Bernie Ecclestone reckons Lewis Hamilton will end 2016 as F1’s world champion for the third successive year.
Hamilton has cut Nico Rosberg’s once 43-point lead to just nine with back-to-back victories in Monaco and Montreal and could take over at the head of the Drivers’ Championship as early as this weekend if he wins the European GP and his Mercedes team-mate finishes third or lower.
And Ecclestone predicted: “I think Hamilton will win the championship.”
The F1 supremo added: “Ferrari have been a little bit unlucky. A couple of races they could and should have won. So we’ll see, a long way to go.”
Mercedes have only been defeated once in the seven races since the start of 2016, but Ferrari and Red Bull have increasingly challenged the world champions. Just three tenths of a second covered the three teams in qualifying in Canada last weekend and Sebastian Vettel arguably should have won the race for Ferrari.
“It’s getting better isn’t it?” said Ecclestone, who hit the headlines ahead of the season when he said he would not buy a ticket for his family to watch F1. “We’ve got some racing.” The F1 supremo was speaking ahead of the European GP in Azerbaijan, where the new Baku City Circuit stages its first grand prix this weekend.
The sport’s calendar has increased to a record 21 races this year and Ecclestone was coy about how many will form 2017’s schedule. “We’ll have to look and see,” he said. “We could have 22. We’ll probably have 18…” But asked if a reduction to as few as 18 was really a possibility, Ecclestone replied: “No.”
Nonetheless, while a sharp reduction in races is unlikely, there doubts remain over several of F1’s most long-standing venues.
The Italian GP at Monza has featured in every F1 season except one, but contract negotiations have become protracted and Ecclestone joked recently “all they’ve got to do is find a pen”.
“They’re still looking,” he said on Thursday.
Doubts over the Brazilian GP at Interlagos have also surfaced owing to delays in renovation work and Ecclestone admitted: “Brazil has got a few problems at the moment.”
However, the 85-year-old reckons the oil price crisis which has afflicted the Azerbaijan economy over the past year will not put their new contract in jeopardy.
“There’s more chance of them doing seven years than me doing seven years!” he quipped.