Lewis Hamilton talks to reporters at the launch of the Mercedes-AMG F1 2018 car at Silverstone. Picture: Tim Goode / PA via AP.

Silverstone - Lewis Hamilton broke the longest silence of his recent life to declare himself ready to sign a new £40-million-a-year (R648m) Mercedes contract before the season starts in Melbourne next month.

The four-time world champion made the commitment at the launch of the team’s 2018 car, the W09, in front of invited guests at a bone-chilling Silverstone yesterday.

Hamilton has cut down his social media output since he was criticised for joking that "Boys don’t wear dresses", while posting a video of his nephew in a princess dress.

Until yesterday he had studiously left off verbal commentary from his updates since the online storm broke on Boxing Day.

Hamilton admitted the shrill reaction - or what his team principal Toto Wolff called "a lot of c**p online" - had dented his psyche, but added: "It is not how you fall; it is how you get up."

He added: "We had already planned to start a clean slate at the beginning of this year. It just so happened it was an opportunistic time to change it. Moving forward, there is a balance you have to strike.

"I have been very open with my life for several years now and it is always difficult to make a change because I quite like being open.

"But we are in a strange time in the world where things are magnified more than in previous years. It is a critical time for the world. I will continue to show what I am doing. It is just being a little bit more strategic in what I do show and don’t show."

Hamilton radiated positivity in the gloom of Northamptonshire, promising to stay beyond his contract that runs until the end of this year. His anticipated new multi-season deal will make him the highest-paid driver in history.

"Hopefully we’ll have something done before the start of the first race,’ said the 33-year-old, who is chasing Juan Manuel Fangio’s mark of five titles. ‘But we’re in no rush with the contract. There’s no panic.

"I’m not feeling under pressure of any other drivers being under consideration and Toto and Mercedes have no reason to feel I’m talking to anybody else.’

Wolff confirmed the i’s are being dotted. Ferrari’s launch was relayed into Silverstone by video link from Maranello, where 2017 runner-up Sebastian Vettel called their new car ‘a big step forward’.

Hamilton predicted animosity ahead. "You would expect it to be worse than last year,’ he said of his rivalry with the German. ‘Honestly, I don’t play mind games. I just drive faster. Simple."

Hamilton looked a little chunkier than last season — he said he would trim down for the first race, the Australian Grand Prix on March 25 - and revealed the secrets to keeping his fitness regime fresh after 20 years of gym work and sacrifice.

"After winning the title, I went to LA and then Colorado," he said. "I travelled with my family. But there was no snow. I made a trip to Japan and went snowboarding there instead. It is what I love doing in the winter.

"I also went surfing in Japan. It was a good experience. Then to Europe and back to America, where I went surfing again, with Kelly Slater (a top American surfer).

"I say I did a lot of surfing, but I did a lot of swimming. I am not the greatest surfer in the world, yet. I went for the biggest waves, but got barrelled over.

"I also went to Hawaii. It was the longest break I have had in 10 years.

"I normally get a bit of December and January off, but this time it was December to February. I needed that to recharge.

"I have spiced up my training, adding jiu-jitsu, to go with the Muay Thai I started before. It is fun and I get fit. It is win-win."

Daily Mail