“I can decide to stop at the end of this year,” says Hamilton. “Does that mean my legacy is less great than it would be if I stop in five years’ time?” Briton’s current Mercedes contract expires in 2018
The three-time world champion’s current Mercedes contract expires in 2018, though he has previously claimed he envisaged signing one more contract in Formula 1 that would see him compete well into his late thirties.
Wolff: Hamilton in ‘best place’ at Mercedes
“My destiny is in my own hands. I can decide to stop at the end of this year,” the 32-year-old said. “Does that mean my legacy is less great than it would be if I stop in five years’ time? Who’s to say?
“I don’t like to plan for it because I don’t know what’s around the corner, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Whatever I know I’m going to do, if I apply myself the way I’ve always applied myself in my racing and I apply it to anything else I want to do in life, or even if it’s still in racing, I feel I can achieve great things.
“I’m never going to stop pushing the limits of whatever it is I do with myself and I’m always going to strive for greatness in whatever world it is that I’m in. So I think that mission or that mentality will create my legacy.”
Rosberg and Hamilton were team-mates for four years at Mercedes before the German left at the end of last season after claiming his first world championship. And referencing Rosberg’s retirement earlier this year, Hamilton said: “I can empathise, and really understand in some ways, the feeling of wanting to stop and do something different.
“Every now and then I have a thought of what I will do after Formula One. Then I see that car and I am like, ‘I think I am going to stay’. I don’t know how long I will stay, but I am still competitive, still hungry and still driving at my best.”
Hamilton has also claimed he sees no major difference between the 2016 and 2017 cars apart from speed despite F1’s vast regulation changes.
He did, however, admit he was thoroughly enjoying the “awesome” competition the current season has brought, with the Briton just 12 points behind championship leader Sebastian Vettel after Ferrari’s improvement.
“Yeah, right now it’s solely on competition. It feels the same car as last year [but now] we’re just having a competition,” Hamilton added to Auto.
“If we’re able to qualify the top 10 within half a second or something like that, now that’s a fri**in’ race. Maybe top five within a few tenths of a second, that’s racing man, because then every millimetre, every metre of braking counts… Everything counts even more than before, and right now it’s even more the case than before.
“It’s also easier battling another team. There’s a whole mental shift, the whole team’s dynamic shifts in a powerful way. When [the competition] is all within a team it’s just like a big vortex, and depending on the tension it gets stronger and stronger and is actually not really what a team is built to be.
“Now having another team [to fight] we are pulling together with that same drive – it’s just so much more powerful, it’s really awesome.”
Could Hamilton really leave?
Hamilton talking about his future, especially post-F1, is nothing new. But the timing of his rather ambiguous latest comments is odd, especially after team principal Toto Wolff claimed the driver is currently in the “best place” he has ever been at Mercedes.
While Sky Sports revealed Hamilton threatened to quit the Silver Arrows after his crash with Rosberg in Barcelona last year, the Stevenage-born racer has earmarked 2022 as the year for his retirement in the past.
“I imagine beyond this three-year deal there could be one more contract of three or four years and that would be it for me,” Hamilton said after winning his third F1 crown in 2015. “When I think about what year I would probably end up stopping, it’d be about 37 maybe.
“I want to enjoy my period of time because I think I’ve earned it here, but I don’t want to overstay my welcome because I know that every year that I stay there’s one young kid who may have had a chance to come through, but because I stayed his chance may have been missed.”
His father Anthony Hamilton, meanwhile, has even claimed the 32-year-old could race for another 10 years.
“He has another seven to 10 years left in the sport and he is extremely competitive. He is still young so he has quite a few left in him,” he told Sky F1 at the beginning of 2016.