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Lewis Hamilton will prove critics of Mercedes exit wrong at Ferrari

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Lewis Hamilton will prove critics of Mercedes exit wrong at Ferrari

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Lewis Hamilton arrives at the track ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix (Picture: Getty)

On the face of it, Lewis Hamilton appears to have played a blinder in signing for Ferrari for next year and onwards.

The prancing horses are second in pace only to the raging bulls this season, with Carlos Sainz Jr – the man the Briton is set to replace – the only driver to have punctured Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s dominance so far with a commanding win in Australia. Ferrari have three-and-a-half times as many points as Mercedes, with the silver arrows enduring their worst ever start to a season.

Nevertheless, Hamilton says he has been stung by criticism regarding his upcoming defection from the team with whom he has scored six of his seven world titles to Ferrari, who have not won a drivers’ title since 2007.

‘I don’t feel like I need my decision vindicating. I think I know what’s right for me, and that hasn’t changed since the moment that I made the decision,’ he said yesterday.

‘There’s not been a moment where I’ve questioned it, and I’m not swayed by other people’s comments. Even today, there’s people continuing to talk s***, and it will continue on for the rest of the year.’

Some have questioned whether Hamilton, 39, joining will be a step forward for Ferrari, given he is not getting any younger and is replacing a driver who appears to be in the form of his life and overshadowing team-mate Charles Leclerc.

Carlos Sainz has been in fine form for Ferrari but will be replaced by Lewis Hamilton (Picture: Getty )

You can question whether Ferrari are disposing of the services of the right driver but Hamilton brings an incomparable wealth of experience not to mention a dogged determination to score a record-breaking eighth world title.

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He is hungry for a new challenge, and next year – regardless of how quick out the box the new Ferrari is or how strong Leclerc comes at him – we will surely see a renewed and emboldened Hamilton and a notable step up in performance over this year, when he has struggled to get on terms with both his Mercedes and team-mate George Russell.

Hamilton got upset with journalists a fortnight ago at Suzuka who suggested he had already switched his focus to next year, to the detriment of his current team.

Yet there will soon come a time when Mercedes need to navigate the situation of their star driver leaving to a rival camp and hide details regarding next year’s car. It’s not an unusual situation, except Hamilton’s transfer was revealed a year ahead of time, rather than the customary autumn announcement.

He said: ‘It will start with a conversation with Toto [Wolff] because I don’t know how to navigate. I’ve never been in this position at this point of the year. When I was leaving McLaren, it was towards the end of the season.

‘Right now, I want to finish on a high here. All my energy is going into this. I’m a competitor first and foremost, so I want to win. Thinking about next year isn’t going to help me do that.’

He will have turned 40 by the start of next season but Hamilton claims he is still several years off hanging up his racing boots.

‘I’m going to be racing for quite some time still,’ he said, noting Fernando Alonso has extended his Aston Martin contract to 2026, when the Spaniard will be 45.

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‘It’s definitely good that he’s still around. I hope he keeps going for a little bit longer as well. I never thought I’d be racing in my 40s but it’s such a crazy trip – life – that I don’t feel like I’m nearly 40-years-old. I still feel really young.’

Max Verstappen has again been dominant this year but has reservations about the sprint race in China (Picture: Getty)

Max reckons sprint race could ‘spice things up’

China hosts its first Formula One race since 2019 after a four-year covid-enforced hiatus. The Shanghai circuit will also stage the first sprint of 2024, and the format for this year has been tweaked.

The shootout for the sprint takes place today after a single morning practice session. The sprint itself will be held tomorrow morning, with the main qualifying held later in the day ahead of Sunday’s GP. Qualifying and the grand prix will both be held at 8am UK time.

There is little data for teams to go on ahead of the sessions as the track has been resurfaced, and for that reason Max Verstappen feels it is not the smartest venue on which to hold one of the sprint weekends.

‘When you have been away from a track for a while, you never know what you are going to experience, so it would have been better to have a normal race weekend here,’ said the Red Bull driver.

‘On the other hand, it probably spices things up, and that’s maybe what they would like to see.’

Red Bull ‘can’t compete with Audi’

Carlos Sainz has proven the second-best performing driver so far this season and there are a number of berths potentially available to him for next year, including seats at Red Bull, Mercedes and Audi – who have bought Sauber.

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That last option seems the least promising but Helmut Marko says the incoming auto giant has more money than Red Bull would be willing to spend on the three-time grand-prix winner, and that’s probably true of Merc too.

Sainz already has family links to Audi via his father’s Dakar outings, including victory in this year’s rally raid.

‘We’re talking to him, he’s having his strongest season in F1, but he has a very lucrative offer from Audi that we can’t match or beat,’ Red Bull’s Marko revealed.

For more stories like this, check our sport page.

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