Hamilton expects Mercedes stay beyond 2018

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Hamilton’s victory at Spa-Francorchamps was his 200th race in Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton says he expects to sign a new contract at Mercedes to keep him at the Formula 1 team beyond 2018.

Title rival Sebastian Vettel signed a new three-year deal this month to keep him at Ferrari until the end of 2020.

“I don’t know if everyone expected him [Vettel] to sign a three-year deal but it doesn’t change much for me,” Hamilton said.

“I planned to extend with the team in the second half of the season or towards the end of the year.”

Any new contract with Mercedes is likely to be for the same sort of period as Vettel’s. Each of Hamilton’s contracts with Mercedes so far have been for three years – from 2013 to 2015; and 2016 to 2018.

Last weekend, Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff said they would hold off on contract talks with Hamilton until the end of the season so the 32-year-old could concentrate on the title battle, in which he is seven points behind Vettel heading into this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

But Hamilton said: “Toto has said we will wait until the end of the season; that’s because that’s generally what I like to do.

“There is no rush. I still have another year so we have a lot of time. The last contract went all the way into the mid-part of the season.

“I know the team are committed to me and I have never picked up the phone and spoken to any other teams.

“I made it very clear to the guys I am not trying to weigh up my options and if I was I would just call Toto and say: ‘Look, I am doing my due diligence and seeing what’s out there for me’.

“But currently I have no plans to do that and it is good for Sebastian that he has signed.

“All things happen for a reason and in the kind of plan I have coming up – my five years, six years whatever it is I have left in the sport – the puzzle is now in place so it makes my decision moving forward a lot easier.”

Bottas likely to be team-mate again

Wolff told BBC Sport on Wednesday that it was “a no-brainer” to keep Valtteri Bottas as Hamilton’s team-mate for 2018.

Bottas has been victorious for Mercedes at the Russian and Austrian Grand Prix in 2017

But the Austrian hinted he would sign the Finn only for one further year, after he was drafted in this season as a replacement when world champion Nico Rosberg retired at the end of 2016.

“It is a no-brainer [to keep Bottas],” Wolff said. “Valtteri has done a really good job in his first year and his relations with Lewis are very good and that is important to the team. It is a good environment to be in.

“As it stands, we would like to continue with Valtteri but it comes down to the nitty-gritty detail in the contract and the situation beyond 2018.

“I just want to understand how the 2019 and 2020 driver market develops. There will be vacancies and drivers coming back on to the market. So, as it stands, nothing against continuing with Valtteri short term.”

Wolff has taken this position because both Red Bull drivers, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, are potentially available at the end of next season.

The title fight

Vettel said on Thursday as the teams and drivers gathered at the historic Monza circuit that he believed the high-speed nature of the track “suits Mercedes”.

However, he admitted his strong form in Belgium last weekend – in which he pushed Hamilton all the way but had to settle for a close second – “gives us hope”.

He added: “We have made improvements on all fronts and I am very, very happy.”

Lewis Hamilton has won five races to Vettel’s four but trails the German by seven points in the Drivers’ Championship

Hamilton said: “We have been going to races thinking this will be a strong race for us and you get there and it is a lot closer than you’d planned.

“It is really difficult right now to say where we are going to be quickest and where we’re not. We’re going to be close. I have no idea if we are going to be ahead or behind.

“You would have thought in Spa we would have a bigger delta ahead but it wasn’t the case.

“We come to another low-downforce circuit. It is going to be interesting because we have a different downforce package here than in the last race. The Ferrari seems like it has a better performance particularly in the lower-speed downforce area.”

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