Four-time world champion Vettel announced yesterday he would be quitting the sport at the end of the season, leading to glowing tributes from Hamilton and others.
Despite one of the toughest seasons in his career to date with a Mercedes that has struggled for much of it, Hamilton insists his track rival and good friend’s departure from the grid would not impact his own future.
“It doesn’t,” he said when asked if the German’s announcement made him rethink carrying on. “It’s a reminder that I am in that part of my career that the people I came up with and race with for so long are starting to stop.
“Before you know it, Fernando [Alonso] will not be there and then who is after that? I will be the oldest I guess.
“It has not made me think about that because I am thinking about how I can improve this car, what the next step is we need to get this team winning again, what is the road map to winning another world championship.”
Despite this season’s travails, Hamilton has enjoyed four straight podium finishes, his runners-up spot at last weekend’s French Grand Prix following three third places.
He said his desire to fight his way to the front of the grid and battle for an eighth world title in the future was not his only reason for remaining in the sport beyond this season. “What are the steps we need to do to have everyone aligned in this sport to do more to start truly reflecting the work we are trying to do in terms of diversity,” he said.
“When I talk about fuel left in the tank, I am still fighting for those things and I still feel I have plenty to go. More likely than not, if I stop, I will still have fuel left in the tank, I don’t think I’m going to go as far as completely burnt out and have nothing left but hopefully that’s a long way off.”
This is now comfortably the longest period in which Hamilton has gone without a Formula 1 victory. In his two weakest seasons in the sport — 2009 and 2013 — he scored his first win of the year at the Hungarian Grand Prix but was dismissive of the idea he might repeat the feat in Budapest this year.
“I can’t predict what is up ahead and, while in a dream world past history repeating itself would be lovely, there are no guarantees of that happening this weekend,” he said.
“On pure pace, we don’t have the pace to beat these guys [Ferrari and Red Bull]. Through reliability, we have capitalised on their failure but, on pure pace, we can’t fight them currently and we haven’t made a step between last week and this week, which is tough.”