BAKU (AFP) - World champion Lewis Hamilton paid tribute to Arsene Wenger and pledged his future to Mercedes on Thursday (April 26) ahead of this weekend's potentially critical Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The 33-year-old Briton praised the loyalty and values of the exit-bound Arsenal manager and swept aside doubts about his own future despite not yet signing a new contract. His current deal ends this year.
"I have always had great admiration for Arsene," Gunners supporter Hamilton told reporters.
"For anyone to have commitment to a team and the loyalty which he has shown through all the ups and downs, through outside individuals saying positives and negatives, but to stay true to your values and continue to strive for what you believe in I think has really been awesome.
"Whilst the team has not always been the most successful, I really hope that he feels great about his time. I've had the privilege of meeting him a couple of times. He asked me to go and train with the team, which I have not managed to do yet, but he was always really welcoming and it was cool to meet 'our team's' boss.
"I've supported Arsenal since I was five. I want to wish him all the best. I think his future is as bright as he wants it to be, so I hope he takes the positivity out of all the great experiences he's had."
Hamilton insisted it is only a matter of time before he re-commits to Mercedes.
"I'm fully committed to Mercedes," he said. "I have every plan to be with the team for the future so it is really about getting on with it. We were planning to do it after the last race, but we had a lot on.
"I was not really around to meet. I had one day at the factory and then I was in China and then I was in the States. We will do it in the near future for sure, but it's not a rush thing."
It may be no more than a coincidence but speculation over Hamilton's future - due to the delays in him signing and announcing his new long-term commitment to the team - has been accompanied by a dip in form for the four-time world champion.
He has not won any of the three season-opening races, but current championship leader and fellow-four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari on Thursday dismissed suggestions that Hamilton's form could help him take a fifth title.
"We've not had that many races so far, but I think he's been as usual. He's doing a very good job. Obviously, Australia was his weekend, but it ended up a bit different.
"Bahrain was ours and China, I'm not sure whose it was. I'm not looking at one guy that close or closer than others. I guess he's doing a good job otherwise he wouldn't be as successful as he's been these last years.
"I hope to be number one challenger to whoever, but it's a long year and at the moment it's looking good, but it doesn't mean anything, because it matters in the last three races, not the first three races."