Max Verstappen saw off Lewis Hamilton’s early challenge to claim victory in Saturday’s sprint race at the United States Grand Prix.

For the first time since their 2021 championship duel for the ages, Verstappen and Hamilton ran line astern in the 19-lap dash at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

But Hamilton was unable to prevent Verstappen from taking the spoils, and accumulating yet another win of this most one-sided of Formula One campaigns.

Hamilton took the chequered flag a distant 9.4 seconds adrift of Verstappen with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc third.

Verstappen, crowned champion of the world for a third time in Qatar a fortnight ago, took pole position earlier on Saturday and then put his elbows out at the start to ensure Leclerc did not sneak up his inside on the uphill drag to the opening bend.

Verstappen moved over to his left to squeeze the Ferrari man allowing Hamilton a clean shot at Leclerc on the exit of the first corner.

Hamilton ran over the kerbs and past the Monegasque, and then set his sights on Verstappen.

Hamilton has not won a race for nearly two years, the longest losing streak of his career. Indeed, 685 days have passed since he claimed victory at the penultimate round of the 2021 campaign in Saudi Arabia.

But for half-a-dozen laps here, Hamilton will have dared to dream that a victory could be on the cards.

Hamilton has triumphed six times in America – with five of those victories in the Lone Star State – and his early pace certainly provided Verstappen with food for thought.

The seven-time world champion stayed within one second of Verstappen to provide him with a possible DRS slingshot past his Red Bull rival.

“Driveability is not there,” moaned Verstappen on the radio. “I lost the rear completely.”

Hamilton then hinted his nemesis was gaining an advantage by using more of the track than is allowed.

“Max has gone off quite a few times,” said the Mercedes driver.

Hamilton has lauded the improvements from his updated machine, but the superiority of Verstappen’s Red Bull came to the fore.

Six laps had passed and Verstappen was suddenly out of DRS range. A slim hope of victory for Hamilton was dashed.

Yet the 38-year-old, who starts third for tomorrow’s 56-lap main event, will expect to be a contender again.

And his chances of a possible win will be aided by Verstappen starting only in sixth after his pole lap in Friday’s qualifying was deleted for exceeding track limits.

Lando Norris took fourth spot ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, with Carlos Sainz sixth.

George Russell finished seventh but was demoted to eighth after he served a five-second penalty for an illegal move on McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.

George Russell said he has banned himself from using social media and reading the news because it does not bring him any positivity.

The Mercedes driver has a combined following of nearly seven million on X and Instagram.

But Russell, 25, who was involved in a first-corner collision with team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the last round in Qatar, says he has stepped back from using the platforms.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Russell said: “I stopped using Twitter (‘X’) about six months ago.

“I work with a social team and everything that is posted is in my own words and is signed off through me. I want to stay connected with the fans. But I don’t use the app and I have started to do the same with Instagram.

“I respect that everyone has an opinion. But I don’t need to read the praise because that doesn’t bring me anything, and I don’t need to see the negative comments because that doesn’t bring me anything either.

“But when I stopped using Twitter (‘X’), whenever I was on my phone I was on Instagram, and when I stopped using Instagram, I thought I needed to look at something, so I started to read the news. But every headline was negative.

“Other than being informed about what is going on in the world, reading negative headlines one after another didn’t bring anything to me, so now I am totally off social media.”

Russell heads into the final five rounds of the campaign eighth in the standings, 62 points and five places adrift of Hamilton.

“It all stemmed after the summer break when I didn’t use my phone at all,” added Russell, who will line up from fifth on the grid for his 100th race in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

“During that period when I had my family and friends around me, I had an average screen time of 15 minutes. In a normal week I have an average screen time of three hours.

“I saw a post that said, ‘if you use your phone on average for four hours a day, by the time you die you will have spent 15 years looking at your phone’.

“And when I read that, I was like, ‘Jesus I could spend 15 years of my life on my phone.’ I can do something wiser than scrolling through Instagram memes.”

Lewis Hamilton raised the prospect of challenging Max Verstappen for pole position at the United States Grand Prix after he finished third in practice.

Hamilton trailed Verstappen by 0.281 seconds in the sole running before qualifying later on Friday with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc splitting the rivals.

But the seven-time world champion, in his upgraded Mercedes, clocked the fastest first and second sectors before hitting traffic in the final part of his speediest lap at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

Verstappen claimed his third world title in as many years at the previous round in Qatar.

But Hamilton’s early pace at a track where he has enjoyed so much success over the years suggests he might be able to give the Dutchman a run for his money in qualifying for Sunday’s 56-lap race.

Leclerc could also be a contender in the Lone Star State after he finished just 0.156 sec behind Verstappen.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez took fourth spot, three tenths back, a place ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen with George Russell sixth for Mercedes.

Oscar Piastri survived a hairy moment when he temporarily lost control of his McLaren through Turn 8.

The Australian rookie, who won the sprint race in Lusail a fortnight ago, looked destined for the barriers after he ran on to the grass at high speed.

Piastri wiggled one way to the next but managed to catch his out-of-control machine to avoid a big shunt. He sustained minor damage to the floor of his McLaren in the accident and finished only 19th.

Lance Stroll was rooted to the foot of the time charts after he completed just five laps following a brake failure on his Aston Martin.

Qualifying takes place at 4pm local time (10pm BST).

Lewis Hamilton can bounce back from a difficult three years to win a record-breaking eighth Formula One drivers' championship, eclipsing Michael Schumacher's achievements.

That is the view of 1978 champion Mario Andretti, who does not believe Hamilton has made a mistake by committing his future to Mercedes.

Hamilton equalled Schumacher's record haul of seven world titles in 2020, but he has failed to surpass the German great amid three years of dominance from Max Verstappen.

Having edged out Hamilton for the 2021 title in controversial circumstances, Verstappen has dominated the last two seasons while his rival has struggled. 

Verstappen clinched his third straight title with six races to spare by finishing second in the sprint race in Qatar last Saturday, and the Dutchman followed that up with another triumph on Sunday – his 14th victory in 17 Grands Prix this year.

While Verstappen holds an unassailable lead over Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez in the drivers' standings, Hamilton has found himself battling Fernando Alonso for a top-three finish, having ranked sixth last year.

Despite rumours linking him with Ferrari, Hamilton extended his contract with Mercedes until 2025 in August, and Andretti believes the 38-year-old made the correct decision. 

Asked if Hamilton needed to move to boost his chances of winning another title, Andretti told Stats Perform: "Why would he go anywhere else? 

"With Mercedes, that is probably the best possibility to resume his winning ways and win another title. No question. He's young enough. 

"He certainly still has the desire to be at the top. After being a multi-time world champion, you don't lose that ability.

"Right now, he equalled a record that I thought would never be approached, not in my lifetime anyway. He's still young enough that he could go for the eighth title. 

"It's going to take a long time for anyone to reach that and surpass that. So yeah, he's definitely one of the greats, for sure, deservedly so."

Hamilton sits 11 points clear of old rival Alonso in the standings ahead of next week's United States Grand Prix, with the Spaniard enjoying a resurgence since leaving Alpine for Aston Martin ahead of the 2023 season.

Having won four IndyCar championships during his own career, Andretti has a particular admiration for Alonso, who himself competed in the IndyCar Series during a two-year stint out of F1.

"Oh, Fernando is timeless," Andretti said. "I just love to see how much energy he still has and how much desire is still within him. 

"After taking a sabbatical from Formula One, I thought, 'I don't know, he'd better be careful about coming back'. Here he is, coming back as strong as ever. 

"I think he brought Aston Martin to a level that they almost did not expect. They certainly are giving him equipment which is capable, but he's taking it there.

"Fernando's legacy is that of a very ambitious driver, to try to conquer different disciplines. He ventured into IndyCar at Indianapolis. I respect somebody like that. 

"That's pure love for driving and the sport, to be curious like that, not just to drive, but to try to win in a category that's not your speciality."

Max Verstappen has told Toto Wolff to focus on his own team after he called the Dutchman’s record winning streak “completely irrelevant” and “for Wikipedia”.

Red Bull’s Verstappen became the first driver in Formula One’s 73-year history to win 10 consecutive races following his triumph at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month.

But moments after Verstappen’s landmark win, Mercedes team principal Wolff said: “For me, these kinds of records are completely irrelevant. Those numbers are for Wikipedia and nobody reads that anyway.”

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton crossed the line a distant fifth and sixth respectively for Mercedes at Monza’s Cathedral of Speed.

And when asked ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix for his reaction to Wolff’s unflattering appraisal, Verstappen said: “I mean, they (Mercedes) had a pretty s*** race, so he was probably still p***** off with their performance.”

Poking fun at what Verstappen perceives to be an obsession with Red Bull, he continued: “He almost sounds like he’s an employee of our team, but luckily he is not. It’s just important that you focus on your own team. That’s what we do and that’s what we did in the past when we were behind them and when they were dominating. It worked as a kind of inspiration.

“You should be able to appreciate when a team is doing really well. To see someone that dominant – it was very impressive at the time – and we knew that we just had to work harder, try to be better, and try to get to that level. And now that we are there, we are very happy, and we are enjoying the moment.”

Verstappen, now a victor at 12 of the 14 rounds so far, has not lost a race since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30, while his Red Bull team remain unbeaten this year.

But the Dutch driver has never won in Singapore and last season he finished only seventh. And Verstappen fears the high-downforce, low-speed nature of the Marina Bay Circuit could play into the hands of his rivals.

“We are not as competitive here as other tracks,” said Verstappen. “The streets are a little bit tougher for our car. We can do a good job, but it will be very tight.

“So, I want to try and continue that streak, but I know there will be a day that that stops. Normally, Singapore is a bit more of a risk and more chaos, but we are here to win.

“I never really looked at winning eight or nine, 10 races in a row. I just want to do the best I can. And every weekend is basically the same in terms of the pressure I put on myself to try and get the best result so nothing really changes.”

Jody Scheckter does not believe Lewis Hamilton's recent struggles will impact his Formula 1 legacy, insisting he will be remembered alongside Michael Schumacher as an all-time great.

Hamilton equalled Schumacher's record of seven drivers' championship titles in 2020, but he has failed to surpass the German icon's tally due to the dominance of Max Verstappen.

Having captured the title in controversial circumstances in 2021 and defended it last year, Verstappen has now won 10 successive races to close in on a third championship, which he could seal as early as the Japanese Grand Prix later this month.

Hamilton, meanwhile, sits fourth in the drivers' standings amid another difficult campaign, which has been plagued by suggestions he could soon walk away from the sport.

However, Hamilton opted to extend his F1 career until at least 2025 by penning a new contract with Mercedes last week, and Scheckter is pleased to see him still enjoying his time on the grid.

"I retired at 30 years old. He wants to carry on," the 1979 world champion told Stats Perform. "That's such a personal decision. He's got to do what he wants to do, if he's enjoying it.

"He's doing a good job, too. I thought [team-mate George] Russell would be quicker. But you know, Lewis is quick, he's doing a good job.

"If he gets a team-mate that beats him all the time… it's going to come, there's no question about it, it will come sooner or later. But people will still remember.

"You can't win that many world championships and not be recognised as an all-time great. 

"Some people get off at the wrong time, they carry on and want to hold onto it until they lose that, and people forget some of the other stuff that happened before."

Asked how Hamilton's achievements compare to those of Schumacher, the former Ferrari driver added: "I put them all in the same category. You know, there's the car there. 

"I think Lewis was a cleaner driver than Schumacher. In his tactics and stuff, he was more like a gentleman on the track than Schumacher was, so I commend him for that."

Sitting above Hamilton in the 2023 standings is his former McLaren team-mate and long-term rival Fernando Alonso, with the 42-year-old enjoying something of a renaissance with Aston Martin.

Alonso has racked up seven podium finishes in 2023 after finishing ninth in the drivers' championship while representing Alpine last year, and though Scheckter has not always been the Spaniard's biggest fan, he respects his longevity.

Reflecting on his own decision to retire in 1980, just one year after being crowned world champion, Scheckter said: "Some people say they enjoy it. I used to say if I'm enjoying it, I'm not trying hard enough.

"But if you're enjoying it, you're going to carry on longer and longer, you know? Maybe I pushed too hard to try and do it, so it's just a personal thing.

"Fernando's obviously very good. I didn't like some of the stuff he did earlier in his career, I didn't like it very much at all, actually. 

"But he's good, he's aggressive. I don't think he's as good as some of the press think he is, but he's doing a good job. Now, he's doing a really great job."

George Russell was confirmed as Lewis Hamilton’s new team-mate at Mercedes on this day in 2021.

The much-anticipated announcement came after Valtteri Bottas sealed a move to Alfa Romeo for 2022.

English driver Russell, then 23, earned the switch to the Silver Arrows after three impressive campaigns with Williams.

Commenting on his blockbuster transfer, Russell said: “It’s a special day for me personally and professionally.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely buzzing. It’s a huge opportunity and one I want to grab with both hands.

“But I’m under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge; it’s going to be a steep learning curve.

“I want to do my new team-mates proud. Of course, one of those new team-mates is in my opinion the greatest driver of all time.

“I’ve looked up to Lewis since I was in go-karts and the opportunity to learn from someone who has become a role model both on and off track can only benefit me as a driver, a professional, and a human being.”

In a message posted on Instagram, seven-time world champion Hamilton said: “I want to take a moment to welcome George Russell to the team.

“I remember meeting him when he was young, dreaming of one day being a Formula One driver. I’d only just reached my own dream of becoming an F1 driver, so I know what this day means and how it will feel for him.

“He is a great example to all the kids out there that dreams do come true when you chase them wholeheartedly.

“Through hard work he has rightly earned his spot on our team. I look forward to seeing him grow as a driver with this great team and working with him to raise Mercedes higher. See you next year.”

In his first season with Mercedes, Russell landed his maiden victory at the penultimate round in Brazil. He also outscored Hamilton.

Ahead of last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, Mercedes announced Russell, 25, will continue to partner Hamilton, 38, at Mercedes until at least the end of 2025.

Lewis Hamilton said he has “unfinished business” after signing a new £100million contract to extend his Formula One career beyond his 40th birthday.

After months of negotiations, the seven-time world champion finally concluded a new two-year deal – understood to be worth £50m-a-season, a salary hike of £10m – at last weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix.

The announcement ends speculation surrounding the seven-time world champion’s future with his current deal up for renewal at the end of the season.

Hamilton’s extension – which draws him level with Max Verstappen as the grid’s highest earner – will take him to a month shy of his 41st birthday. It will also allow him to continue his pursuit of a record eighth crown.

Hamilton will still be partnered by George Russell after Mercedes also confirmed they 25-year-old’s stay for at least another two years.

“I have had such an incredible journey with Mercedes, and we still have unfinished business,” said Hamilton ahead of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

“We want to get back to the top, and back to fighting for world championships. We are in this together.

“We have a lot of work to do, but there is nowhere else I would rather be. You are all stuck with me for a little bit longer.”

Hamilton has won a record 103 races, and was carried to six of his seven championships by Mercedes, but he has not tasted victory since the controversial Abu Dhabi decider of 2021 – a losing run of 36 races.

Hamilton is fourth in the championship, an eye-watering 183 points behind Verstappen, with Mercedes unable to challenge the Dutchman’s all-conquering team.

Verstappen has won 11 of the 13 rounds so far – with Red Bull unbeaten this season.

But Hamilton added: “It is not about revenge or redemption. Abu Dhabi is in the past and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“In life, you have ups and downs, and last year everyone was questioning whether they wanted to continue. But that thought quickly went away, and you put your mind and energy into being the best you can be.

“I truly believe we can win more world championships and more races together and that’s where all my energy is going.

“I’m not thinking that it’s going to take another four years to get to where we need to be. I’m aware that it does take time.

“But I’m so hopeful the decisions we are taking will put us in that target zone. In my heart I truly believe if it’s not next year it will be the year after that we can challenge.”

Hamilton, who made his F1 debut in 2007 aged 22, once scoffed at the idea of racing into his forties.

But after signing up for his 18th and 19th seasons, he revealed the careers of NFL star Tom Brady, who retired at the age of 45, and Fernando Alonso, who turned 42 last month, is proof he can continue to compete at the highest level.

“I definitely didn’t think I would get to the age that I am and feel the way I do, physically and mentally, and still love what I’m doing as much as I do,” he added. “That’s something I’m incredibly grateful for.

“I look at people like Tom Brady, who has been such an incredible athlete, and has shown what can be done today. He’s a role model in that respect.

“I’ve been fortunate in being able to speak to him and to understand what he has done and what he does consistently to keep himself in shape.

“It is also great seeing Fernando. He was here way before I was and is still doing an amazing job.

“It just shows that your talent never really leaves you so long as you have that passion and commitment to continue.”

Russell joined Hamilton at Mercedes in 2022, out-scoring his team-mate in their first season together.

He also claimed his maiden victory – Mercedes’ sole triumph of last year – at the penultimate round in Brazil.

“Lewis wouldn’t have stayed if he didn’t think the team was capable of winning again,” added Russell. “That reinforces the confidence that I have in the team.”

Max Verstappen is in the form of his career, but Williams team principal James Vowles is confident other teams are closing in on Red Bull.

Verstappen is well clear in the drivers' championship, having won seven races already in 2023. 

Red Bull, with their other driver Sergio Perez occupying second place, are also the runaway leaders in the constructors' championship.

Vowles, though, does think the gap is gradually beginning to close.

Asked how teams can stop the Verstappen-Red Bull juggernaut, he told Stats Perform: "It's a meritocracy. They've done the best job with the same finances available, not the same equipment, the same finances available as everyone else. 

"He's on fire at the moment. There's just every race where you think he might struggle. He still pulls one out of the bag and does well. 

"I think what you are seeing is people catching up. That's the slight difference. There is a closing of the gap relative to what happened before. It's just going to take time for that to fully kick in."

Before taking charge of Williams, Vowles was the motorsport strategy director at Mercedes, who have endured a difficult time since the start of the 2022 season.

"I think Mercedes lost a year's worth of development simply because the direction they went down was quite different to really the rest of the field," he said.

"And sometimes you have to believe in what you're doing at one point, which is what they've done now, you have to realise that is the wrong direction.

"But that year hasn't been undone. You can't just undo it in the space of one week.

"So what you'll see from this is that now we're going to slowly start, I'm sure, to learn what the package is and how to develop it because they are an incredible organisation and will get back to the front, but it's going to take them I think from here another six months, 12 months to be able to do that."

Asked if F1 was becoming too predictable, Vowles replied: "I think there always is a risk of that. That's like any sport, when you can predict the result, it's less interesting.

"The only thing is I'd go back and say, actually, Austria was one of the most interesting races we've had so far this year, so the gems are still there and this won't last forever.

"[Verstappen] will come back towards everyone else and it just takes a little bit more time than we're expecting. But he will do."

Lewis Hamilton's Formula One legacy "will live forever" says Logan Sargeant, who does not anticipate the seven-time world champion will bow out just yet.

After a disappointing 2022 season, Hamilton is once again well behind two-time reigning world champion Max Verstappen in the F1 standings.

While Verstappen has seven race wins to his name already this year, Hamilton has zero, and has only managed three podium placings.

The Mercedes driver sits fourth in the drivers' championship, and there has been speculation that this year might be his last in F1.

Williams driver Sargeant, however, feels Hamilton will stay on, though the American is sure that legendary status has been secured for the Briton.

"I personally think he's going to stay," Sargeant told Stats Perform.

"I think he wants to keep going. I could be wrong.

"His legacy will live forever, he's one of the best ever do it, if not the best, and he's a driver I looked up to through my junior career.

"I'll always have a massive amount of respect for him. His legacy will live forever."

Sargeant, though, does not feel Hamilton or anyone else will be able to compete with Verstappen for this year's title.

He said: "This year, I don't think so. Maybe next year, but it seems like they [Red Bull] have got this year well under control.

"Max is obviously driving amazingly, so I don't think anyone's going to be able to beat them this year unless they have a problem."

Sargeant is experiencing his first season in F1, and conceded it is taking some getting used to.

"It's extremely difficult, as you can imagine, being against 19 of the other best drivers in the world," he said.

"It's so tight from eighth to 20th, and if you put one foot wrong, that can be the difference between getting top 10 or 20th, so that's the biggest challenge just making sure you're at your best every single day, and I feel like it's coming.

"I'm just getting more and more comfortable with it, so the goal is to eventually get to a point where I can extract everything that car has throughout a weekend. That's where I want to get to."

Lewis Hamilton has been warned by former rival Felipe Massa that it will be a gamble to leave Mercedes.

Hamilton’s contract with the Silver Arrows is up for renewal at the end of the year.

It is expected that the 38-year-old will extend his stay with the team which has carried him to six of his record-equalling seven world championships.

However, Mercedes’ indifferent start to the new campaign has led some to question as to whether Hamilton could shop around, with Ferrari a possible destination.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s race at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, team principal Toto Wolff described Hamilton’s unruly Mercedes as “a nasty piece of work”.

But Massa, who was at the Italian team for eight seasons and lost out to Hamilton by a single championship point in 2008, said: “Anything is possible, but I have doubts that it will happen.

“The relationship Lewis has with Mercedes is strong and to change that for Ferrari he would need to be sure what he is going to get.

“Ferrari have not proved they have the car to win the championship. Going there would be a bit of a gamble. If he cannot go to Red Bull, which is impossible with Max [Verstappen] there, I would stay at Mercedes.”

Hamilton will be 39 in January but the Briton appears determined to win a record eighth title.

In Miami, he even raised the prospect of racing into his fifties.

Massa, 42, who retired from the sport in 2017, said: “When I go to run I suffer more than when I was 30 or 25.

“The age will come to Lewis but he still has some years in front of him and you see what Fernando [Alonso, 41] is doing at Aston Martin. Lewis just doesn’t have the car, but maybe that will change.”

Jenson Button believes Lewis Hamilton will sign a new deal with Mercedes because he remains “hungry” to win his record eighth world championship.

Speaking before the start of the season, Button, the 2009 world champion, suggested Hamilton will only extend his contract – which expires at the end of the year – if Mercedes can provide him with a winning car.

Hamilton finished sixth last weekend in Azerbaijan and already trails championship leader Max Verstappen by 45 after just four rounds, with the Dutchman’s Red Bull team in a league of their own this year.

However, Button, 43, said: “I don’t think Lewis is going to walk away from the sport.

“As a racing driver, if you have been winning for so long and then you are suddenly not, you want to fight back to winning ways. You are not going to retire.

“If you are in a bad car for many years, you want to retire because it just gets you down, but Lewis is not in a bad car. He is just in a car that is not as good as what he has been used to, and I get that.

“But he knows the strength of the team, he knows how quick he still is, so he is going to work with this team to get back to fighting with Red Bull, and they will.

“It probably won’t be this year, but in 2024, we will see Lewis on the grid. He is still hungry to win another world championship.”

Verstappen remains the overwhelming favourite to win his third consecutive title despite Sergio Perez moving to within six points of his Red Bull team-mate after winning the sprint race and Grand Prix in Baku.

And Button said another victory at Sunday’s Miami Grand Prix will fuel Perez with confidence that he can beat Verstappen to the title.

“I’ve been really impressed with Sergio,” added Button.

“Max has to be the toughest team-mate because he just goes out there and gets it done.

“Consistency is where Sergio has been lacking, but if he can do it in Miami, which like Baku is a street race, too, he has a chance to fight for the championship.

“I didn’t think I would be saying that, I really didn’t, but it is good for the sport. Red Bull has an advantage at the moment and we need both of them to be fighting it out.”

Charles Leclerc has brushed off reports suggesting he will replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, reaffirming his commitment to Ferrari.

The Monegasque driver is in his fifth season with the Italian constructor and is looking for a first podium of the 2023 season after a muted start.

But amid lingering speculation over the future of seven-time world champion Hamilton at Mercedes, Leclerc has been linked with replacing the Briton.

Ahead of this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, however, Leclerc denied reports he is set to swap teams, though he did not explicitly rule out a future move.

"No, not yet," he said. "Not for the moment. For now, I am fully focused on the project I am in today, which is Ferrari and I fully trust and am confident for the future.

"Then we will see, but I am fully confident for the project of Ferrari. I'm fully committed to Ferrari and I love Ferrari.

"It has always been a dream for me to be in this team and my main priority is to win a world championship with this team. So it's not something in my mind."

Hamilton, who picked up a first podium of the year at the Australian Grand Prix, sees his contract expire with Mercedes at the end of the current season.

Speculation over Leclerc succeeding him has had no impact on his own negotiations though, with Hamilton stressing his own commitment to the Silver Arrows.

"I think maybe some of the drivers all have different relationships with different bosses and stuff," Hamilton said. "I like where I am.

"I love my team, and I'm grateful for the journey we've been on and what we're working on moving forwards."

James Allison has returned to the role of technical director in a Mercedes leadership reshuffle.

Allison replaces Mike Elliott, who will remain with the Formula One team as chief technical officer.

Elliott had taken over as technical director in 2021, when Alisson switched to become chief technical offer combined with other work such as being part of the INEOS Britannia America's Cup team.

With Red Bull having replaced Mercedes as the dominant force in F1 following regulation changes, the Silver Arrows are striving to turn their fortunes around as they sit third in the early-season constructor standings.

An off-track change was confirmed by the team on Friday, with Alisson and Eliott switching jobs once again.

"Mike has led a review of our technical organisation to ensure we have the right structure to deliver sustainable success in the future," said a Mercedes spokesperson.

"We are focused on building the best racing car – and building the best team to develop that car, with everybody playing to their greatest strengths in the organisation."

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff told Autosport: "This was very much driven by Mike Elliott owning the process. So, we have reversed the roles.

"Mike has moved up to CTO, as he has a brilliant switched-on scientific mind. And James Allison has returned to his technical director position, reporting into Mike.

"What Mike's assessment was, and the introspection is really admirable, is that with James we have a gladiator on the field and the troops are going to go through the fire for him and with him.

"Mike came to the conclusion that the way he approaches things, his skill set, is best utilised in developing the organisation going forward: from technical capabilities to human capabilities and putting together the structure that can be successful for many years to come."

Christian Horner has responded to George Russell saying Red Bull are "embarrassed to show their full potential" and enjoy a bigger pace gap than has so far appeared to be the case. 

Reigning champions Red Bull have dominated the 2023 Formula One season after claiming both pole and the race win in each of the opening three races, including one-twos in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. 

Red Bull have almost double the points of Aston Martin in second in the constructors' championship.

However, at the Australian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen dropped from first to third on lap one, allowing Russell to briefly lead before the Dutchman went on to win the race, while his team-mate Sergio Perez rose to fifth following a pit-lane start.

It prompted Mercedes driver Russell to tell the BBC's Chequered Flag podcast: "For sure, they're holding back.

"I think they almost are embarrassed to show their full potential. I think realistically they probably have seven-tenths [of a second] advantage over the rest of the field.

"I don’t know what the pace difference looks like at the moment, but Max has got no reason to be pushing it, nor [have] Red Bull.

"They've done a really great job, to be fair to them. We can't take that away, and we clearly have to up our game."

When Horner was told about the remarks, he made reference to Mercedes' past dominance of winning eight consecutive constructors' titles before Red Bull ended that run in 2022.

"Okay, that's very generous of him," Horner replied. "His team of all people would know too well about those kind of advantages."

Asked if Russell's comments were true, Horner explained both of his drivers were managing their pace in Melbourne given the intended one-stop strategy before the safety car and red flag dramas.

"There's always an element of managing what goes on in any race," he said. "Because it was a one-stop race and a very early one-stop race, of course there was an element of tyre management which was going on, which was what they were doing.

"[But] Checo wasn't hanging about; he wasn’t cruising around, holding back seven-tenths per lap because he didn't want to show it – the grid was certainly a little bit closer at this venue."

Back-to-back world champion Verstappen leads the drivers' standings by 15 points ahead of Perez, with the season's fourth round on April 30 in Azerbaijan.

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