Formula 1: Coulthard expects Hamilton to stay at Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton joined the Mercedes team in 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

BIRMINGHAM (Reuters) - Former grand prix racer David Coulthard expects Lewis Hamilton to resist the allure of Ferrari and stay with Formula One champions Mercedes for some years to come.

Ferrari bosses confirmed last month that Britain's six-time world champion, whose Mercedes contract expires at the end of 2020, had met their chairman John Elkann at a couple of social events.

They said they were flattered by the Briton's interest in a possible move.

Coulthard, who finished overall runner-up to Ferrari's seven-time champion Michael Schumacher in 2001 while with McLaren, doubted a move would really happen.

"I've never felt that Lewis was ever going to go anywhere else (than Mercedes)," the Scot, president of the British Racing Drivers' Club and also a commentator for Channel Four television, told Reuters.

"I'm sure he is talking to Ferrari... but he's only ever been with Mercedes. Why go and break that?"

Coulthard was at the Autosport International Show where he was promoting the all-female W Series ahead of its second season.

"Some people want that European twist to their life, but I think Lewis is quite happy in English-speaking territory. Britain and America. America for his play time, Britain for his racing.

"I don't think he needs the huggy, cuddly, emotional ride that would come with Ferrari. And I don't believe that Ferrari badge is etched on the inside of his mind since he was a wee kid. So why do it? Money? He's got plenty of that."

Hamilton, who won his first title with McLaren in 2008 and joined the Mercedes team in 2013, has always driven F1 cars powered by the German manufacturer's engines.

The 35-year-old is on course to break Schumacher's record 91 career wins this year, when he can also equal the German's title tally.

Coulthard said he felt up until the US Grand Prix in Austin last November, when Hamilton won his sixth title, that the Briton could walk away at any point but that had changed.

"I have a much stronger feeling that he's in it for another few years. So it does set us up for what could be an absolutely golden era of Formula One," he said.

Ferrari have 22-year-old Monegasque Charles Leclerc tied up on a long-term deal, with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in the final year of his contract, while Red Bull recently extended Max Verstappen's contract to 2023.

Coulthard said Vettel, who won his titles with Red Bull, faced a critical year after being out-performed by Leclerc last season.

"I think Seb has got a shorter duration to his career now than before. A lot depends on this year," he said.

"If... Charles continues to be up front, then it just doesn't really make financial sense for Ferrari to apportion that amount of money to someone that could end up becoming a clear No. 2.

"Right now he (Vettel) is No. 1 equal. But he went in as No. 1 plus at the beginning of the year (2019), became No. 1 equal as the year went on and he's on the cusp of maybe dropping, as we've seen with Kimi (Raikkonen).

Raikkonen, 2007 world champion for Ferrari, became an effective No. 2 to Vettel before being replaced by Leclerc. The Finn is now racing for Alfa Romeo.

Speculation about who might replace Vettel alongside Leclerc is already rife, with Renault's Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the spotlight.

"A lot again depends on this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's already talking to Ferrari and Mercedes and all the teams that didn't want him last time round," said Coulthard.

The season starts in Australia on March 15.

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