Lauda insists Hamilton will sign new Mercedes deal

Mercedes' non-executive chairman Niki Lauda is adamant that Lewis Hamilton will commit his long-term future with the Silver Arrows.

Hamilton's current deal expires at the end of the season and was widely expected to have a new deal in place before the start of the 2018 campaign.

But, three races into the season, talks are continuing and speculation about the Brit's future is increasing due to the delay.

Hamilton has said he will not be rushed into signing a new deal, with Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko has suggested the Brit is playing hardball after Mercedes reportedly persued both Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen.

Lauda, though, is categorical in his claims that Hamilton is staying put.

“It's just about the details. Lewis will continue to drive for us,” Lauda told German publication Auto Motor und Sport.

“Depending on the mood, it is sometimes more or less expensive.

"It always depends on how the last race went. But the money is not a problem. We agree in principle."

 

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Mercedes explain decision not to pit Hamilton

Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles has explained why the team opted not to pit Lewis Hamilton under the Safety Car at the Chinese Grand Prix.

It turned out to be a race-winning strategy for Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull, but Hamilton was not called in and found himself vulnerable to those behind him.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted that, in hindsight, Hamilton should have been told to box, but Vowles has lifted the lid on why that decision was not made.

"The situation across the race at that point was that cars weren't really overtaking, even when there was a difference in compounds between them," Vowles told Mercedes' Pure Pitwall debrief.

"For us, we had Kimi in front on softs, so no difference between the two cars and we couldn't even get close. The same with Valtteri at the front relative to Sebastian – but those were the same tyres.

"Verstappen was on the ultrasoft tyre, which was sensitive and difficult – but neither Kimi nor Lewis could make inroads into him. So, on a track like that, the performance difference between compounds wasn't working out.

"With Lewis, under that Safety Car condition, we always review how many positions we could potentially gain or may lose. What would we have gained?

"With Verstappen ahead, we knew there was a chance that he would come in if there was a Safety Car and, if that happened, it would put Lewis up into a podium position if we could take the medium to the end of the race and defend from the cars behind us."

Vowles then said that the Mercedes' pit crew had no confidence in the soft tyres, the compound which Ricciardo would eventually win on.

"With Lewis, we also knew if we stopped under the Safety Car we'd always be behind Verstappen," Vowles added.

"It was a decision that when we laid out all the facts on the table, we didn't believe, based on the earlier evidence, that there would be enough performance differential for a Soft to overtake a Medium, even one that's 10 laps old.

"The reality of the situation, everyone saw what happened. Both Red Bulls were extraordinarily quick on that soft tyre and were able to scythe through the field."

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Rosberg: Hamilton always comes back so damn strong

Nico Rosberg believes his Lewis Hamilton is going through a "typical phase", but he is convinced his former team-mate will bounce back.

Three races into the new season and Hamilton is yet to taste victory and he finds himself nine points behind Sebastian Vettel, who has won two races, in the standings.

The four-time World Champion looked well off the pace in Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix and Rosberg admits it looks like he has lost a "touch of motivation", but he says it is only a matter of time before the Brit comes back.

"Lewis was really struggling. He was struggling the weekend and doesn't really understand, looking at his interviews, [what is going].

"It's a typical phase for Lewis when it doesn't go perfectly and he starts to lose that edge a little bit, lose a touch of motivation and then he just struggles for a while. Usually he struggles for one, two or three races, and those are the races when as his opponent in the Championship you have to maximise.

"Sebastian failed to do that. That's a big setback for him as well because Lewis always come back and when he comes back he comes back so damn strong that he's almost unbeatable. Let's see when that happens."

Red Bull's Max Verstappen was another driver who missed out at the Shanghai International Circuit as victory appeared to be there for the taking, but he first made contact with Hamilton and then with Vettel.

Rosberg says it would have been a "painful" day for the Dutchman.

"He's one of the big talents out there and has a great future but driving the way he is at the moment he's not going to be able to be World Champion, because [he makes] so many mistakes.

"Five mistakes in three races, and five major mistakes, it's too much. [It] was one of those extremely hard days for a young driver where if you take the Championship leader out, take yourself out, you get a penalty, you are 100 percent at fault and your team-mate wins the race in an unbelievably awesome way, that is a hard day, that's painful.

"Those are the days when a young driver like Max, hopefully for him, will learn and adapt."

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Villeneuve: Time for Hamilton to ‘wake up’

The always outspoken Jacques Villeneuve has said Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are in 'crisis' mode after a winless start to 2018.

For the first time since 2014, Mercedes have gone three races without victory and Hamilton has now drifted to joint-favourite with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel to win the World Championship.

And Villeneuve thinks Hamilton's form has become "very troubling" and needs to "wake up".

"Hamilton is in crisis and is losing points for the championship," Villeneuve told Sky Italia.

"But I think all of Mercedes is in crisis. Now they must bet on Bottas, who is not a championship driver.

"After the impressive qualifying in Melbourne, Lewis is no longer able to drive the car. It's very troubling.

"We saw last year that when he's in crisis he loses a lot, falls behind in the races and falls asleep, is not aggressive. We'll have to see when and if he wakes up."

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Brundle tips Ricciardo to replace Hamilton

Martin Brundle has put forward an "outrageous curveball" and suggested Daniel Ricciardo could replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next season.

As the uncertainty over Ricciardo's future rumbles on, one prediction has been for Ricciardo to replace Valtteri Bottas, whose deal also expires at the end of the 2018 campaign, and become Hamilton's team-mate – something the Aussie himself has welcomed.

But Sky Sports pundit Brundle has said that Ricciardo may well join Mercedes, but instead taking the seat from an unhappy Hamilton.

“It's a tough call for Ricciardo, assuming the two seats are actually available to him,” Brundle told Sky Sports.

“If Mercedes is an opportunity, where would he sit within the all-powerful sphere of Lewis Hamilton?

“Let me throw this outrageous curveball. Hamilton doesn't seem particularly happy at the moment, and I can imagine he will be super expensive to hire for his next Merc contract too.

“If that isn't already signed, would Mercedes go for the four-and-a-half-year younger Ricciardo instead? Sponsorship agreements might complicate that.”

Brundle also pondered a potential move to Ferrari for Ricciardo, and would understand if Kimi Raikkonen created a vacant seat by retiring at the end of the year.

“If Kimi feels unloved and unlucky at Ferrari at the moment I wouldn't blame him at all [in retiring,” he added.

“Might Red Bull eventually be a more comfortable and faster home to remain at than Mercedes or Ferrari, or have they invested their future primarily into Verstappen?”

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‘Hamilton going through one of his phases’

Nico Rosberg has said a lack of confidence can lead to Lewis Hamilton making "mistakes" as he goes through a familiar phase.

Hamilton and Mercedes are winless in three races so far this season, the first time this has happened since 2014, and the Brit was never in contention for both qualifying and the race itself in China.

Hamilton going off the pace is nothing new to his former team-mate, who cannot wait to find out if he can get somewhere near his best again in Baku.

"Lewis is not in form but he's always had such phases," Rosberg told RTL television..

"If he's not confident, he starts to think and he makes mistakes.

"I'm curious to see if he comes back in Baku."

Hamilton conceded after the Chinese Grand Prix that it is going to be very difficult to win the title, although he was able to narrow the gap to just nine points after Sebastian Vettel's incident with Max Verstappen left him limping home in P8.

"Who knows what the season holds?" Hamilton told reporters. "If it continues the way it is it is going to be very tough to win.

"But if there is an opportunity and we were to finish on top it would mean even more as it's an even tougher season than before."

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Hamilton to Max: Not a move for a top driver

Having called Max Verstappen a “d***head” seven days earlier, Lewis Hamilton has had another dig at the Dutchman, saying his Turn 7 move would never stick against a “top driver.”

With Red Bull pitting behind the Safety Car in China, both Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were on fresh rubber compared to the rest of the top six.

That made them sitting ducks.

But while Ricciardo’s overtakes were clean and lethal, Verstappen’s were often clumsy and calamitous.

He initially tried to pass Hamilton around the outside of Turn 7, a move that didn’t stick and put Verstappen off the track.

“Turn 8’s a little bit more possible [to overtake at], but there’s actually a dirty line on the outside of Turn 7,” said the Mercedes driver.

“It’s a very fast, long corner.

“I don’t think any top driver has ever been taken on the outside there before.

“I didn’t even see him there, I was doing the corner normally.

“When I watch the replay, I don’t really understand what he was up to there, but it wasn’t a problem for me.

“And yeah, naturally [I’m] thankful for the way he drives, because that meant we didn’t lose too many points today.”

Hamilton finished fourth as Verstappen was handed a 10-second time penalty for hitting Sebastian Vettel.

And that clash was one that really worried Hamilton as he had to pick his way past the spinning cars.

“I was definitely worried of catching [crashing into] them, especially as they were trying to turn around, so I thought I might get caught there,” said Hamilton.

“But anyway, I got through safely.

“I came towards the apex and I saw them both facing me.

“So I was like, ‘I can’t do the tighter turn that Kimi had done’, so I had to go left.”

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