Sir Lewis Hamilton has said winning a record-breaking eighth world championship will not determine whether he quits Formula One at the end of the year.
Hamilton’s bid for a title which would move him clear of Michael Schumacher to become the most decorated driver in the sport’s history, will be played out against the backdrop of his future on the grid.
The Briton, 36, recently extended his contract with Mercedes by just one year, raising the possibility that the forthcoming campaign – which gets under way in Bahrain on March 28 – could be his 15th and final in the sport.
“Of course, [winning an eighth title] is the ultimate dream, but I don’t think it will be the deciding factor as to whether I stay or keep going,” said Hamilton.
“I got into racing because I love racing and that has to be the core of what I do. If all you are going for is accolades and titles, I feel like I could lose my way.
“It is whether I still have that smile when I put on that helmet and leave the garage and whether I still enjoy it.
“I am in the fortunate position where I have achieved most of the stuff that I wanted to, so there is no real need to plan too far into the future.
“We are living in an unusual period of time. I just wanted one year, then we can talk about if we do more and keep adding to it by one if we have to.
“But I am fully invested in this season and delivering. It doesn’t mean I am not committed. I am still very committed to the sport.”
Hamilton was speaking after Mercedes unveiled the car he hopes will carry him to history and potentially a fairytale conclusion to his remarkable career.
The sport’s all-conquering team have carried over their anti-racism black paint job from last season, updated with a flick of silver to represent the constructors’ traditional colours.
Hamilton added: “In the past it was just about winning world championships. Last year, there was a lot of discussion about equality, inclusion.
“This year, it is all about pushing for diversity and really making sure that action is taken. That is at the core of the drive for me, but we exist to win and that is what we are working towards and it is also my goal to deliver that.”
With very minor changes to the rulebook, Hamilton’s Mercedes team will start as the favourites to complete a stunning eighth drivers’ and constructors’ double.
Hamilton has won six of the last seven drivers’ titles and last year surpassed Schumacher’s all-time victory record.
But Mercedes are plotting for life after their star driver, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner recently claiming that Max Verstappen, 23, heads their wishlist should Hamilton stop at the end of the year.
British driver George Russell, 22, will also be pushing for a promotion from Williams after impressing as Hamilton’s stand-in at December’s Sakhir Grand Prix. Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas’ deal with Mercedes expires at the end of the year, too.
Asked if Hamilton remains Mercedes’ number one option for 2022, team principal Toto Wolff said: “The sheer fact that we have had so much success together in the past and the relationship that we have, the trustful relationship, will mean that any conversations we have on 2022 and the future will first be with him.
“Max is certainly an outstanding young driver that will be on everybody’s radar in the future. But we are not flirting outside before we have a clear understanding with our two drivers.”
Hamilton will get the first taste of his new machine at the only three day pre-season test, which gets under way in Bahrain on March 12.