Lewis Hamilton has hit back at Bernie Ecclestone’s claim that he has lost his fighting spirit by telling Formula One’s former supremo: “I am not the driver I was, I am better.”
The seven-time world champion heads into the British Grand Prix without a victory in his past five appearances and 32 points adrift of title rival Max Verstappen.
In the build-up to this weekend’s race, Ecclestone, who ruled the sport for 40 years, said “perhaps Lewis is not quite the fighter that he was”, and suggested Hamilton has made too many mistakes in his quest for an historic eighth championship.
Ecclestone said: “There are lots of occasions this year where he could have done better and he hasn’t.”
But asked to respond to the 90-year-old’s controversial remarks, Hamilton replied: “I wasn’t aware of his comments until I arrived here.
“Honestly, this has been such an interesting week. We had the football which was exciting for one moment, and then it was quite difficult afterwards, although the positive support subsequently has been amazing. I have also been focused with the (Hamilton) Commission.
“No one is side-tracking me. I am not the driver I was when I started, I am better, and I know myself way more than I ever did.”
Hamilton has won the British Grand Prix more times than any man following six triumphs in his previous eight visits to Silverstone and seven in all.
But the Mercedes driver will head into his home event as the underdog with Verstappen’s in-form Red Bull team holding the upper hand.
However, Hamilton hopes the sell-out 140,000 spectators expected for Sunday’s race – the biggest UK crowd of the Covid-19 era – a planned Mercedes upgrade and F1’s first Sprint race, will help turn the championship tide in his favour.
He added: “With all those elements I hope and pray that that is the case.
“Another strand is the Sprint race and a new weekend format. It is easy for any of us to get it wrong but there are opportunities there which is exciting.
“There is always talk of the energy and the buzz that the fans bring, and without doubt when it is your home race and the British crowd you come with more heat behind you.
“I am hoping all of that together closes that nice gap that Red Bull have in terms of performance and enables us to take it to them this weekend.”
It has been two months since Hamilton last stood on the top step of the podium. The Briton left Barcelona’s Spanish Grand Prix on May 9 a dozen points ahead of Verstappen. But the Dutchman has raced to four victories in five in his bid for a maiden title triumph.
“I have always been calm and I always try to aim to improve and be better,” the 23-year-old Red Bull man said.
“I am happy with the wins but it is a super-long season and we need to score a lot more points so we have to focus on that first.”