Enigmatic Hamilton says he is ready to race on next year

Istanbul (AFP) –


Eleven days after hinting that he may retire, an enigmatic Lewis Hamilton on Thursday declared he was planning to carry on leading Mercedes' assault on the Formula One record books next year.

But, he added, almost teasingly, that "nothing is set in stone".

Hamilton was speaking on the eve of opening practice for this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix in which he can draw level with Michael Schumacher as a seven-time world champion.

While sending a clear message that he loves his job, his sport and his team, he retained a caveat that ensures he has a strong position in the long-delayed negotiations about his future, if and when they happen.

"I think it's something we'll do," he told reporters at a virtual news conference. "If not after the job is done, then particularly at the end of the year, but nothing is set in stone.

"I think it's just about talking about it and, at the moment, I don't feel like I'm finished. I think there's always areas to improve.

"I love racing, I love the challenge and I don't think that's going to change any time soon."

To many observers, or listeners, it appeared that he wanted to make clear he will begin talks once his seventh drivers' title is wrapped up –- but, at the same time, he wished to keep alive the idea that he might leave F1.

"I believe I have the best contract that there is, in terms of how it's structured and in terms of time-management," Hamilton explained.

"With the team that's put around me, I think it's been great."

Unconfirmed reports have claimed that Mercedes are poised to offer Hamilton a three-year deal worth £40 million ($52.5 million) a year, but the Englishman –- a seasoned expert at both the negotiations and the mind games around them –- swerved clear of rumour and instead sent a message of hope about equality and diversity in his sport in the future.

- Records 'mean more from outside' -

Asked about the significance to him of equalling Schumacher's record of seven titles, he said it was a question he is asked "all the time".

"And, naturally, I think the numbers and the figures and the titles and all that stuff -- it perhaps appears to mean more from the outside. I remember watching the TV and watching Michael get the seventh and being like, 'Wow!' But when you're in it, it's different.

"Matching an icon like Michael, I'd be incredibly proud of that, but I think it's more the message that it sends, hopefully, to people.

"Not just kids, but hopefully mostly kids -- because they're the future -- that you have to dream bigger than you think you can dream –-- and don't let anyone tell you you can't go for that."

As the sport's first black race winner and champion, from a modest family background, he has become a symbol of hope.

"We're going to continue to fight for more championships," he added.

"We're going to continue to try and improve and continue to race and do what we do and what we love doing.

"But I think what's important is that the journey this year has been combined with the fight for equality and a real growing process of learning what's happening around the world and being a little bit more aware of out surroundings and starting to see progress with that."

Turning to this weekend's race and the title, he said he was still "taking it one race at a time".

"You never truly know whether it's going to happen," he said. "I'm not focused on the 'what ifs'... I'm focused on preparing myself the same as I've done before to try and deliver the way I have been doing all this season."