Hamil­ton says he’s flat­tered by Fer­rari’s praise

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS -

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMI­RATES (AP) >> A laugh­ing Lewis Hamil­ton did lit­tle to quash ru­mors of a po­ten­tial move from Mercedes to Fer­rari by ac­knowl­edg­ing he was flat­tered by com­ments from the Ital­ian team prin­ci­pal.

Mat­tia Binotto called the six-time world cham­pion “an out­stand­ing driver” on Fri­day and then added “know­ing that he’s avail­able in 2021 can make us only happy.”

Hamil­ton is one of sev­eral F1 driv­ers, in­clud­ing both current Fer­rari driv­ers, whose con­tracts ex­pire at the end of next year. This has only fueled spec­u­la­tion that there could be a sig­nif­i­cant shake-up ahead.

“I think it’s the first com­pli­ment I’ve had from Fer­rari in 13 years ... Thank you. I’ll take it,” Hamil­ton said, laugh­ing, when re­spond­ing to Binotto’s open flat­tery. “It’s taken all th­ese years for them to rec­og­nize me. I’m grate­ful ... It’s pos­i­tive. I think it’s never a waste of time to ever be nice to some­one.”

The 34-year-old Bri­tish driver, who re­port­edly earns more than $50 mil­lion a year at Mercedes, was pressed fur­ther as to whether he would be in­ter­ested in mov­ing to the famed Ital­ian team.

“(Fer­rari is) a team I’ve al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated. To earn the re­spect from them is ob­vi­ously very high up, is not a bad thing,” Hamil­ton said af­ter tak­ing a record-ex­tend­ing 88th ca­reer pole po­si­tion for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Satur­day.

“Who knows what the driver mar­ket’s go­ing to be do­ing over the next year? (But) if I’m re­ally hon­est, I’m not re­ally fo­cused on that right at this se­cond.”

Binotto also said “hon­estly it’s too early for any de­ci­sion.”

Hamil­ton added that Fer­rari al­ready has “two great driv­ers” in four-time F1 cham­pion Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and the highly promis­ing 22-year-old Charles Le­clerc.

But Vet­tel, who joined in 2015, has so far failed to de­liver Fer­rari its first driv­ers’ ti­tle since Kimi Raikko­nen in 2007 and the famed Pranc­ing Horse team has not worn the con­struc­tors’ crown since 2006.

By con­trast, Mercedes has won six straight dou­bles since team prin­ci­pal Toto Wolff and Hamil­ton joined the Sil­ver Ar­rows together in 2013 — an in­spired move which has helped Hamil­ton add five F1 ti­tles to his first with McLaren in 2008.

LUCA BRUNO - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamil­ton of Bri­tain cel­e­brates pole po­si­tion dur­ing the qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion at the Yas Ma­rina race­track in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emi­rates, Satur­day, Nov. 30, 2019. The Emi­rates For­mula One Grand Prix will take place on Sun­day.

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