. They’re kind of up and down at the moment – last year I think it was quite close between three of us, I think Ferrari were slightly quicker.

“I hope it’s close, and I hope it gets closer through the year. I’m always down, I’m always ready.”

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Mercedes consult Hamilton on Bottas-Ocon decision

Toto Wolff has confirmed that the team have consulted Lewis Hamilton on who he thinks his next Mercedes team-mate should be.

It is widely believed that the German team are currently deciding whether Valtteri Bottas or Esteban Ocon should partner the Brit next year.

While Bottas has enjoyed his best season at the team, Wolff has repeatedly stated his desire for Ocon to be back on the grid next season.

The decision is expected to be made within a few weeks, and the Mercedes team principal revealed to Gazzetta dello Sport that he’s asked the opinion of Hamilton.

“I state that we make this type of choice solely on the basis of the interest of the team but Lewis has been with us for a long time, so, yes, I submitted our narrow list to him, asking for his opinion”, Wolff said.

“Well, he thinks exactly like us, both of them deserve to be his teammate for him”.

While Ferrari and Red Bull both have young drivers in their ranks in the forms of Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, Mercedes have never employed a driver younger than 25 since their return to the sport in 2010, but Wolff claims he’s not afraid of doing so.

“There is the great theme of giving a young person a chance”, Wolff added.

“In the recent history of F1, only two riders immediately shone with a top team: Lewis Hamilton with McLaren (making his debut in the 2007 World Championship) and Max Verstappen with Red Bull.

“The latter was very good at giving the Dutchman the necessary time to grow, first in Toro Rosso and then for two years at Red Bull.

“At Ferrari or Mercedes, there is a very high pressure … Having said that, they both deserve the place.”

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Wolff sings the praises of ‘better Lewis’

Joining Mercedes in 2013, Toto Wolff believes Lewis Hamilton’s “spectacularly” personal growth away from the track has aided him as a driver.

This season Hamilton is on course for his sixth World title, which would be his fifth with Mercedes and his third in a row.

It has been an impressive career for the 34-year-old, who, with 81 wins on the board, is predicted to beat Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91 and perhaps even match, or better, his seven World titles.

Wolff reckons Hamilton has benefitted on the track from his personal growth.

“He’s an integral part of the team and has developed as a racing driver, but even more spectacularly as a human being,” Wolff said in an interview with the official F1 website.

“When he joined from McLaren, it was for me like a raw diamond in a sense. You could see complications in his life and maybe a lack of stability in understanding what was needed.

“All that disappeared through the Mercedes years. And every year he became a better Lewis and – knock on wood – in the last two, three years we’ve barely seen any mistakes.

“And if they happen, he’s the first one to admit them and that has contributed to our culture of being brutally honest with each other.”

Wolff has insisted from the very start of Hamilton’s Mercedes career that the Brit be allowed to be his own man.

Whether that is delving in to the music world or fashion or jet-setting around the globe in the build-up to a grand prix, there is no doubting that it works for Hamilton.

And that means it works for Mercedes.

Wolff added: “I believe that Lewis’ various other interests – music or fashion – take his mind off between the races.

“Having a good time is something I think is very positive and very important for his performance on the racing track.

“We are very open with each other with what we do. We ‘Facetime’, we send videos and I feel in a very good place with him.”

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Eight wins, but Hamilton not entirely happy

He has won eight out of the 12 races so far this campaign, but Lewis Hamilton wants to know why Mercedes were “not perfect” at the four races he didn’t win.

Hamilton appears to be well on his way to a sixth Drivers’ Championship as he has healthy 62-point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the standings.

His win at the final race before the summer break, the Hungarian Grand Prix, means if he wins five of the remaining nine races he will join Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel on a record 13 wins for a season.

But as with all sporting greats, Hamilton is not resting on his laurels.

When asked by Autosport.com to reflect on his eight wins, he replied: “I look at those races and eight out of 12, there’s still some missing.

“So how did we miss those? How were we not perfect on those weekends?

“We’ve also had races where we were quite fortunate, Ferrari were quicker but through sometimes team error and sometimes driver error, it’s put them in the position of not winning.

“Like Baku or Bahrain, where they had the car failure and otherwise would have won.

“It just shows you how on the edge we all are, and you can’t take anything for granted.”

Ferrari have had the pace this campaign, but as pointed out by the Brit their strategies haven’t always worked out while Red Bull have also proved that they can compete for race wins with Max Verstappen securing two victories.

Hence Hamilton being wary and urging his team to “continue to deliver”.

“This second half of the season could be much, much harder in the sense we’ll continue to have this battle,” he said.

“We’ve obviously got a package, we just have to continue to arrive and deliver like we have.

“I can tell you we’re not perfect, by far. We’ve still got areas we will continue to improve.”

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