Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 February 2020

Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton laughs off rivals' title talk as a 'sign of weakness'

As Mercedes unveil their car for the new season, the 35-year-old Brit dismisses young pretenders and says he does his talking 'on the track'

Lewis Hamilton has described talk by his younger rivals of taking the Formula One title off his hands as 'a sign of weakness', as his Mercedes team unveiled the new car that could make the Brit a seven-times world champion this season.

The 35-year-old pointed to Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas, handed the first laps in the sleek W11 car at a private shakedown session at Silverstone circuit on Friday, when asked who would be his biggest challenger.

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen and Ferrari's Monegasque Charles Leclerc, both 22 years old, are hungry to seize Hamilton's crown but the reigning champion said he was relaxed.

Verstappen told reporters this month that "Lewis is very good. He is definitely one of the best out there, but he's not God. Maybe God is with him, but he is not God."

"I find it funny seeing that," he replied when asked about the 'bit of chat' from rivals. "I've just always known to do my talking on the track. Often, I tend to see that [talk] as a sign of weakness."

Hamilton is this year bidding to match Michael Schumacher's record of seven world titles. He is also just seven victories shy of the German's all-time win record of 91.

"At this time of the year you don't really feel any pressure," said Hamilton. "You are focused but it is about enjoying the moment.

"The guys have worked so hard to put the car together and there are only two of us, Valtteri and I, who get to drive it.

"It is pretty incredible, and we get to stretch its wings today. It is a real privilege to be in this position."

Hamilton returned to the Mercedes factory in Northamptonshire for the first time this year on Tuesday having spent much of the off-season in America.

He has entered the final 12 months of his £40million-a-year deal, but is in early negotiations with Mercedes over a contract extension to stay at the team.

Hamilton has been linked with a switch to Ferrari, but the Italian giants distanced themselves from a move for the six-time world champion at their car launch in Italy on Tuesday.

"This is my eighth year driving for Mercedes, and the buzz is the same," said Hamilton of the team that has won the past six drivers' and constructors' championships.

"They couldn't be more excited, more enthusiastic, or more driven. That is the most impressive thing. It could be easy for them to be laid back today but they aren't."

Hamilton will be in action at next week's three-day winter test in Barcelona before he opens his championship defence in Melbourne on March 15.

Meanwhile, Former McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne will be an official reserve for Mercedes this season while also competing in the all-electric Formula E series.

The 27-year-old Belgian, who left McLaren at the end of 2018 after starting 41 grands prix, is leading the Formula E standings after three rounds and competing in Mexico City this weekend.

He will share duties with Mexican Esteban Gutierrez, who raced for Sauber and Haas between 2013-16 and also has simulator and development duties, on race weekends.

French driver Esteban Ocon was the Mercedes reserve last season but he is now racing for Renault.

Updated: February 14, 2020 05:04 PM

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