SHANGHAI, April 15, 2011 (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton hinted Friday that he could leave McLaren in search of more success if the British team cannot provide him with a car capable of winning multiple world championships.
The 26-year-old Briton, who won the title for McLaren in his second season in 2008, said in Shanghai that his loyalty to McLaren had "limits" and that he was keen to maximise his time in the sport. "I am fortunate enough to be in a top team where I am comfortable but I want to win championships. I have only got a short period in Formula One," he said.
"I have always enjoyed racing here (at McLaren) and would like to continue. But you also, at the end of the year, have to assess what position you are in and what happened. "If you're in a good enough place and you're happy, then there's no need to go anywhere. But loyalty has its limits."
Reports circulating in the Shanghai paddock ahead of this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix suggest McLaren are looking to sign Hamilton and current teammate and 2009 world champion Jenson Button until 2017. But Hamilton said he hasn't spoken to McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh about a possible extension to his current contract, which runs out
after the 2012 season.
Hamilton said: "No one has mentioned it to me. But it's lovely to hear and I'm obviously doing something right. I will grill Martin on it."
Hamilton has spent his entire Formula One career with McLaren since his debut in 2007 and surpassed Lotus great Jim Clark last weekend in Malaysia as the driver with the most races with only one team with his 73rd start.
The Briton was second in last month's season-opening race in Australia, but finished eighth in Malaysia after being hit with a 20-second post-race penalty for defending his position with more than one change of direction in a battle
with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
With McLaren testing an updated front wing and floor for the car on Friday, Hamilton finished third in morning practice, but was more than two seconds slower than the benchmark time set by German Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull.
The McLaren driver was second to Vettel in the afternoon, but wasn't overly happy even after narrowing the gap to the German to just 0.166secs in the second session.
"I've been really struggling with the balance of my car, and I don't know if that's because of the upgrade that we have, or whether it's with the set-up," Hamilton said. "In the end I was able to get a relatively decent lap time, but I wasn't
very comfortable in the car."
Despite closing the gap, Hamilton believes Red Bull will still be the class
of the field again in China. "My feeling is that they're very, very quick this weekend," Hamilton said.
"You need quite good downforce on this circuit, and they've shown time and time again that they have a little bit more than us. "It looks like we're just behind them, but there's a little bit of a gap
between us and them. They'll still be setting the pace.