Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc seems very open to the idea of Lewis Hamilton as a team-mate. AP Photo/Luca Bruno.

LONDON - Charles Leclerc says he would welcome Lewis Hamilton, Britain’s six-time world champion, as a team-mate at Ferrari.

Talk of Hamilton’s future dominated the final round of the Formula One season in Abu Dhabi, as Ferrari admitted they were open to the idea of signing the sport’s biggest star.

Hamilton’s £40 million-a-year (R264m) Mercedes contract expires next season, and he refused to dampen the suggestion that he will one day drive in the famed red car.

Leclerc, 22, in his first season with the Scuderia, has outscored and outperformed team-mate Sebastian Vettel and he is likely to stay there for the long term, with or without Hamilton.

"Of course, I would welcome Lewis," said Leclerc, who finished third in Sunday’s race in the desert which was won commandingly by Hamilton.

"We are in Formula One and we want to fight against the best.

"I’ve had a big opportunity to have Seb next to me. He is a four-time world champion and I have learnt a lot from him. You can always learn from these types of champions."

Hamilton, 35 next month, is weighing up his options ahead of what is likely to be the last contract of his career.

Preliminary talks with Mercedes have started and one factor under consideration is whether Mercedes themselves will stay in the sport beyond 2020.

The chances are that they will, but they haven’t yet signed up to the new Concorde Agreement.

Another factor in Hamilton’s thoughts is the future of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who is believed to want to run the whole sport.

"There are so many factors you need to consider in your career," said Wolff, 47. "What makes you happy and what gets you out of bed on the difficult days.

"Still, after eight years, this job is what gives me that strength and at the moment I cannot imagine a better place to be."

Daily Mail