Wolff not relishing Mercedes contract talks with F1 superstar Lewis Hamilton

By Sports Desk February 14, 2020

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits he is not looking forward to new contract discussions with Lewis Hamilton because of their close relationship.

Formula One champion Hamilton, who will target a record-equalling seventh title in 2020, is in the final 12 months of his existing deal.

Most signs point to him staying beyond the new season, despite Hamilton reportedly chasing a hefty pay rise.

He is said to be looking for an increase of around 50 per cent on what is reputed to be a £40million annual salary.

Team principal Wolff said: "The dynamic is very good, we've known each other for such a long time and have the greatest respect for each other.

"Lewis is very aware of where we are as a team and where we are as a motor company.

"Overall, these discussions, we don't like them because we are friends and very close to each other on this joint journey, but it's part of the job."

Wolff said Hamilton and Mercedes will both have ideas about the driver's value.

Hamilton has been linked with Ferrari in the past, but the Italian team have said they are focused on keeping the partnership of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc for the foreseeable future.

Ahead of the contract talks, Hamilton was quick to praise Wolff's influence, telling Sky Sports: "He's an incredible businessman. I learnt a lot from this man and it's always an exciting moment - it's a real privilege that they want me to stay and be part of a great team, that's a great feeling.

"I hope I can continue to help contribute to the team's success."

The team's new car - officially titled the Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 EQ Performance - was revealed on Friday at Silverstone.

Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas had the opportunity to take to the track, with the Brit describing the car, which includes a host of technical updates to the 2019 edition, as "a new piece of art".

There are changes to impact tubes, suspension and its aerodynamic make-up feature, and Bottas is optimistic he can challenge for the title.

While Hamilton is chasing Michael Schumacher's haul of seven titles, Bottas wants a first, and last year's second-placed finish in the championship fills him with optimism.

Bottas told Sky Sports: "I have no doubt Lewis will want to win the championship again and break records, but I need to focus on my own thing.

"Last year was really encouraging because I managed to improve lots of my weaknesses.

"I have good confidence; I know I can do it. It's for me to be at my best level, keep improving and keep learning. It's so good to start at zero again and see what happens."

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  • F1 2020: Dominant Hamilton can equal Schumacher wins record in Sochi F1 2020: Dominant Hamilton can equal Schumacher wins record in Sochi

    Lewis Hamilton has the chance to make Formula One history this week at the Russian Grand Prix.

    The Mercedes driver, who is dominating the 2020 drivers' championship as he holds a 55-point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas, is on 90 career wins.

    If he can make it 91, Hamilton would equal the all-time record held by Michael Schumacher, an accomplishment few thought was possible when the German – who has held the record since passing Alain Prost in 2001 - retired eight years ago.

    The race begins 14:10 local time (12:10 BST) on Sunday, with the rest of the grid attempting to at least delay Hamilton writing his latest chapter in the history of motorsport.

    LAST TIME OUT

    Hamilton triumphed in a tumultuous Tuscan Grand Prix, beating Bottas as Max Verstappen retired on lap one to increase his championship lead.

    There were two red flags - the first time that has happened in Formula One since Brazil in 2016 – and three safety cars amid chaos caused by multiple crashes.

    Bottas was in prime position to win after overtaking pole-sitter Hamilton at the start, but the Briton, who also claimed the fastest lap, fought back to win for the sixth time this season.

    While there was woe for Verstappen, some consolation for Red Bull saw Alex Albon claim his first career podium in third, a welcome result at a time Pierre Gasly – the surprise winner in Monza – was being connected with his seat.

    WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN RUSSIA

    All eyes will be on Hamilton's record pursuit and his past form in Russia bodes well. He has reached the podium in five out of six appearances, with four wins, a second place and a fourth place to his name. His Mercedes team have won all six previous editions.

    Bottas has been despondent after challenging Hamilton at multiple races but being unable to put together a full race weekend to defeat his relentless team-mate. Unless there is a huge turn of events at the scene of his first career win this weekend, the title appears to be slipping away for the Finn.

    Verstappen has dropped out of contention too after two straight retirements and will be desperate to get back on the podium. 

    And while his team-mate Albon had an enjoyable race at Mugello last time out, he still has plenty to prove having been out-qualified by Verstappen at all nine races in 2020. He does have fond memories of this circuit, though, after rallying to finish fifth last year from a pit-lane start.

    Three straight top-six finishes for Daniel Ricciardo have underlined Renault's improvement, but a podium remains elusive for the Australian, who will be replaced by Fernando Alonso next year when he moves to McLaren.

    TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

    Hope for the rest? – This season Mercedes have locked out the front row on seven occasions in qualifying, but only converted that to a one-two finish on three occasions.

    Qualifying key – Only once at this race has a driver won from outside of the front row (Bottas from third on the grid in 2017).

    Red Bull lacking wings in Russia – The Austrian team have never recorded a podium finish in six attempts at this grand prix.

    Ferrari flailing – Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel have failed to reach the podium for five straight races. If that happens again in Russia, it will be their worst run since also going six in a row without a top-three placing in 2016.

    Russian Rubens – Kimi Raikkonen is looking to equal Rubens Barrichello as the driver to have raced the most grands prix in F1 ever (323). Vettel is also set to reach a milestone – he is poised to make his 250th career start.

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 190
    2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 135
    3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 110
    4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 65
    5. Alex Albon (Red Bull) - 63

    Constructors

    1. Mercedes – 325
    2. Red Bull – 173
    3. McLaren – 106
    4. Racing Point – 92 (after 15-point deduction)
    5. Renault – 83

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    Maverick Vinales became the sixth different winner of the 2020 MotoGP season last weekend and can now nose ahead in the championship standings with a strong performance in Barcelona.

    Vinales capitalised on Francesco Bagnaia's crash to snatch a dramatic victory in the second of back-to-back races at Misano last time out.

    It moved the Monster Energy Yamaha rider onto 83 points, level with Fabio Quartararo and one behind championship leader Andrea Dovizioso, with Marc Marquez's absence leading to a wide-open competition this season.

    With matters so congested at the top of the standings, Sunday's race – which begins at 14:00 local time (13:00 BST) – looks set to be a pivotal one.

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    It was a chaotic Emilia Romagna and Rimini's Coast Grand Prix, with leader Bagnaia skidding off the track with seven laps remaining.

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    Behind Vinales, Suzuki Ecstar's Joan Mir charged up the grid to secure a second-placed finish, with Pol Espargaro of Red Bull KTM Tech3 clinching third.

    Espargaro's place on the podium came due to a three-second post-race penalty for Quartararo, which cost the Frenchman dear as he would have moved above Dovizioso in the standings after the Ducati rider finished eighth.

    WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN BARCELONA

    Just six races are remaining after Sunday's grand prix in Catalonia, and it presents a real opportunity for one of the leading pack to break away from the rest and cement their place at the top of the pile.

    Dovizioso is clinging onto pole position, but he needs a good showing to assert himself as the favourite, having made the podium just twice.

    Vinales claimed pole in both Misano races and no rider has started first on the grid more often than the Spaniard this term. In total he has registered three poles, his best tally since 2017, when he recorded five.

    However, his conversion rate has been poor, and Vinales' record at Barcelona is far from ideal – he has failed to reach the podium in his five previous top-level races at the circuit.

    Quartararo was left seething after the costly long-lap penalty last weekend, meanwhile, and will be determined not to make such an error this time around.

    Likewise, Bagnaia will be hoping to avoid a repeat of his Misano woe as he looks to claim his maiden race win in MotoGP.

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    Rossi record – Valentino Rossi is the rider with the most wins at the Catalunya Grand Prix in the top category (seven in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2016). However, he has only won one of his past nine appearances at Barcelona-Catalunya circuit, although he reached the podium in four of the last six.

    Vinales in search of back-to-back wins – Vinales has now won at least one GP in each of his past five seasons in the competition. Only once has he won back-to-back races in the top category, though, in Qatar and Argentina in 2017.

    Dovizioso and Vinales in good company – Both riders have won 24 races across all categories. Among current MotoGP riders, only Rossi (115) and the injured Marquez (82) have more victories.

    Quartararo's poor qualifying run – The Frenchman has failed to reach the podium in the past five MotoGP races. If he falls short again in Barcelona, he will equal his worst streak in the top category (six).

    Mir out to make Suzuki history – Mir is just one podium away from equalling the record of podiums per season of any Suzuki rider in the top category (four, set by Chris Vermeulen and John Hopkins in 2007, Maverick Vinales in 2016 and Andrea Ianonne and Alex Rins in 2018).

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    1. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 84
    2. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) 83
    3. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) 83
    4. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) 80
    5. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) 64

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    2. Monster Energy Yamaha 141
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    4. Ducati 115
    5. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 110

  • Michael Jordan becomes NASCAR team owner with Bubba Wallace as driver Michael Jordan becomes NASCAR team owner with Bubba Wallace as driver

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    Chicago Bulls legend Jordan, who is also owner of NBA team the Charlotte Hornets, announced the link-up with Hamlin via social media.

    The new team will see a high-profile pairing of a black majority team owner in Jordan and the only black driver in the top NASCAR series in Wallace.

    Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, said he is excited by the chance to create more opportunities for black drivers in a sport he loves.

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    "The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

    "Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. 

    "In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for black people in racing."

    Earlier this year, Jordan pledged $100million to initiatives tackling systemic racism over the next 10 years.

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    Wallace said the opportunity to work for Jordan a chance he simply could not pass up.

    "This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career," he said.

    "Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. 

    "I'm grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I'm super pumped to begin this adventure with them."

    Hamlin will be a minority partner while he continues to drive the No. 11 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing and explained he had been friends with Jordan for some time.

    "Eleven years ago I met Michael Jordan at a then-Charlotte Bobcats game and we became fast friends," Hamlin wrote. 

    "Not long after, I joined Jordan Brand as their first NASCAR athlete. Our friendship has grown over the years and now we are ready to take it to the next level. 

    "Deciding on the driver was easy it had to be Bubba Wallace."

    He added: "It just makes sense now to lay the foundation for my racing career after I'm done driving and also help an up-and-coming driver like Bubba take his career to a higher level. 

    "Plus, Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport, but also well beyond it."

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