F1's pandemic pause spurs Hamilton to race on for 2-3 years

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Photo credit Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes GP talk in the Drivers Press Conference during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on Thursday, July 30, 2020 in Silverstone, England. (AP Photo/Mario Renzi via Getty Images)
The Associated Press

SILVERSTONE, England (AP) — The pandemic-enforced break from Formula One could prolong Lewis Hamilton's career.

“The COVID-19 lockdown, whilst it was a negative, in some ways it gave a lot of life, a lot of energy to focus on some other things," Hamilton said Thursday, “and that time off was a bit of breathing space, and provided a bit of energy to perhaps go longer.”

How much longer for the 35-year-old world champion in his 14th season?

“Ultimately I want to be able to perform at the level I am right now but there is a point at which the physicality and the mental side can tail off," he said. “I’ve no divine right to be here. My goal is to continue to deliver for as long as I can. So I do see myself going for at least another two or three years.”

Hamilton's Mercedes contract is due to expire in five months.

“I want to earn my position here," Hamilton said, "and I feel like every year that is not a given just because I’ve world championships under my belt."

He heads into the British Grand Prix on Sunday as the favorite to win at his home circuit of Silverstone for a seventh time but for the first time without any fans there to cheer him on due to the pandemic. The race is the fourth in a championship that should have begun in March. The coronavirus has hit the Silverstone race with Sergio Perez forced out after testing positive on Thursday.

Hamilton’s bid for a record-equalling seventh world championship — to match Michael Schumacher — has been played out against the backdrop of his personal fight against racism.

After dominating the Hungarian Grand Prix earlier this month, Hamilton then accused Grand Prix Drivers’ Association director Romain Grosjean of failing to convince the grid to be united in kneeling before the race.

Grosjean spoke to Hamilton for 45 minutes on Tuesday, saying that he wanted to provide a voice for as many as eight drivers who were opposed to the anti-racism stance. But he also apologized to Hamilton for indicating that it might have been the wrong call.

“Romain originally reached out to me and we had a great conversation,” added Hamilton. “We learned we had more in common than we perhaps thought. He is clearly a caring person. It’s not easy for anybody to admit they’re wrong. And that’s a great first step.

“We’re really working towards the same end goal so I really appreciate that from Romain. And that’s really what it is going to take from all of us; open up our minds, don’t put barriers up, don’t be defensive, be open-minded. Acknowledging that there is an issue is sometimes the first step and then work towards making it better.”

Hamilton has also been in dialogue with F1 chairman Chase Carey and FIA president Jean Todt this week. The pit-lane will open 10 minutes earlier than normal on Sunday to allow the drivers time for a more organized demonstration against racism ahead of the race.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc are among those drivers who have stood rather than taking a knee.

“Everybody has their own way of expressing it,” said Verstappen. “We are all united in fighting racism and that is the most important thing. It is not about taking a knee or not taking a knee because that is not going to solve the issue.”

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