Lewis Hamilton leaps to Mercedes team's defence after Austrian GP blunder

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Lewis Hamilton has launched a staunch defence of his Mercedes team – but could not rule out further blunders costing him the title.

Hamilton will head into his home race at Silverstone on Sunday one point behind Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel following a calamitous race for his team last time out in Austria.

Mercedes’ chief strategist James Vowles is in the spotlight after his strategy blunder – the team’s third in nine races this season – and his very public apology to Hamilton over the team radio.

Hamilton, who is bidding to become the first driver to win six British Grands Prix, and the first to win five in a row, insists it is not only his Mercedes team faltering this season, and backed his team to turn it around.

But the 33-year-old Englishman also hinted that Mercedes can ill-afford further errors in his quest for a fifth world championship.

“I hope (the mistakes) will not be a title decider, but I can’t predict what will happen going forward,” Hamilton said.

“There are a lot of tough calls for teams to make, but some of them, for sure, are easier than others.

“I do feel like I have the best strategy team behind me. Look at how many wins I have had at this team.

“We have had far more success than we have had failures, and nobody is perfect. It would be boring if that was the case.”

Hamilton was awarded three days off by Mercedes after the Austrian race, and spent the time preparing for Sunday’s third race in as many weeks at his home in Monaco.

The Briton insists that the team’s capitulation at Spielberg will act as a catalyst in his championship battle, rather than a hindrance.

“I look at what happened in Austria as a positive and it reminds me how passionate I am,” Hamilton added.

“We win and lose as a team and what’s happened has reunited us. The will to win is still there, and there are fixes for everything.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and the spirit is stronger than it has ever been.”

Hamilton’s new £40million-a-year contract extension is not expected to be announced this week, with Mercedes wary of placing further pressure on their star man ahead of his home race.

Hamilton will start as the favourite to win in front of nearly 140,000 partisan British fans following his recent domination at Silverstone.

“It would be great (to retake the championship lead),” Hamilton said. “Coming into this weekend there has been talk of a historic win, but if I am honest it has just been an incredible journey since my debut in 2007.

“I am really grateful to be in a position to fight for a sixth win at Silverstone. Not many drivers get to do that and I am privileged to be in that position. The support here is unlike anywhere else.”

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Lewis Hamilton could sign new Mercedes contract before British Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton‘s long-running contract saga could be concluded before next week’s British Grand Prix.

Hamilton, 33, is in the final year of his Mercedes deal, but after months of negotiations the Brit’s extension – which will rubber-stamp his future with Mercedes for at least another two seasons – is on the brink of being announced.

In what could be his last contract in Formula One, Hamilton is poised to earn £40million-a-year to cement his status as this country’s biggest sporting earner.

It is understood Mercedes do not have a formal timeline in place to announce Hamilton’s new deal.

However, team boss Toto Wolff hinted after the French Grand Prix – a race which was attended by Mercedes chairman Dr Dieter Zetsche – that a conclusion may finally on the horizon.

“We don’t want to drag it out much longer,” Wolff said. “I expect it to be done very, very soon.” The Austrian cryptically added: “Maybe it is about choosing the right moment.”

Mercedes wanted Hamilton’s future to be resolved before March’s opening race in Australia, but they will head towards the midway stage of the season with two vacant seats for 2019.

Hamilton, however, is seemingly certain to stay, and it is likely he will be partnered by Valtteri Bottas for a third year with Mercedes content that the inoffensive Finn is doing enough to retain his seat.

Bottas is fourth in the standings, 53 points adrift of Hamilton.

Daniel Ricciardo, a two-time winner this season, is out of contract with Red Bull, but Mercedes do not appear interested in making a move for the Australian.

Hamilton meanwhile, is back in charge of the championship after his impressive victory on Sunday.

The Englishman led all but one lap at the Paul Ricard Circuit to move 14 points clear of Sebastian Vettel, who finished only fifth after his collision with Bottas.

The championship pendulum has swung back and forth between Mercedes and Ferrari, but it is Hamilton who now holds the momentum with four races to come in five weeks.

Toto Wolff walks in the Paddock

“It can swing so quickly,” Wolff continued. “A DNF (for Hamilton) and the other guy (Vettel) winning means it swings back in the other direction so I don’t expect this result will change much. That is going to be the story of the season.”

A Mercedes driver has won in Spielberg for each of the past four years, and Hamilton added: “Austria should be a fairly decent track as it’s been good for us in the past. I don’t see why it should be any different now.

“The car should be good there. I think the Red Bulls have been quick there in the past because it’s quite a good downforce circuit, so it’ll be interesting.”

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Lewis Hamilton admits England's World Cup clash with Panama will be a distraction ahead of French Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton is supporting England's campaign at the World Cup.

Lewis Hamilton has admitted that England’s World Cup match against Panama immediately before the start of Sunday’s French Grand Prix is a distraction he will be unable to resist.

England’s group game with the Central Americans will conclude just 20 minutes before the lights go out on Formula One’s first return to France since 2008.

Defending champion Hamilton, 33, heads into the race here at the Paul Ricard circuit one point adrift of his rival Sebastian Vettel.

But the driver, bidding to beat the German to claim his fifth world championship, will have one eye on Gareth Southgate‘s team as they aim to secure their second victory in as many matches.

“The game is on Sunday so it is going to be a little bit harder to focus on the race because I will be watching,” Hamilton said. “It will be on television in the Mercedes hospitality suite, and I am sure my engineers are going to keep an eye on it.

“Whenever the World Cup comes around you are hoping for something special. It has not been great for us in my lifetime, but England deserves to win the World Cup at some stage.

“I feel like I am very patriotic, and proud to be a Brit. To be the one raising the flag, hopefully against the German flag, just like we are hoping the England football team does against Germany, is an honour and a privilege.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes team were second-best to Ferrari at the last round in Canada a fortnight ago, and the Englishman does not know whether Mercedes will be able to push ahead with their planned engine upgrade this weekend.

Mercedes performed a late U-turn on a decision to unleash their revised power unit in Montreal which contributed to Hamilton finishing only fifth and losing his championship lead to Vettel.

While Hamilton will have a fresh engine here, his Mercedes team would not clarify whether their latest specification power unit will be introduced.

Despite Hamilton putting a brave face on it, Mercedes’ failure to do so will leave the Brit at a disadvantage with both Ferrari and Red Bull, who are powered by Renault, already on their second-generation engines.

“The championship is all about tiny margins,” Hamilton added. “I don’t know what the team have planned for me.

“The fresher engine this weekend will be great as it will have more power than the one I used at the last race. I trust the team, and if we have to use the older-specification engine, I am not worried.”

Hamilton, out of contract at the end of the season, is edging closer to signing a new Mercedes deal, but Fernando Alonso’s future at McLaren remains uncertain.

The Spaniard, 36, completed the second leg in his pursuit of motor racing’s Triple Crown with victory at Le Mans last weekend, but was coy on whether he will stay in F1 next season.

It emerged on Thursday that McLaren have made a bold approach for Daniel Ricciardo, but it seems highly unlikely the Australian, who has won twice this year, will trade Red Bull for the desperately under-performing British team.

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