Lewis Hamilton claims it is "no secret" the new Formula One regulations have been introduced to slow Mercedes, but he was encouraged by their opening qualifying session of the season.

Changes to aerodynamic regulations for 2021 have had a great impact on the reigning champions' low-rake chassis, the Silver Arrows say.

Mercedes have won the past seven constructors' championships, yet Red Bull led the way in pre-season testing.

The fastest lap belonged to Max Verstappen and the same man took pole on Saturday at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

But Hamilton was only 0.388 seconds back in second and that performance spells good news for the Briton, with all 16 Bahrain winners coming from the first two rows of the grid but only seven of them qualifying on pole.

Meanwhile, Verstappen has retired three times at this event and four times at the Sakhir track.

Hamilton remains very much in contention, despite feeling the rules have been designed to hurt his team.

"It's no secret. The changes, of course they've been done to peg us back," he said. "We've had the changes last year to our engine to do the same thing.

"That's okay. We love a challenge, we don't look down on these things. We just work hard to do the best that we can, and that's what we'll do."

But Hamilton was not amused by a request for him to analyse where Red Bull are now better, as Verstappen - having ended last year with a win - targets back-to-back triumphs for the first time in his career.

"Really? I don't want to tell you what our problem is," Hamilton said. "They're just faster."

With Silver Arrows team-mate Valtteri Bottas qualifying third, the top three - Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas - are on course to become the first trio to appear on 15 podiums together.

Although Verstappen is still in the lead, this Mercedes challenge seemed improbable for Hamilton just days ago.

"I think this is a really good step forward for us coming this weekend," he said.

"We thought it was double the gap that you see today. That's down to some really fantastic work from the men and women back at the factory.

"Of course we want to be first, but we knew that it was going to be a challenge, we knew from day one on track really that Red Bull was going to be faster than us.

"We knew we had a bit of an uphill slope to climb. I'm just proud of everyone's efforts."

Elsewhere, two former champions had vastly contrasting fortunes after offseason moves.

Three-time Bahrain winner Fernando Alonso is back in F1 with Alpine Team, formerly Renault, where he won two world titles.

And his second debut was a success as he reached Q3 for the first time since Monaco 2018 and claimed ninth on the grid.

"It was good," said Alonso, who won this event on the previous two occasions it opened a season. "I think we have to be pleased with the qualifying.

"I was not confident in any of the sessions so far in the weekend - I was struggling a little bit to feel the rear of the car in windy conditions - and now in the qualifying everything was calmer.

"The night situation I think helped us with the cooler temperatures, so I was able to attack and feel the car a little bit better and it was fun."

On the other hand, Sebastian Vettel was eliminated in Q1 as his second run was hampered by yellow flags prompted by Haas rookie Nikita Mazepin's spin.

No driver has more wins (four) or poles (three) in Bahrain than the former Ferrari man, but his Aston Martin bow did not go to plan.

Vettel will start from 18th and said: "If I panicked now, would it help? If I was really upset?

"For sure, I am upset and angry that it wasn't our fault in a way not to make it through, but we have to take it and do what we can, preparing tomorrow."

Matters could yet get worse for the German, who will appear before the stewards on Sunday for failing to respect the flags, potentially meaning a five-place penalty.

Lewis Hamilton felt he had got all he could out of his Mercedes as Max Verstappen stormed to an impressive pole position for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Red Bull driver Verstappen finished 0.388 seconds clear of Mercedes rival and defending world champion Hamilton in qualifying on Saturday.

Valtteri Bottas was 0.589s back in third with Charles Leclerc taking an impressive fourth for Ferrari.

Verstappen had previously topped every practice session in Sakhir, a circuit where he is due a change of luck having retired there four times – more than at any other track in his Formula One career.

His dominant start to the campaign has fans dreaming of a competitive 2021 season after Hamilton was in a class of his own in winning a seventh world title last year.

"We have already had a great week of testing," Verstappen said.

"There are no guarantees but it's been great so far coming back for the race week. The car has been working really well - really enjoyable to drive.

"With the wind conditions changing, it's not easy to change the set-up of the car for every session but it all worked out perfectly in qualifying and I'm really happy with pole position.

"My first lap in Q3 wasn't amazing so I knew there was more in it – you never know how much - but finally the balance was there and you can push a little bit more. 

"You have to be careful not to overheat the rear tyres but where it mattered we could perform. The car has been steady on the short and long runs - we have a good car."

Hamilton felt grid spots of second and third were solid accomplishments for Mercedes after their struggles in pre-season testing.

The Briton said: "Amazing [to have competition]. Congratulations to Max. He did such a great job, so fast on that last lap.

"I absolutely gave it everything I had but unfortunately it was not good enough. There is always more but it was the best I could do that is for sure and I got absolutely everything I could from the car.

"We did a really good job from testing to come here - everyone in the factory has done an amazing job. 

"To be that close, closer to the Red Bulls [is good] considering in testing we thought we would be further behind."

There was some disappointment for Red Bull when Sergio Perez was unable to reach Q3 as he tried to reach the shoot-out on medium tyres. He will start 11th.

It means Hamilton and Bottas will, as they did for much of last season when Alex Albon struggled, have a strategic numerical advantage at the front as they battle Verstappen.

Bottas said: "Anything is possible and we can only aim for Sunday. We have two cars in the mix at the front with Max, so we'll see.

"The practice this morning wasn't easy, I had a couple of issues with balance.

"It was a bit better this evening. We used two sets of soft tyres in Q2 so in Q3, I only had one set of tyres, so it wasn't easy to compete with Max and Lewis."

Verstappen was just 0.023s ahead of Hamilton after the first runs of Q3, and then had to respond when his rival went fastest with his second attempt.

The Dutchman produced a brilliant answer, though, comfortably taking pole as he looks to win two straight races for the first time in his F1 career, having triumphed in the last race of 2020.

Pierre Gasly was fifth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo for his new team McLaren. Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz, the returning Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll rounded out the top 10.

Sebastian Vettel had a frustrating first competitive outing for Aston Martin, as he and Esteban Ocon were eliminated in Q1, not helped by yellow flags towards the end of the session.

Ocon was 16th with Vettel in 18th, just one place ahead of Mick Schumacher on his F1 debut as the two Haas cars finished on the back row.

Hamilton has won the last two editions of the Bahrain Grand Prix, but no driver has ever recorded three straight victories at the event.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:28.997
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.388s
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.589s
4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.681s
5. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.812s
6. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +0.930s
7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.977s
8. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +1.218s
9. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.252s
10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1.604s

Valtteri Bottas was left "puzzled" by Mercedes' "undriveable" W12 as Max Verstappen set the pace in both practice sessions at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Friday 

Red Bull driver Verstappen topped the timesheets ahead of Mercedes' Bottas in FP1 and McLaren's Lando Norris in FP2 in Sakhir.

Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton was fourth and third respectively after team principal Toto Wolff said the best the Silver Arrows could hope for would be to match Red Bull's pace.

Bottas said of Mercedes' new car on the eve of qualifying for the first race of 2021: "The last long run we did was pretty inconsistent, and I couldn't really put any laps together, and the car, as I said, felt undriveable at times.

"A bit puzzled, but it's Friday and that's why we practice."

Dutchman Verstappen, who clocked a quickest lap of one minute, 30.847 seconds, knows Red Bull must build on an encouraging start when it really matters.

He said: "I was really happy but tomorrow is again a different day, even more windy, which with these cars is quite more tricky, so again we'll have to try and be on it, but again, a good start to the weekend,

"I was also really [happy] before, but of course, now we have to show what we can do in qualifying."

The drivers had to contend with a sandstorm in practice and face more testing conditions over the weekend, with high winds and temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius forecast.

Verstappen added: "Of course, with the heat, it's not easy to find a really good balance around the whole lap. I think it's a positive day. 

"There are still things to look into what we can look better for tomorrow, but again, also tomorrow, I think it's going to be even more windy so that will be even more difficult to drive.

"That's the same for everyone, so we'll see what happens."

Lewis Hamilton returns to Bahrain four months on from winning an 11th race of a dominant 2020 season knowing Mercedes have plenty of questions to answer from an exciting-looking Red Bull.

It was another season to remember for Hamilton in a campaign disrupted heavily by the coronavirus pandemic, the Briton himself contracting the virus late in the season and missing the second leg of a Sakhir double-header a week later.

By winning a seventh Formula One world title, Hamilton levelled Michael Schumacher's all-time record and also surpassed the legendary German for overall race wins (now 95), and he is now going in search of history.

But the evidence in pre-season suggests Mercedes are set for a titanic tussle with Red Bull, whose exciting line-up of Max Verstappen – the 23-year-old many are tipping to finally go toe-to-toe-with Hamilton – and Sergio Perez will be out to lay down a marker at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.

Many have suggested that F1's technical 2021 changes have redressed the competitive balance and certainly there was evidence to suggest as such at pre-season testing where Mercedes posted the lowest lap count of any team and Red Bull set the pace on two out of the three days.

We have been here before with Mercedes, though, where some have questioned whether their period of dominance – the Silver Arrows winning the constructors' championship seven years running – is finally over, only for the German manufacturers to turn it on when it matters.

This weekend should give us a clearer indication as to the strength of both teams, but that is by no means the only talking point on the grid...

LAST TIME OUT

Red Bull can certainly take heart from a strong end to the 2020 campaign, which saw Verstappen coast to victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a race in which Hamilton finished third after returning from his absence due to COVID-19.

In that race, Red Bull were not necessarily favourites but beat Mercedes in a straight-line fight for Verstappen's second triumph of the season – his first coming in round five at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.

Perez can also take plenty of confidence from the fact he triumphed at this circuit for the Sakhir Grand Prix a week after Hamilton's last win of 2020, with a power issue in Abu Dhabi meaning his final outing with Racing Point ended in a whimper.

Valtteri Bottas finished second ahead of Hamilton on that occasion and the Finn knows he has a lot to prove against a strong-looking Red Bull line-up, while McLaren cars finished in fifth and sixth and are fancied for another strong campaign after finished third in the constructors' championship.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN SAKHIR

There are plenty of sub-plots in play this weekend after a close-season of change in F1.

Most notable is the return of a legend and the arrival of a rookie aiming to emulate his great father.

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is back, racing for the rebranded Alpine Team – formerly Renault where the brilliant Spaniard won his two titles.

Mick Schumacher, son of Michael, has sizeable shoes to fill and will start his career on the biggest stage with Haas alongside fellow F1 rookie Nikita Mazepin.

Sebastian Vettel has a new home after ending his association with Ferrari and will race for Aston Martin, who are back in F1 for the first time since 1960, while the Scuderia signed Carlos Sainz Jr from McLaren to line-up alongside Charles Leclerc for 2021.

McLaren consequently turned to amiable Australian Daniel Ricciardo to partner Lando Norris, with the team starting 2021 12 podiums shy of 500.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

- Vettel and Hamilton are the drivers to have won the most races at the Bahrain GP (four), and have taken the most pole positions (three).

- In 2014, Mercedes recorded the first out of their 70 one-twos in hybrid-era qualifying in Bahrain (Nico Rosberg first, Hamilton second). The Germans have achieved 78 one-twos; they are two wins away from reaching Ferrari as the team to have secured one-twos in qualifying most often (80).

- Mick Schumacher will race his maiden grand prix in Bahrain eight years, four months and three days after father Michael's final appearance in Brazil 2012. Both will have started in F1 aged 22 years old, but the younger Schumacher will have done so seven months and 16 days earlier than his dad.

- Sainz will be the third Spanish driver to race for Ferrari. In his maiden race for the Scudería, Alfonso de Portago failed to finish in France (1956), but Alonso won in Bahrain (2010).

- Verstappen has retired three times at the Bahrain Grand Prix (four in Sakhir), more than any other race in his F1 career. The Dutchman has the chance to win back-to-back grands prix in F1 for the first time after 120 races.

After an unpredictable 2020 Formula One campaign ended in wholly predictable fashion, the world's best drivers are back for more in 2021.

The coronavirus pandemic delayed the start to last season and prompted serious surgery to the planned race calendar.

At the end of it all, though, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes again walked away on top of the pile.

As so often in recent years, the task for the rest of the grid this coming year is simply to stop the reigning champion and his Silver Arrow.

While that is easier said than done, of course, the signs in pre-season are promising.

Will testing preparations derail Mercedes in the opening weeks? We are about to find out, as the Bahrain opener is just days away...

 

MORE HAMILTON AND MERCEDES DOMINANCE?

Hamilton's title in 2020 was his seventh, tying Michael Schumacher's competition record. A new benchmark is on the horizon if the Briton can repeat his success.

That is not the only landmark in Hamilton's sights, either: with 95 wins and 98 pole positions – both F1 highs – he can surely look forward to a pair of century celebrations this year.

But even if this is to be another sublime season for the 36-year-old, he surely will not find it as straightforward as last year.

Hamilton shut out the noise surrounding his future to claim 11 victories in 2020, yet the new contract he belatedly signed at the end of the campaign keeps him with Mercedes only until the end of 2021.

That spells another 12 months of uncertainty for the sport's premier driver, who also does not yet appear entirely at home in the new W12 car.

The Silver Arrows recorded only 304 test laps in pre-season – the fewest of any team – and may require Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to learn on the job if they are to extend their record-breaking streak of seven straight constructors' championships.

 

WHO CAN CHALLENGE THE DEFENDING CHAMP?

Mercedes team-mate Bottas has finished second to Hamilton in the past two seasons, but it would be a tough ask to expect him to outperform the 'GOAT' in the same car – even before considering potential issues with that machine.

No, if Hamilton is to be dethroned, Red Bull look the best bet.

Max Verstappen is undoubtedly the chief threat at the Austrian outfit, having qualified ahead of his team-mates on 36 of 38 occasions since Daniel Ricciardo departed (including a 17-0 record against Alex Albon in 2020).

Indeed, Verstappen – third last year – had the fastest lap time in testing, his effort of a minute and 28.960 seconds in Bahrain putting Red Bull on top in pre-season for the first time.

The Dutchman is pessimistic, though, saying: "[Testing] doesn't say anything about pure performance.

"I know people are excited and think we are just saying this, but Mercedes are still the favourites. How can they not be when they have won seven world championships in a row?"

Ferrari can never be counted out, but they are starting a season with two drivers yet to win a world championship (Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz) for the first time since 2007, when Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen lined up for the Scuderia. Of course, that year ended with Raikkonen being crowned champion.

 

ELSEWHERE...

There is no shortage of intrigue away from the top teams, with two big names returning to F1 – albeit only one of the two drivers having previously raced at this level.

Former champion Fernando Alonso is back, joining the rebranded Alpine team, formerly Renault – where the Spaniard won two titles.

Alonso's most recent race win came in Ferrari colours at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, since when he has gone 110 events without victory.

If Alpine can be competitive and Alonso belatedly returns to the top step of the podium later in the season, he could break Raikkonen's record of 114 grands prix between triumphs (2013 to 2018).

The 39-year-old needs only three podiums to reach 100 in F1.

At the other end of the spectrum, Mick Schumacher is the familiar name but new face at Haas, forming an all-rookie line-up alongside Nikita Mazepin, his F2 title rival last year.

Schumacher, who won that championship, will debut at Bahrain eight years, four months and three days after father Michael's final race in Brazil in 2012.

Michael was also 22 when he made his F1 bow, although Mick will be seven months and 16 days younger.

Ricciardo has joined McLaren, who are 12 podiums shy of 500, and Aston Martin are back for the first time since 1960, replacing Racing Point and bringing in Sebastian Vettel.

Meanwhile, there will be increased attention paid to Williams' George Russell, who impressed when given a chance with Mercedes at Sakhir 2020, qualifying second and finishing ninth.

Pierre Gasly believes Ferrari could be the team to watch in the 2021 Formula One season even though Mercedes are likely to finish "clearly on top".

The Scuderia managed just three podium finishes through Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel last year as they came sixth in the constructors' championship.

AlphaTauri were just 24 points behind them, their season buoyed by a remarkable grand prix win for Gasly in Monza.

However, testing ahead of 2021 has offered glimpses of a better future for Ferrari following their worst season in four decades. Carlos Sainz recorded the third-fastest time last Sunday in Bahrain, while he and Leclerc are each said to be happier with the handling of the car after problems with straight-line speed last year.

Gasly, who has spoken privately to Leclerc about Ferrari's progress, believes the team are keeping their cards close to their chest in terms of their progress during the off-season.

He told Stats Perform News: "I think Ferrari are kind of hiding and not showing too much. Compared to last year I think they are clearly better.

"I discussed it with [Charles] Leclerc after the test and we exchanged a couple of messages, talking but not too much, just trying to [laughing], have an idea!

"I think we are close to each other. I don't know if they are ahead of us or if we are slightly ahead. But they have clearly made a step forward. 

"I think McLaren seem to be a very strong opponent and competitor at the moment, especially with a Mercedes engine. They seem to have managed to put a strong package together.

"Then at the top, we will see what happens between Mercedes and Red Bull; it is very difficult to say and make any conclusion. Mercedes had a pretty difficult test, with some reliability issues, but we know how strong they are as a team so I wouldn't be surprised to see them clearly on top."

The new season begins in Bahrain on March 28.

Lewis Hamilton endured more testing misery after beaching his Mercedes in trackside gravel at the Bahrain International Circuit on Saturday. 

The Formula One drivers' champion, who will be chasing a record eighth title this year, complained about sand in the desert on Friday. 

He said the sandstorms being whipped up were unlike anything he had ever experienced at the track, but it did not appear to be a factor in Saturday's loss of control. 

Hamilton was entering Turn 13, having completed 35 laps, when his rear end went and the car span off the track. 

The Briton attempted to drive away but his car would not move, the tyres spinning and sinking, sending up a cloud of dust. 

Hamilton got out and required a lift back to the Mercedes garage, with the session red-flagged while his car was pulled out of the gravel.

It was not the end of his session, however, with Hamilton soon back on the track. He completed 58 laps overall and was eighth quickest in the morning action, clocking a best time of one minute 33.399 seconds. 

Daniel Ricciardo's McLaren led the way in 1:32.215 while former world champion Fernando Alonso completed 60 laps in the Alpine, with 1:32.339 good enough for second on the morning timesheet.

Lewis Hamilton was well off the pace as Mercedes were jolted by their "poor start" to testing ahead of the new Formula One season.

Gearbox trouble meant Valtteri Bottas could only complete six laps in the morning in Bahrain, before team-mate Hamilton had a clearer run and ran through 42 laps in the afternoon.

However, reigning drivers' champion Hamilton was only 10th-fastest on the day, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen topping the time sheets, while Bottas was the slowest of all the 17 drivers involved.

Mercedes' trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin declared: "It's been a poor start to the season from us.

"Once we got running it was clear we didn't have the car in the right balance window and, while we made some progress during the day, we're not happy with how the car is performing and it's pretty clear we have some work to do."

The Mercedes W12 is the car with which the team hope to land an eighth consecutive constructors' title, while Hamilton will be chasing a fifth successive drivers' championship and a record eighth overall.

Hamilton said: "Today definitely wasn't the cleanest of days that we've had, but these things are sent to try us.

"Everyone has worked extremely hard to get us here. We had that mishap in the morning which was very unfortunate for Valtteri in terms of losing time on track and the team is working hard to try and understand what that was.

"I think they did a great job to turn the car around. The second session wasn't without its challenges, but we exist to find solutions to the problems we're faced with."

Hamilton was affected by a sandstorm and said Mercedes would look to "take the positives" from their shaky day, with two more days of testing to come.

Positives were not immediately obvious, and Bottas said: "In recent years, things have been pretty much bulletproof so it's not a familiar experience."

However, the Finn added on the team's website: "I am confident we can recover and I’m looking forward to two good days over the weekend."

As well as testing, Bahrain will host the opening grand prix of the Formula One season, with that race scheduled for March 28.

George Russell hopes Williams can make a flying start to the Formula One season in Bahrain - but he believes Mercedes are the only team who will be sure they are race-ready.

British driver Russell caught the eye when he replaced Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for one race last year, after the world champion tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the Sakhir Grand Prix.

He went close to winning that race until a pit-stop error and a puncture late on cost him a probable victory, and he then returned to his regular drive at Williams.

Mercedes have assured Russell, who is part of their junior driver programme, that he can have a racing future with them if his development continues as expected.

That could come as soon as next year, but for now Russell's focus is on delivering for Williams.

The team has been in transition following the takeover by Dorilton Capital, and German motorsport veteran Jost Capito was appointed chief executive officer during the close season.

Russell believes Williams, who failed to score a point last season, should be better placed in 2021 to at least improve on that disappointing outcome.

"We want, the bare minimum, to be fighting with the Haas and the Alfas, as we did last year, and closing the gap to that midfield," Williams said.

"We made nine out of 17 Q2 appearances and that is definitely a thrill. That's got to be almost an aim every weekend for myself and team."

The season begins in Bahrain on March 28, and by then there should be evidence of which teams have made progress since 2020, with testing taking place, also in Bahrain, on the March 12-14 long weekend.

Russell admits it is a waiting game to see how rivals have advanced, or regressed.

"Fingers crossed that they go backwards and we go forwards," he said, in an Instagram chat on Formula One's official page. 

"Ultimately, we may go to Bahrain and see every other team has progressed more than us.

"We may go there and see we've made great progress. Until we get to Bahrain not a single team, probably bar Mercedes, can tell you how they're going to perform."

Russell, 23, has been tipped for a big future in the sport. He also believes Williams, a great name from the history of Formula One, can begin a journey back to the top of the sport.

"The arrival of Jost is massive for the team, really exciting," he said. "The future for Williams and everybody here at Grove [the team's headquarters] is really great.

"Unfortunately, things don't change in a matter of moments in Formula One, but the building blocks are really getting set in stone.

"Jost has loads of experience, he's a great character, and I think he's going to bring a lot of motivation to the team."

Russell was speaking on the day F1 chiefs confirmed the Portuguese Grand Prix on the new season's calendar, with the race inked in for May 2.

It will be the second round of 23 in the championship, with Portugal having returned to the Formula One rota last year for the first time since 1996.

George Russell has no intention of "hassling" Mercedes over his future as he focuses on trying to get the most out of a new-look Williams car in 2021.  

The British driver is heading into the final year of his contract with Williams, where he will once again work alongside Nicholas Latifi for the season.  

It will be a third year for Russell with the team, though he did step in to drive for Mercedes - having previously been part of their junior driver programme - at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, replacing Lewis Hamilton after the seven-time world champion tested positive for COVID-19. 

His performance in the race - he was in front for the majority before a slow puncture forced him to settle for ninth place - led to speculation over a permanent switch, but Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have remained together.  

While a move could still happen at some stage further down the line, Russell is relaxed over his standing within Mercedes.  

"Mercedes and Toto have always had my back and believed in me from day one. When they believe the time is right, the time will be right," he told Sky Sports at the launch of Williams' FW43B car.  

"I'm not hassling them, I’m just going out there and doing my job on the track. What comes in the future will come.  

"Obviously I had a great opportunity in Bahrain last year, but for now we will focus on the job here at Williams for this season and trying to get the most out of it."

In a somewhat surprising move, Hamilton only agreed to a one-year extension earlier this year, committing him to a ninth season with Mercedes.

Bottas' deal runs "at last until the end of 2021", per the team's statement when the Finn's future was revealed last August, so Russell could potentially be considered to replace either driver in 2022.

"Every driver wants to put themselves against the best," he said when asked if forming a partnership with Hamilton appealed to him.

"I believe in myself and Lewis is the benchmark at the moment, but equally you have a lot of fantastic drivers out there who might not have the same CV as Lewis.  

"Max [Verstappen], Charles [Leclerc], Lewis – they are all on the same level. Putting yourself against one of those three would be great for any driver."

Williams - now owned by Dorilton Capital - unveiled a new blue, white and yellow livery on Friday that takes inspiration from the team's successful cars in the 1980s and 1990s.

Toto Wolff admitted Max Verstappen is a driver who will be "on everybody's radar" but has vowed Mercedes will not rush to seduce the Red Bull star.

Mercedes team principal Wolff will be aware that reports have linked Verstappen with a possible future move to the Silver Arrows, possibly as a long-term replacement for Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton.

For now, though, Hamilton is going nowhere, having signed a contract for the upcoming 2021 season, and the British driver may yet remain for years to come.

After landing a seventh drivers' title last year to match Michael Schumacher's F1 record, there is no driver that Mercedes would take above Hamilton in the present time.

Wolff said: "The symbiosis that we have in the relationship, it's always that we have a mutual understanding of what we want to do in the future. That will be also the case in the discussions with Lewis going forward.

"Max is certainly an outstanding young driver that will be on everybody's radar in the future, but we are not flirting outside before we have a clear understanding with our two drivers."

Verstappen has finished third in the championship in each of the last two seasons, with the 23-year-old winning races at Silverstone and Abu Dhabi during the 2020 campaign.

He tallied 214 points to finish just nine points behind Mercedes' runner-up Valtteri Bottas in the championship.

Quoted widely after Mercedes unveiled their new W12 car on Tuesday, Wolff underlined how Mercedes are not blinkered about the team's future and the potential for a change of direction.

Bottas is also due to reach the end of his contract after the new campaign, meaning Mercedes currently have flexibility should they wish to reshape their driver line-up for 2022 and beyond.

"Our first discussions are going to be with Valtteri and Lewis in respecting our values, integrity and loyalty - but on the other side the young drivers are the future," Wolff said.

"Therefore we need to consider how we want to set ourselves up for the years beyond."

Lewis Hamilton says his decision to only sign a one-year contract with Mercedes should not cause concern as he prioritises his drive for more diversity in Formula One.

It took until February before seven-time world champion Hamilton and Mercedes finally announced they had come to terms on a new contract.

The agreement was only for 2021, the last season before sweeping regulation changes come into the sport.

Hamilton, 36, insists there should be no doubts over his commitment.

The Briton also spoke of his passion to fight for change and equality in F1 and wider society.

That will serve as his main focus in a year where he could surpass Michael Schumacher outright with an eighth title.

"I'm kind of in a fortunate position where I've achieved most of the stuff I wanted to achieve up until this point, so there's no real need necessarily to plan too far ahead in the future," Hamilton said at the launch of Mercedes' new W12 car.

"I'm fully invested in this season and delivering. I still love what I do.

"We're living through an unusual period of time in life and I just wanted one year. Then we can talk about if we do more, and keep adding it [by] one if we have to.

"I chose to have a one-year deal, so I can see where we are at. It doesn't mean I'm not committed.

"What I'm really focused on - there was a lot of discussion around the diversity issue, what is important is that we are delivering."

Hamilton added: "I'm really proud of my team, I'm already seeing steps to see that progress. That's my driving force to make sure we continue to push for accountability.

"The main priority for 2021 - in the past it was about just winning championships. But now it's really pushing for making real change.

"Last year there was discussion about equality and inclusion and there was a lot of talk this year about pushing for diversity and really making sure that action is taken.

"That's at the core of the drive for me, but of course we exist to win. That is what all these guys and girls here are working towards, so that's my goal to deliver it for them."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff echoed the comments of Hamilton and is not concerned about the short deal.

Wolff said: "No doubt about his commitment. First of all, he enjoys racing a lot. We enjoy working with each other and we discussed that a lot.

"But he’s absolutely right. The times change, new priorities for all of us in terms of the way we live, our health, he is very passionate about his initiatives against racism and inequality.

"Then we have this massive regulatory change in 2022 that is going to reshape what Formula One will be.

"I don't think this will play a role, but I think it's fair for a driver who has won seven championships to have the flexibility to decide what he wants to do in future.

"We have agreed that we want to pick up the discussions much earlier this year to avoid a situation like we had in 2020, to run out of time and be in the uncomfortable position that we have no time left before the beginning of the season."

The 2021 season is scheduled to get under way with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28.

Lewis Hamilton has signed a new contract to race for Mercedes in the 2021 Formula One season, it has been confirmed.

The reigning F1 champion will spend a ninth season with the Silver Arrows after winning a record-equalling seventh drivers' title in 2020.

Mercedes and Hamilton have agreed a deal that includes the formation of a joint charitable foundation with the aim of supporting greater diversity and inclusion in Motorsport.

Hamilton said: "I am excited to be heading into my ninth season with my Mercedes team-mates. Our team has achieved incredible things together and we look forward to building on our success even further, while continuously looking to improve, both on and off the track.

"I'm equally determined to continue the journey we started to make motorsport more diverse for future generations and I am grateful that Mercedes has been extremely supportive of my call to address this issue.

"I'm proud to say we are taking that effort further this year by launching a foundation dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the sport. I am inspired by all that we can build together and can't wait to get back on the track in March."

Team principal Toto Wolff added: "We have always been aligned with Lewis that we would continue, but the very unusual year we had in 2020 meant it took some time to finish the process.

"Together, we have decided to extend the sporting relationship for another season and to begin a longer-term project to take the next step in our shared commitment to greater diversity within our sport.

"Lewis' competitive record stands alongside the best the sports world has ever seen, and he is a valued ambassador for our brand and our partners.

"The story of Mercedes and Lewis has written itself into the history books of our sport over the past eight seasons, and we are hungry to compete and to add more chapters to it."

In a 2020 season that was truncated due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hamilton still made history by breaking Michael Schumacher's all-time F1 wins record with his 92nd victory at the Portugal Grand Prix.

This year he will hope to surpass Schumacher and become the first F1 driver in history to win eight world titles.

The 2021 season is scheduled to get under way with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28.

Lewis Hamilton has signed a new contract to race for Mercedes in the 2021 Formula One season, it has been confirmed.

Ferrari do not regret their failure to sign Lewis Hamilton for the 2021 season as they are confident Charles Leclerc can challenge the Formula One champion.

Hamilton has won six of his record-equalling seven world championships with Mercedes, although he has not yet committed to the Silver Arrows for the coming campaign.

A resolution is expected soon, but links to rivals Ferrari have never been far away.

A blockbuster move will not materialise on this occasion, however, as the Scuderia have secured Carlos Sainz Jr next to Leclerc in their 2021 line-up, replacing Sebastian Vettel.

And team principal Mattia Binotto is confident they have made the right move.

He told Sky Sports: "I don't think there will be regret because, at the end, when we took some decisions, we took them thinking they were the right decisions and today we have a fantastic driver like Charles, where we invested a lot as Ferrari.

"I think he's got a lot of talent. If he's got the right car, I'm pretty sure he can challenge Lewis Hamilton.

"We've made our choices and I think, together with Carlos, we are very strong. I don't think there will be any regret."

Although Leclerc - fourth two years ago with two wins to his name - would appear the obvious Ferrari contender, Binotto is not naming a "number one".

Sainz finished seven points better off than his new team-mate in 2020 while still with McLaren.

"There is not a number one and number two," Binotto said. "They will have equal opportunities - certainly at the start of the season. I'm pretty happy then that they are free to fight.

"I think what we have to do as usual is to optimise the team points, and when you optimise the team points, normally you are optimising the drivers' points as well. Team points is the number one.

"Later in the season, let's see how things will progress, let's see what objectives individual drivers can maybe achieve and if we need to adopt a different strategy, but at the start of the season, they will be free to fight."

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