By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent, Le Castellet
Lewis Hamilton claimed his best result of the season at Sunday’s French Grand Prix – and then said he is ready to extend his Formula One career.
In his 300th race, Hamilton started fourth and finished second, blasting past Red Bull’s Sergio Perez off the line and then gaining another place after Charles Leclerc crashed out from the lead.
Max Verstappen triumphed for a seventh time this year to move 63 points clear in the championship race.
Left it all out there today and P2 is a great result! First time up there with @GeorgeRussell63 as well. It’s so rewarding to see how far we’ve come since the beginning of the season. Still have work to do, but definitely going to enjoy this one !!! pic.twitter.com/64WH9bZX2g
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) July 24, 2022
Hamilton finished 10 seconds adrift of the Dutchman – and is now 106 points off the title pace – but he was belated and exhausted in equal measure when the chequered flag dropped in the searing 33 degree heat.
It has been a troubling period for Hamilton in the seven months since his controversial loss at last December’s title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – a defeat so sour that there was serious debate whether he would return this year.
But with 18 months to run on his £40 million-a-year Mercedes deal, Hamilton’s boss Toto Wolff said his driver could commit to at least another century of grands prix.
“That is a lot of races,” said Hamilton, 37. “Firstly, I want to be grateful to get to this point.
“But I still feel fresh, and I still feel as though I have got plenty of fuel left in the tank.
“I am enjoying what I am doing and I am proud of arriving every day and working with this incredible group of people. I am enjoying working with the sport more than ever.
“I want to get back to winning ways and that is going to take time, but I am sure we will sit down at some stage and talk about the future.
“I want to keep building. One thing is having the races, but another is to continue doing more outside of the sport, which I think Mercedes and us can, and will do.”
Hamilton took a blase approach to his triple ton in the build-up to the 12th round of the campaign.
But on Sunday night, he paid tribute to the men who helped propel him into the history books.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) July 24, 2022
He continued: “The 300th Grand Prix was mentioned at the beginning of the weekend, and I didn’t think much of it.
“But this morning I woke up and felt incredibly grateful, thinking about all of the people that have been with me along the way – Ron Dennis and Mercedes giving me the chance when I was young. Martin Whitmarsh and Mansour Ojjeh at McLaren, Toto Wolff , Niki Lauda, (Mercedes chairman) Ola Kallenius, (Mercedes board member) Markus Schafer, and (former chairman of Mercedes’ parent company, Daimler) Dieter Zetsche. All of these incredible people have supported me since I was 13.
“All of my races have been powered by Mercedes and I am very proud to be up here representing them. We have to keep pushing, and every weekend we hope we will get closer.”
Hamilton never threatened to challenge Verstappen – but he managed to hold off Perez in the other Red Bull – a major achievement for the Silver Arrows in their fight to get back to the front.
The icing on the cake arrived when George Russell fought his way past Perez with three laps to go to take third, with both Britons on the podium together for the first time in Mercedes colours.
RUSSELL OVERTAKES PEREZ FOR P3 👊
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 24, 2022
Hamilton added: “Am I enjoying it more? One hundred per cent. The beginning of the year, was – not miserable, it could always be way worse – but from a driver’s perspective understanding this car was so confusing.
“Now we are in a position where we understand the car more, and that has given us a much more enjoyable drive.
“We still lack performance in some of those areas but we are slowly getting there. It is about constantly chipping away.
“Unfortunately we can’t take big leaps at the moment but who knows? Maybe one big leap will come and we will be right there.”