LE CASTELLET, France, June 21 (Reuters) - If Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes race engineers are not fully focused on Formula One in the hours immediately before Sunday’s French Grand Prix, blame it on the football.
The four-times world champion conceded on Thursday that even he would be trying to keep one eye on England’s World Cup group game against Panama which kicks off in Russia two hours before the race at Le Castellet.
Formula One has pushed back the start time specifically to avoid a clash.
“The game is on Sunday so it’s going to be a little bit harder to focus on the race,” the Briton, who is a point behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel after seven races, told reporters in the team hospitality.
“The game will be on in here, I’m sure my engineers will be trying to keep an eye both things at the same time, as will I.”
Hamilton, the only British driver on the current F1 starting grid, was at school with England and Manchester United wing back Ashley Young although the two have not stayed in touch and Hamilton has always declared himself an Arsenal fan.
“I remember seeing how he was an awesome player as a kid and to watch his success as he’s grown older, the ups and downs he’s had, and to see someone else come from Stevenage and doing well I think is really awesome,” he said.
“Another inspiring character, again showing that you can come from nowhere...he came from nowhere just like me, almost the same street and now he’s representing the country which is great.”
Vettel’s Ferrari engineers are unlikely to have similar distractions in the coming weeks, with Italy failing to qualify for the World Cup finals, although the German — a keen soccer player — might struggle. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ian Chadband)