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Bernie: Lewis won't be beaten

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 15-12-2016 skysports.com

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Bernie Ecclestone believes Lewis Hamilton will prove unbeatable in 2017 irrespective of who his new Mercedes team-mate is. 

In a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports News HQ, Ecclestone predicted "nobody is going to beat Lewis" next season and that Mercedes were likely to win the Drivers' Championship again despite the overhaul of the sport's aerodynamic rules.

Brundle on the Mercedes quandary

Ecclestone says both the F1 spectacle and Hamilton himself need the triple champion to be challenged by a strong team-mate in 2017 following the retirement of Nico Rosberg.

"I think nobody would want to buy tickets and go to watch a race or watch on television Lewis disappearing from us when the lights go off and probably lapping the field a couple of times," Ecclestone told SSNHQ's Craig Slater.

"It would be bad for everybody and bad for Lewis as well, because I think he wants to win fair and wants to beat somebody."

Mercedes have identified Williams Valtteri Bottas as their top target but had an initial offer for the Finn rejected. The inexperienced Pascal Wehrlein is a likely alternative should Williams continue to rebuff the world champions' advances.

Ecclestone reckons "maybe one or two" of the grid "would be capable of performing" alongside Hamilton, but doubts they would win out over a season.

"I don't think anybody is going to beat Lewis," he said.

Alonso committed to McLaren

In a bid to ensure Mercedes field the strongest possible line-up in 2017, there had been speculation that Ecclestone, F1's commercial supremo, might use his considerable influence to help ensure one of Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso joined Hamilton in a blockbuster all-champion pairing.

However, for separate reasons, Ecclestone says the under-contract pair were never likely to leave their current teams. 

"There is no good encouraging people because both those guys are under contract," the F1 chief insisted.

"Whether or not… they've said they couldn't have Fernando because his tanglement with McLaren and with them at the time [over the Spygate controversy of 2007], so it would be wrong to have him. So they didn't try with him.

"But Sebastian is with Ferrari, is happy and certainly wouldn't break his contract."

In any case, Ecclestone believes only one driver could potentially come out on top in an in-house battle with Hamilton - Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

"Verstappen has been super. When I say nobody, maybe Max in that car could hurry Lewis along a little bit," added Ecclestone.

Asked if Verstappen, F1's youngest race winner, could win the title himself within the next three years, Ecclestone replied: "If he gets in the right car he will. Even where he is now there's possibilities.

"The problem is a simple one: the Mercedes team, engine, everything, is perfect and they've got the best driver in the world."

Red Bull are expected to mount a strong challenge to Mercedes' three-year dominance of F1 in the new era of rules in 2017 and asked if the reigning champions were still the favourites again, Ecclestone said: "I'm not so sure to win the Constructors' Championship, but certainly to win the Drivers' Championship."

Ecclestone added: "I hope I'm completely wrong in my assessment of the championship with Lewis. I hope I am wrong and whoever goes and sits in the same team can beat him or hurry him up that he makes mistakes.

"My personal opinion is that it's not going to happen."

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