Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he hopes Lewis Hamilton will stay with the Silver Arrows beyond the end of this season.
Hamilton is gearing up for his assault on an eighth world championship at this weekend’s Formula One curtain raiser in Bahrain.
The 36-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season after he signed only a one-year extension with Mercedes during the winter break.
The shortness of the deal raised the prospect that this could be the British driver’s 15th and final campaign on the grid.
But on the eve of his title defence, Hamilton said he has no plans to stop.
Asked if Hamilton will be in a Mercedes car next year, team principal Wolff said: “I hope so. The journey that we have had together has been very successful.
“He has been a Mercedes driver since his go-karting years and he has never raced a single weekend in Formula One without a Mercedes engine, so it is the logical continuation of the story.
“We don’t want to leave it until February again to confirm our two drivers. Valtteri [Bottas] signed last summer, and this is the time when it should happen. It allows the driver to concentrate on the job.
“There are lots of balls in the air and we are always trying to do the best for the team in the long-term, while being loyal to our current driver line-up. Discussions are going to happen, but not in January.”
Hamilton will be 37 next year and Wolff has more than one eye on the future. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Williams’ George Russell (both 23) are on his radar.
Russell, a Mercedes junior driver, impressed as Hamilton’s stand-in at last December’s Sakhir Grand Prix after the world champion was sidelined with coronavirus.
And McLaren boss Zak Brown believes there is a strong chance that both Verstappen and Russell could occupy the Mercedes seats in 2022.
“George is out of contract this year and he obviously has a relationship with Mercedes,” said Brown. “He did a great job here in Bahrain last year.
“I’ve never seen Max’s contract but I understand that there’s probably a possibility for him to drive elsewhere next year.
“Mercedes and Toto are able to attract an awesome driver line-up so if those two guys are floating around, depending on what Toto decides with this current driver line-up, you could see it happening.”