'I never said I was going to stop': Lewis Hamilton gears up for 2022 F1 season

Mercedes driver teams up with George Russell for new campaign

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton insisted on Friday he never said he was going to quit Formula One despite the controversial end to the 2021 world championship.

The British driver, 37, was speaking at the launch of the 2022 Mercedes car and for the first time since he lost the championship to Max Verstappen in the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 12.

"I never ever said I was going to stop," said seven-time champion Hamilton, who appeared alongside new team-mate George Russell and team boss Toto Wolff.

"I love doing what I do, and it is such a privilege working with this large group of people and you feel like you are part of a family. There is nothing quite like it."

Mercedes have reverted from black - installed for the past two seasons in the fight against racism - to their traditional silver colours for the new season.

"It is probably one of the most exciting times," added Hamilton. "It feels like the first [launch] again.

"It is very surreal to think I have been with Mercedes for 10 years. Seeing George have his seat fit at the factory was reminiscent of when I had my first seat fit with Mercedes at 2013. The journey we have been on since is absolutely phenomenal.

"Going into this year, I have not really set any goals. Every individual within this team has worked towards the ultimate goal of winning the world championship and raising the bar and doing something that has not been done before."

Formula One race director Michael Masi had altered the safety car procedure to allow for a last lap of racing that cost Hamilton a record eighth title and handed a first to Red Bull's Verstappen.

Masi decided only the lapped cars between race-leading Hamilton and second-placed rival Verstappen had to get out of the way after a late-race crash, allowing Verstappen to pass the Briton on the last lap, which left the British driver saying the race was “manipulated” in Red Bull's favour.

Reflecting on the moments after the Yas Marina race, Hamilton added: "It was a difficult time for me and a time where I needed to take a step back and focus on the present.

"I had my family all around me and creating great memories. I eventually got to a point where I decided I would be attacking again coming into another season and working with Toto and George."

Masi was on Thursday dropped as Formula One race director following his controversial ruling in Abu Dhabi. The news was confirmed by FIA president Mohammed bin Sulayem two months and five days after last season’s finale at Yas Marina Circuit.

A report into the failings at Abu Dhabi will be published at the season-opening race in Bahrain on March 19. Masi, offered a new position within the FIA, will be replaced by Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich in a total restructure of race control.

FIA president Bin Sulayem said: “I would like to inform you that a new race management team will be put in place starting in Barcelona for the test session.

“Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will act alternatively as race director, assisted by Herbie Blash as permanent senior adviser. Michael Masi, who accomplished a very challenging job for three years as Formula One race director following Charlie Whiting, will be offered a new position within the FIA.”

Updated: February 18, 2022, 11:04 AM