Hamilton expects 2017 F1 title fight with Vettel to be closest yet

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Lewis Hamilton expects the fight for the 2017 Formula 1 drivers’ championship with Sebastian Vettel to be one of the closest of his career after drawing level in the points standings with his first win of the season in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Hamilton lost out to Vettel at the season-opener in Australia two weeks ago, but bounced back in China by leading every lap of the race en route to his fifth win in Shanghai.

The result sees Hamilton tie with Vettel at the top of the drivers’ championship after the Ferrari driver finished second on Sunday, setting the tone for a season-long battle – something the Mercedes man relishes.

“I think it’s going to be one of the closest [title fights], if not the closest that I’ve ever experienced,” Hamilton said.

“I’m looking forward to this fight, not only with Sebastian but the other guys as well who are going to be in amongst it. Ferrari have done a fantastic job and I think its’ great that we’re both pushing.

“Those last 20 laps, really exchanging times. I kept having to be fed what times he was doing so I could try and match it. He was closing the gap a little bit, but managed to stay ahead.”

As well as the threat from Vettel, Hamilton also had to battle against the weather in Shanghai as rain in the lead-up to lights out left the track wet, warranting intermediate tires for the sport and making grip hard to find.

“Today was very, very tough for us all. I went out on the inters initially on the laps to the grid, and then I tried the slick which was impossible,” Hamilton explained.

“We all started on inters and it was very, very hard because there were dry patches everywhere, mostly dry. There were a couple of corners which were wet, so trying to keep the car on the track and look after the tyres at the same time was very, very tough.

“I just want to say a big thank you to this team, I’m just so tremendously proud of everyone, my own personal team and staff and that, and my team who work so hard back at the factory to make it possible.

“This race [against Ferrar] is so real, it’s so exciting for me personally. I don’t know how it is for everyone else, but I hope they’re enjoying it.”

F1: Valtteri Bottas urges Lewis Hamilton to clear up Mercedes future and sign

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MONACO (AP) — Valtteri Bottas is urging Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to sign a new contract, even though his own future is uncertain.

Bottas needs to convince Mercedes to give him a new deal for next year. Hamilton, meanwhile, is stalling on signing a new one even though an offer is in place. Hamilton was again asked about his contract situation on Wednesday, and maintains he’s in no hurry.

“There isn’t any sticking point. There just hasn’t been any rush,” Hamilton said. “There’s no discussion with anybody else, there’s no consideration for anybody else, it’s just (me) taking my time.”

But Bottas would like Hamilton’s future cleared up.

“For sure I would. First of all, I would like to stay here. That is my goal for the long term. It would be nice if Lewis wants to stay and finds an agreement,” Bottas said at the Mercedes motorhome. “I enjoy working with him, I enjoy the challenge he gives me. I enjoy the fact he’s four-time world champion and at the moment I’m none. It makes me try harder to be better.

“It wouldn’t change my mind that I want to stay here, but I think we work well together,” he added.

Last season was their first together. Bottas was drafted in from Williams as an emergency replacement after Nico Rosberg retired. He won three races but he stood out more as the ideal support driver as Hamilton reclaimed the F1 title.

Bottas understands Mercedes expects improvement.

“We had a chat before the season and naturally we expect performance gains compared to last year, being closer to Lewis,” Bottas said. “That’s what you need to do in the second season.”

However, Bottas says he has not been set a specific target in terms of points or where he finishes overall.

“There’s no magic number,” he said. “There’s no clause or anything, so it’s how the team feels I’m performing.”

Bottas finished third overall last year behind Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton.

He is in the same overall position – 20 points behind Vettel and 37 adrift of Hamilton – heading into this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver would be closer if not for a dramatic finish at the Azerbaijan GP last month. With victory seemingly guaranteed, he sustained a tire puncture and ended up with no points. He bounced back with a fine drive for second place in Spain two weeks ago.

“I feel like I’ve met my performance targets. Pace-wise I’m on the level I need, but result-wise I’m not happy,” Bottas said. “It’s been strange. But I know if I keep improving very good things will come.”

He has faced a considerable amount of criticism with observers questioning whether he can compete at the top level. Yet driving under the constant pressure of having a point to prove has also made him more resilient.

“For sure it makes you tougher and better,” he said. “From each difficult weekend, I feel I’ve been able to turn it (around).”