Lewis Hamilton was delighted with his performance at Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton signed off with his career options open along with a hope and prayer that the Ferraris and Red Bulls will give the Mercedes team a tougher fight during the 2020 season.

The 10 Formula 1 teams will be back on the grid for the 71st running of the World Championship at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 15. Over the following eight months the entourage will move through 22 stops until its culmination at the Yas Marina Circuit at the end of November — making the 2020 calendar the longest in the history of the sport.

Recently, the 34-year-old British driver — whose contract with the Silver Arrows runs until the end of 2020 — went on record to say that his future with Mercedes would be aligned with boss Toto Wolff’s line of thinking. Formula 1 owners Liberty Media have been eyeing Wolff as a potential CEO in place of current chief Chase Carey.

Entering into the final year of his contract at Mercedes, Hamilton is free to seek out new opportunities for 2021, with Ferrari among one of his possible suitors with the advent of significant change in rules and regulations.

“I’ve never considered other options except staying where I am. This has been a fantastic journey and we are still on that path where we are trying to get better and improve with each passing day,” Hamilton said at the post-race conference, after taking his 11th win of the season late on Sunday.

“There’s no harm in Toto looking at other options, but I love where I am at the moment. I know where I want to be moving forward. I just want to keep winning and that will always be the ultimate goal,” he added.

Now seen as Ferrari’s future, Charles Leclerc welcomed the addition of a world champion like Hamilton, should such a thing happen in the future. “Ideally we would want to fight against world champions. But in this case it would be an honour to have Lewis on my side as there is so much that I will be able to learn having him around,” the 22-year-old said.

“We never posed a challenge to the Mercedes. We were good during qualifying, but we need to improve and rectify this during 2020.”

With a little over 100 days to go until the start of the 2020 season — meant to play out under the theme ‘70 years of Formula 1’, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was left hoping his team can be in a position to catch up with the dominant Mercedes cars, who topped the Constructors’ Championship with 739 points — their second-highest total as a team after they achieved an all-time high of 765 points in 2016.

Traditional rivals Ferrari have struggled to strike the right degree of consistency despite finishing runners-up this season with 504 points. It was the Red Bull team that really ended with a strong flourish especially in the second half of 2019. “It’s been pretty close this year for sure, but we need to do more than this,” Verstappen said.

“We can take the fight and catch up with these dominant cars for sure. But it won’t be easy. We just need to do a lot of hard work and keep the momentum going during the winter.”

Facts and figures

— Sunday’s win sees Lewis Hamilton establish yet another statistical record: The six-time world champion has scored 413 points this season, the most ever. He held the previous record last year with 408.

— It’s the same situation for his team, Mercedes after scoring 739 points — that’s 36 points more than their 2015 record.

— Max Verstappen becomes the 67th driver to finish in the top three in the Drivers’ World Championship. The Dutchman has had his best-ever season, thanks to his third place, which means he gets to attend the FIA Prize-giving Awards Gala that takes place in the Louvre, Paris, on Friday. Michael Schumacher heads this particular list on 12, ahead of what has become a joint trio this year of Sebastian Vettel, Alain Prost and Lewis Hamilton.

— The first 10 in the Drivers’ classification feature no fewer than 10 different nationalities: Australia (Daniel Ricciardo), Finland (Valtteri Bottas), France (Pierre Gasly) Germany (Sebastian Vettel), Great Britain (Lewis Hamilton), Mexico (Sergio Perez), Monaco (Charles Leclerc), Netherlands (Max Verstappen), Spain (Carlos Sainz), Thailand (Alex Albon).