Lewis Hamilton believes he can race beyond 2020 after declaring he wants to open the defence of his Formula 1 championship by obliterating the opposition in Australia next weekend.
The 33-year-old British driver is due to put pen to paper on a lucrative new Mercedes contract, possibly before Sunday’s season opener in Melbourne, which could earn him up to £40m a year and solidify his position as British sport’s highest earner.
Hamilton will be 35 at the expected conclusion of his next deal, and with rival Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari contract also due to expire at the end of the 2020 campaign, the Briton could be tempted by one final hurrah with a move to the famous Prancing Horse. But for now, Hamilton, who reveals he has emerged from his off-season break full of vigour and renewed determination, is focused on sealing championship number five, and joining Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as only the third F1 driver in history to have won the title more than four times.
“It doesn’t feel like the start of the final chapter, and I don’t feel as though I am about to embark on my last contract,” said Hamilton.
“I am not sure how I will feel in two or three years’ time but I am back here in March for my 12th season and I am so excited.
“I don’t know where it comes from – this feeling of just wanting to excel – but I really, really, more than anything currently in my life, want to excel next weekend in Australia.
“I want to arrive in Melbourne fit. I want to hit my target weight. I want to kill it through practice, get pole position and I want to win the race convincingly.
“I don’t know how long this feeling is going to last when I go into a new season, but as long as I am still feeling like this I will keep going.”
Hamilton saw off the challenge from Vettel to win last year’s championship with two races to spare, but kept a low profile over the winter following criticism he received for comments he made in an Instagram video about his young nephew wearing a princess dress.
Hamilton embarked on a mass deleting spree across both his Instagram and Twitter accounts – of which he has a combined 12 million followers – in the wake of the backlash.
“Everyone has an opinion about everything,” said Hamilton.
“The world is moving drastically and no-one is perfect.
“We have a pie chart of our brand, what it means and we are constantly evolving that.
“I am working with my team to figure out how we get our message across of where we have come from.
“For example, what we have done as a working-class family is very different to a story of another racing driver.”
Hamilton’s all-conquering Mercedes team, which has won the past four constructors’ championships, will once again start as favourites for the new campaign – and Toto Wolff, the team’s executive director, launched a staunch defence of his star driver.
“If you are a celebrity, it is always astonishing to me how low people can hit out,” said Wolff.
“The incident on social media was light-hearted, sweet, and Lewis for me is the personification of someone who is diverse and open-minded, so the reaction was a bunch of crap.
“Everybody jumps on the bandwagon and says Lewis is homophobic or whatever which is complete nonsense. That can be hurtful. He now understands that with a large following you get a lot of bad stuff and this is the ugly side of social media.”