Lewis Hamilton signs two-year, $154m extension with Mercedes
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Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton thanked Mercedes for indulging him as he finally signed a new contract, ending months of stalling and growing speculation over his future.
With his previous contract set to expire at the end of this year, the four-time world champion penned a new agreement until 2020, when the current set of F1 regulations end. No figures were given, but the bumper deal is reportedly estimated at 40 million pounds (NZ$77 million) per year.
Talks began early this year with Toto Wolff, the team's head of motorsport.
Hamilton negotiates his own deals and, by his own admission, he was the one holding things up.
"Obviously it's been drawn out (through) my fault, really," Hamilton told reporters at the Mercedes motorhome at the German Grand Prix on Thursday. "I really appreciate Toto being so patient with me, because I'm not the easiest. I think most people would not have been given the time frame I chose to take."
Hamilton acknowledged the delay fueled speculative talk within his own team.
"I'm sure there were questions and discussions over lunch: 'Is he staying? Is he going?" Hamilton said. "It's great we can now embark on hopefully a really strong future together."
Hamilton insists his mind was only on continuing with Mercedes.
"One thing it shows is the trust we have between each other," Hamilton added. "I said (to Wolff) from Day 1: 'I'm not looking anywhere else, I'm not talking to anyone else. I'm not investigating to see what other options there are, I'm not playing you against anybody else.'"
But while Hamilton made it clear he did not approach other teams, he said he was contacted.
Asked directly if it was by Ferrari and Red Bull, Hamilton replied: "One did but I didn't give it any (thought)."
Prompted again, he was asked if it was Ferrari. Hamilton tentatively responded to the reporter's question with: "You can make whatever assumption you want."
Mercedes has won the past four drivers' and constructors' championships but this season has been more difficult for the Silver Arrows team.
Hamilton trails Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel by eight points, and Mercedes is 20 points behind Ferrari in the constructors' championship.
The 33-year-old Hamilton has won 65 races — 44 with Mercedes — and secured 124 career podiums. He is the F1 record holder with 76 pole positions. His number of wins is second only to seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher's tally of 91.
Hamilton joined Mercedes in 2013 after six seasons with McLaren. The British driver won his other F1 title with McLaren, in 2008, at the age of 23.
Wolff spoke of his relief, amid talk Hamilton might even quit driving in order to further his ambitions in fashion and music.
"It's good to put all of that to rest," Wolff said. "We signed the final documents this week and didn't want to keep people waiting any longer."
Hamilton's teammate, Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas, is negotiating a new deal beyond this year.
"I really hope there is some news soon, I'm pretty confident there will be," said Bottas, who would not answer if a verbal agreement is in place.
Hamilton is vying with Vettel to become only the third F1 driver, along with Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio and Schumacher, to win at least five F1 titles.
"You want to fight the best," Vettel said. "Lewis has been one of the best since he entered Formula One."
Hamilton's new contract goes to the end of the Concorde Agreement, with a new set of rules and regulations for F1 set for 2021 onward. The biggest changes in 2021 will center on engines, budget caps, and wealth distribution, in order to create a more level playing field.
Because the proposed changes have not yet been approved, Hamilton did not feel comfortable committing to beyond 2020.
"I'm interested to see how that all plays out, so it didn't make sense for me to commit into the unknown," he said. "You don't want to put yourself in a corner you can't move from (so) it's just a strategic decision."