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Clear path: Lewis Hamilton

Clear path: Lewis Hamilton

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Clear path: Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton has been told by Mercedes that the stage is his to become Formula One's most successful driver after appearing to rule out a move for Ferrari exile Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton, six points behind Championship leader Valtteri Bottas, heads into tomorrow's Hungarian Grand Prix knowing that a remarkable eighth victory at the twisty Hungaroring track will take him to the top of Formula One's standings.

Fresh from his dominant triumph in Austria a week ago, the six-time world champion - bidding to equal Michael Schumacher's record of seven crowns - was in menacing form again yesterday, topping the time charts in opening practice before heavy rain rendered the afternoon's running meaningless.

The 35-year-old's Mercedes deal expires in five months, and, after saying he has not discussed financial details with boss Toto Wolff, he appears some way off putting pen to paper on a contract extension.

Four-time champion Vettel is in search of a seat for 2021 after being sidelined by Ferrari. Racing Point, set to be rebranded as Aston Martin next year, is his likely destination. But it is understood the German (33) has not given up hope of joining the all-conquering Silver Arrows if Hamilton can't agree new terms.

But Mercedes technical director James Allison all but killed off Vettel's hopes. Hamilton's team-mate Bottas, meanwhile, looks certain to be retained.

"Why would we want to move away from a line-up that has produced such strong results?" asked Allison. "There is a respect across the garage between our two drivers that has been evident for all to see."

Belfast Telegraph