LEWIS HAMILTON has a "fire burning strong inside him" as his Mercedes boss Toto Wolff declared his F1 title defence is far from over.
Hamilton will have to overturn Max Verstappen's 32-point advantage – the biggest deficit he has faced in his nine year's at Mercedes – if he is to land a record eighth world crown.
And boy is he fighting for it, according to Wolff in an exclusive interview with SunSport ahead of the British Grand Prix.
While Bernie Ecclestone – F1's former supremo – accused Hamilton of being "not quite the fighter that he was" adding he could quit at the end of this year.
Wolff has no doubts about losing his star driver or questioning his desire to fight.
He said: "I can say 100 percent we were not afraid of Lewis leaving.
"We always had the discussion about the new regulations for 2022 and what it meant for him and the fire is burning strong in him.
"He is very competitive and he likes the challenges this year and the opportunities and risks that we need to overcome for next year.
"The discussions were super straightforward. We only discussed the details.
"The uncomfortable discussions took place over the winter and it was pretty uncomplicated."
2022 VISION COULD CHANGE THINGS
Hamilton may face a herculean task of overhauling the Dutchman but we are not even at the half-way stage of this, F1's biggest-ever season.
And Wolff says that while Red Bull may have the current advantage, there will come a time when they too, as his team have done, shift their focus to 2022, as F1 prepares to welcome it's biggest rule change.
He added: "This season is far from over. We are nine races into a season of 23, if we do all of them, and at a certain stage, everyone will start looking to 2022.
"The bigger component is understanding the car and cutting out the mistakes.
"Both teams have made mistakes and it is about who is able to minimise them.
"You also need to perform well on the days your car is good enough to win and consolidate your position when you are not able to."
Silverstone has always been a strong hunting ground.
Wolff has identified the British GP as a potential turning point for their season.
Silverstone is notoriously a strong track for his team historically, plus Hamilton will be roared on to victory by a capacity 140,000 crowd on Sunday.
Wolff believes that home support can have a positive impact on Hamilton, who has won this race a record seven times.
He said: "Silverstone has always been a strong hunting ground for him. It is a track our car has liked in the past.
"I think we still have a stopwatch deficit to Red Bull but maybe the track comes towards us so I think it will be pretty tough but maybe easier than Monaco, Baku or Austria.
"When you have 140,000 people cheering for you…Max had 8,000 cheering for him in Austra, and that helped him."
Despite not having it all his own way, there is a notable shift in Hamilton's approach this season.
In the past, there would perhaps have been the toe-curling surly post-race interviews that did little to endear himself.
However, the 36-year-old has taken Verstappen's success on the chin, with Wolff insisting his driver has become more mature.
He adds that beneath the seven-time world champion there is a renewed work ethic, the most obvious example of which is spending hours in the team's simulator to refine his car's improvements.
Wolff added: "Lewis has become much stronger over the years and I can see how hard he is working in helping the team progress the car.
"He is having days in the simulator from the morning until the evening, which is not an exercise he particularly enjoyed in the past.
"Being on the back foot and knowing that he can contribute to help us bounce back excites him."
With Hamilton signed up for 2022 and 2023 on a deal worth £80million, Wolff, a three-way owner of the Mercedes F1 team, now has the task of picking his teammate.
JOIN SUN VEGAS: GET A FREE £10 BONUS WITH 100s OF GAMES TO PLAY AND NO DEPOSIT REQUIRED (Ts&Cs apply)
🏁F1 2021 calendar: practice times, dates and racetrack info
A straight fight between Finn Valtteri Bottas and George Russell, and while the home crowd are eager for news that it will be an all-British line-up for next year, Wolff says he will wait before confirming the team's plans.
He said: "A decision is closer than any other years because I owe it to both drivers to give them clarity for next year and we will do that in the next couple of weeks.
"It is a delicate situation because there are many more stakeholders and that's why we will take our time and wait for a good moment to come out with it."
Source: Read Full Article