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Damon Hill: Mercedes F1 must give Lewis Hamilton freedom

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1996 Formula 1 world champion Damon Hill believes the Mercedes team must give star driver Lewis Hamilton the freedom he wants or risks losing his services to a rival.

Hamilton is one of F1’s most visible figures, enjoying a jet-set, celebrity life away from the track as well as being a dominant force on it.

With three world titles to his name, Hamilton is one of the top drivers in F1 and is set to lead Mercedes’ charge for a fourth-straight championship double in 2017.

However, tensions have flared between Hamilton and Mercedes in the past, most notably in last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when he ignored team orders in a last-ditch effort to win the world championship.

Speaking to The Guardian, Hill said that Mercedes must be willing to put up with Hamilton’s emotional nature, or he may look elsewhere for a drive in F1.

“Lewis is an emotional beast and there might be a situation where he just goes: ‘I’ve had enough and I don’t want to do it’,” Hill said.

“That’s true for every driver but some don’t have the luxury he has, as he might be in demand somewhere else.”

“He is in a strong position. Mercedes have to recognize they either want Lewis Hamilton, the asset that he is to them and allowing him the space to do his work, or they don’t.

“If it’s not going well for Lewis, then he does have a tendency to make his feelings known.”

Hill compared a hypothetical Hamilton exit from Mercedes to his departure from McLaren at the end of 2012, which came as a result of strained relations with team boss Ron Dennis.

“If they overplay what Toto was saying about managing the drivers after what happened in Abu Dhabi, there is the chance he might go again,” Hill said.

“Like we saw at McLaren with Ron Dennis and his controlling way and Lewis saying: ‘I don’t want this. I’m out.’ That’s the fine line.”

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.