“I have got only a short period in Formula One and I want to be competitive,” he said. “I want to win championships. If you’re in a good enough place and you’re happy then there’s no need to go anywhere. But loyalty has its limits.”
Hamilton was responding to comments made by McLaren’s team principle, Martin Whitmarsh, that he wanted to sign up Hamilton and his team-mate and fellow world champion Jenson Button for “another five years”.
Hamilton, who won the world title with McLaren in 2008, warned the team at the start of the season that he wanted to be remembered as a multiple world champion. On Thursday he said: “I’ve always enjoyed racing here and would like to continue but at the end of the year you have to assess what position you’re in and what’s happened.”
When Hamilton, who has been with the Woking-based McLaren team since signing as a child prodigy, was asked whether he envisaged staying with them for his entire career. “I don’t really envisage anything, to be honest,” he said.
The 26-year-old was then asked if he thought the idea of being a one-team man was intriguing. “Not really. I don’t think there is any attraction to it whatsoever.”
Hamilton was a brilliant rookie in 2007, when he missed winning the title by one point. But since pipping Felipe Massa the following year he has suffered two frustrating seasons.
McLaren were not even competitive at the start of the 2009 season and although Hamilton won three races last year his last victory came in the Belgian grand prix in Spa in August and he was well beaten, back in fourth place in the drivers’ table.
This season is shaping up to be another disappointment for the British driver, with the German Sebastian Vettel winning the first two races in Australia and Malaysia for Red Bull and Hamilton taking only 22 points. Vettel has won the past four races, and five out of six.
According to Hamilton, Red Bull – who would be favourites to sign him if he did move on, with Mercedes the dark horses – are getting stronger and stronger.
“They’re better this year,” he said in the build-up to Sunday’s Chinese grand prix. “They’re just getting better. The car is the quickest so now they can focus on other areas. Their pit stop is the fastest. They’re in and out … boom … it’s like clockwork.”
Hamilton, who has just bought one of Prince’s guitars for £61,000, is regarded as the finest “racer” in Formula One, and he may have been reminded of his vast potential after signing a new agent to replace his father, Anthony, from whom he parted professionally a year ago.
Whitmarsh’s apparent desire to keep his current drivers at McLaren for years to come came as a surprise to Button. “He hasn’t spoken to me about that yet,” the 2009 champion said. “No one has mentioned it to me. But it’s lovely to hear and I’m obviously doing something right. I will grill Martin on it.”
Button purchased an antique sword in Malaysia – “I was looking around the market and I thought it was amazing. It has an amazing blade on it. But I have to find out whether it is real or not” – but his focus is on finding the pace to challenge Vettel. He is second in the drivers’ standings, four points better off than Hamilton, after a second place in Malaysia last weekend.
“If we get a nice clean race start, we could have a fun race and I think the pace [between McLaren and Red Bull] will be reasonably similar,” Button said. “I finished three seconds behind [Vettel] [in Malaysia] but he definitely slowed down at the end but I don’t think he did on every lap. Our pace was quite similar. I think we can make more headway than Red Bull, because of not really completely knowing our car and not having the perfect set-up over the past couple of races. Also we have some updates here; I don’t know if Red Bull has.”
The Australian Mark Webber reacted angrily when asked if he was fed up with being hit over the head with a baseball bat by Vettel, his Red Bull team-mate. The questioner was referring to Eddie Irvine’s famous response when asked what it felt like to be so dominated by his then Ferrari team-mate, Michael Schumacher. Irvine said it was “like being hit over the head with a baseball bat”.
Webber was furious: “Absolutely fucking ludicrous question mate. You’ve known me long enough. Five wins in a row? Yeah but that doesn’t mean … he’s not just beaten me. He’s beaten everyone. So no one will turn up then. We may as well all stay at home.
“That’s what a competitor does [come back fighting]. Nothing lasts forever. That’s the way it goes. Like I said he is doing a good job and Malaysia was close between us. Tough first lap [for me] but that’s what happens. Come here, see how we go … I think … I’ll stop there