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Hamilton wary of 'poisonous effect'

Williams' Bottas favourite to replace Rosberg but Lewis wants to be consulted to ensure team unity

Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes have an obligation to consult him on who should replace retired world champion Nico Rosberg as his Formula 1 teammate next season, but he will have no say in their ultimate decision.

"Basically, once they've dwindled it down to five drivers, or whatever it is, the shortlist, contractually they have to discuss it with me," the triple world champion told British broadcaster Channel 4.

"But I don't have a say on who it is."

Mercedes have been seeking a replacement for Rosberg since the German stunned the sport by announcing his retirement five days after winning the title in Abu Dhabi at the end of last month.

His departure leaves Hamilton as the clear favourite to regain the title next year.

The Briton, whose relationship with Rosberg was highly competitive, sometimes glacial and frequently fraught, has said he does not care who his teammate is, but during the Channel 4 interview, he clarified that that statement had been taken "a little bit out of context".

"It is important who we have in the second car - it's important for the team's morale," Hamilton said.

"We've seen in other teams and times where it can be a poisonous effect on a team - the arch-rivalry between drivers.

"And so, for sure that's really important, because I'm really happy here, I love being where I am."

"We've got to make sure that whatever we bring is at least as good as what we had, if not better, in terms of creating that energy."

Hamilton, who won 10 races last year to Rosberg's nine, said that when Mercedes do decide, it will be entirely their call.

Finland's Valtteri Bottas, currently under contract with Williams, is the favourite, with German reserve Pascal Wehrlein also an option.

OPEN TO EXIT

Williams' deputy team principal Claire Williams said on Thursday that they are open to Bottas joining Mercedes next season, but only if a suitable replacement can be found.

"Williams has its own ambitions and we must always ensure we give our team the best opportunity to move forward," she told the BBC in the first open recognition by either side that a deal could be done.

"Any changes would be made only if Williams remains in a strong position to compete and develop in 2017.

"If we did allow Valtteri to leave, we would only do so if an experienced, credible alternative was available, such as Felipe Massa, for example."

Like Rosberg, Brazilian Massa also retired from Formula 1 at the end of the season, but that was seen more as a consequence of Williams signing 18-year-old Canadian rookie Lance Stroll to partner the experienced Bottas.

Massa has said he wants to keep racing and might be tempted to return for one more F1 campaign, despite an emotional farewell to his home fans in Brazil last month, to help out Williams.

The BBC reported last weekend that Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff had offered a 10 million euro ($15.1m) cut in Williams' engine bill in return for allowing Bottas to leave.

Wolff is a former Williams director, and is involved in Bottas' management from a distance.

Mercedes said on Thursday that no announcement was planned between now and Jan 3 and there was no significance in the latter date, other than it marking the end of the holidays.

"They can put any driver they want - bring Sebastian (Vettel), Fernando (Alonso), bring whoever they really want," said Hamilton.

"I drove against Fernando in my first year (at McLaren in 2007), and beat him, so that's not a worry for me.

"I am happy to drive against any of them.

"But, in terms of what is best for the team, it's probably not the best ideas."

- WIRE SERVICES

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