• 2008 world champion’s contract expires at end of year
• ‘My decision will be based on more than just the car’
Lewis Hamilton believes his future at McLaren could be decided over the first four races of the Formula One season. “They will definitely play a role,” he said, as he prepared for the opening grand prix at Albert Park on Sunday. His five-year contract, worth £75m, expires at the end of the year. After Australia he will race in Malaysia, China and Bahrain.
The 2008 world champion said: “My decision will be based on more than just the car. When you make a decision on your future it’s the whole package, it’s various things. It’s something that has to be thought about at the right time but at the moment the most important thing is to focus on Sunday.
“I’m just trying to focus on this first race, get it out of the way, but also find consistency and get some good results under my belt. Every now and then I did it last year but I want to do it more on a regular basis this year.”
If he fails, of course, it will not just be Hamilton who will be poring over the contract. If he has another season like 2011 it could well be McLaren who decide to look elsewhere.
Last season was a desperate disappointment for the Englishman, who finished fifth in the world championship following a number of highs and lows on and off the track.
He said: “I’m happy to be here. In fact I still feel quite privileged to be in Formula One. I’m 27-years-old, it’s my sixth year in Formula One, but I am still one of the very few drivers in the world that gets to do this job. I’m constantly having to pinch myself to realise I’m still here, still living my dream, still doing what I love doing, so I’m very happy and in a good place, I would say.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton’s team-mate Jenson Button is expecting a highly competitive first race “because no one knows where they stand”.
He said: “I have good memories. On my first year here some people were saying I didn’t deserve to have a super licence – a couple of drivers in fact. I started right at the back because I had a crash in practice. I got up to fourth at one point, was in sixth near the end and then the engine blew up. I didn’t do too badly. But the races that stand out were 2008 and 2009. Very good races and I won them. Great memories and I remember standing down there drinking a glass of champagne.”
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso is bracing himself for a slow start to the campaign after a wretched pre-season. The suggestion is the Italian team are behind Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes, and perhaps even Lotus, in the pecking order ahead of qualifying on Saturday.
“We need to keep working and developing the car because it’s not finished yet,” said Alonso. “Our progress with the car is quite innovative in some areas. There has been quite a big change compared with past Ferraris. But in my case six days of testing is not enough to change [the car] from black to white.”