Lewis Hamilton comes out fighting after swipe from Bernie Ecclestone

Lewis Hamilton comes out fighting after swipe from former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone as Mercedes ace insists he’s up for a scrap with drivers’ championship leader Max Verstappen

  • Bernie Ecclestone suggested that Lewis Hamilton is ‘not quite the fighter he was’
  • Hamilton has been boosted by a much-needed upgrade to his Mercedes 
  • Max Verstappen leads the standings by 32 points ahead of the British Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton jabbed out a spirited response to Bernie Ecclestone, telling Formula One’s old ringmaster that he is stronger than ever.

This counter-punch followed Ecclestone’s comments in the run-up to Sunday’s British Grand Prix, which suggested that the seven-time world champion is ‘not quite the fighter he was’.

Hamilton, who arrived here at the Northamptonshire track under grey skies, said: ‘No-one is sidetracking me. I am not the driver I was when I started. I am better. I know myself more than I ever did.’

Lewis Hamilton and his bulldog Roscoe in the paddock at Silverstone on Thursday

Yes, Lewis is a more rounded performer than the one who broke into our awareness in 2007, aged 22. If the years have dimmed his reflexes at all, it is a very marginal fade. He is working hard on the simulator and dedicating himself as far as can be seen to chasing down Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who leads the standings by 32 points.

The biggest problem is that the opposition car, expertly driven by the Dutchman, is marginally faster than Hamilton’s. The 36-year-old has made the odd blunder this season, but is that born out of a lack of fight, or a tightening of the larynx that comes with the pressure of competition?

Ecclestone’s verdict did not go down too well with Hamilton’s boss Toto Wolff. In an interview with Sportsmail, the Austrian said: ‘I see Lewis in absolutely fighting spirit. We knew that after winning so many championship titles the day would come when it would be more difficult.’

And what about the ticking clock? ‘Of course age is a factor but we see the discipline he brings to his life and training, and with that you can extend your shelf life,’ said Wolff. ‘That is based on work ethic, your motivation. Look at Tom Brady winning a Super Bowl into his 40s.

Hamilton is boosted by a much-needed upgrade to his Mercedes at the British Grand Prix

Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone said Hamilton is ‘not quite the fighter he was’

‘With sports science, I think Lewis has another five years in him. But he will be the first one to know when he will retire. He is absolutely at his peak of his skills and off-track is a fantastic personality with a broader spectrum — a million times broader than any other F1 driver. They are one-trick ponies. Lewis isn’t.’

Well, it all seems sweetness and light at Mercedes now Hamilton has put pen to paper on an £80million deal over two years to remain in the seat until the end of 2023. The negotiation was wrapped up in a flash, unlike last year’s protracted wrangle, presumably over money.

Hamilton is certainly a one-off. He arrived here dressed as only he would dare or care to — in colourful extravagance and with bulldog Roscoe at his side. He is defying tradition and carving out a unique place in the sport.

The publication this week of his commission, citing several recommendations to open up opportunities for all in the sport regardless of creed or colour, is another example of what sets him apart. He’s torn up the rulebook.

Silverstone suits him. He has won here seven times, and six of the last eight, and he needs a repeat if he is to breathe life into his faltering campaign.

The 140,000 fans who will be here for race day alone should add spice to that endeavour, even though whether the noise converts into extra speed, as Nigel Mansell claimed, is a moot point!

Hamilton comes here with a much-needed upgrade to his Mercedes and the new format being trialled this weekend — qualifying on Friday, the one-third distance sprint on Saturday — offers further opportunity.

Hamilton said he is stronger than ever after Ecclestone questioned his fighting spirit

One day he will leave behind the sport that has so dominated his life, when the crowd’s roar will be silenced, the fight Ecclestone referred to diminished.

What does Wolff see lying ahead for his star man?

‘There will be a second career because he is so inquisitive,’ he said. ‘He never stops learning. His business acumen is astonishing. In our negotiations you wouldn’t think he is just a sportsman. He is a businessman, too. I would say, “Watch this space”.’

As for Hamilton’s chances here this weekend, Wolff added: ‘We are on the back foot but I think we can outperform our relative lack of competitiveness at this track. And there is always the Lewis factor.’

Plus the certainty that Ecclestone’s dig is sure to act as red rag to the champion.

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