Hamilton forecasts driver moves, warns against new Rio circuit damage to environment

Sao Paulo (AFP) –


Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton revealed Thursday that Formula One’s leading drivers are engaged in contract talks that could see major moves ahead of the 2021 season.

The sport’s top four earners, Hamilton of Mercedes, Daniel Ricciardo of Renault, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen are all contracted to the end of 2020 – and therefore may be free to join a new team in 2021.

Hamilton said that during the next year “we must see drivers switching -- there is a lot going on that is happening in the background, each driver talking to certain teams.”

He told reporters he expects the new rules, to be introduced in 2021, will stimulate widespread changes.

“If it does what they said on paper, I think we are going to see, perhaps, the best era of racing we've seen in a long time. And I want to be there."

Speaking at a news conference organised by Mercedes’ fuel suppliers Petronas, Hamilton said he welcomed the prospect of on-track battles in the future with Dutchman Verstappen – lauded this week by two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso as F1’s best driver – and Monegasque Charles Leclerc of Ferrari.

Hamilton said both were champions of the future. “Both have really fair, aggressive driving styles, which is great... And, in terms of who’s going to win, well, hopefully, I'm still here to try to stop them.

“I think Ferrari has the better chance of providing a car that can fight for the world title in the short term."

In a gentle swipe at plans to build a new home for the Brazilian Grand Prix, he praised the Interlagos circuit and criticised the prospect of further damage to the country’s rain forests.

Hamilton is fond of the demanding but old-fashioned Interlagos circuit where he claimed his first drivers’ title in dramatic fashion in 2008 with McLaren.

He was sceptical about switching the Brazilian event to a new circuit at Rio de Janeiro and hailed F1’s goal of becoming a carbon neutral racing series by 2030.

"I'm a little old school,” he said. “I love the Interlagos circuit and I think, honestly, there is a lot of money that goes into building a new circuit.

"We already have an historic circuit here. We don't need to cut any more rainforest down -- do any more damage.

"That money could go to better causes here. It could go to the infrastructure of the cities. There is a lot of poverty still. If it was my money, I would put it in a better cause. Education is super key, for example."