Lewis Hamilton on difficult season for Mercedes in November
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Formula 1 legend Damon Hill has suggested Lewis Hamilton may be the one playing hard-ball with Mercedes over his expiring contract, with no decision made over the veteran’s future. Hamilton, 38, will begin his 17th season in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, but there’s yet to be confirmation of his plans beyond the end of this year.
Former Williams star Hill—who was crowned F1 world champion in 1996—has hinted the delay could be a calculated ploy by Hamilton, however. Both he and Mercedes chief Toto Wolff have suggested another extension is in the offing, but there will inevitably be questions as to why there is still no concrete plan in place.
Hamilton tied Michael Schumacher’s record haul of seven world titles when he won a fourth straight crown in 2020, but Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is the incumbent king after winning back-to-back championships. While many athletes would consider their mid-30s a fine time to retire, however, Hill surmised Hamilton is under no such pressure to hang up his helmet anytime soon.
“At 38, Lewis is obviously getting on in terms of years, but he remains as quick as ever,” the 62-year-old wrote for the Telegraph. “And as fit. With the way the drivers look after themselves these days, and power steering in the cars, I don’t believe there is any physical reason he could not carry on driving well into his 40s if he was motivated to do so. Fernando Alonso is living proof of that.
“The question is, what is keeping him here? Is it just about getting that eighth title? Will he retire if he does it? Or is it because he wants to keep racing for the love of it? Personally I can’t see Lewis driving around in circles trying to pick off podium places, as Fernando has been forced to resign himself to.”
As for the uncertainty over his commitment, Hill suggested Hamilton is biding his time to see how Mercedes start in 2023 before making a call on any contract. “If they start 2023 miles off the pace, perhaps Lewis will be less minded to sign a new long-term deal,” mused the F1 icon.
However, Hill considered both sides as he followed up that Hamilton’s high salary may have convinced Mercedes to hold fire on triggering any extension. The Silver Arrows have a highly promising talent in 25-year-old George Russell, while Hill wrote Hamilton “gives Mercedes a lot, but he costs them a lot too.”
In truth, much of motorsport would agree Hamilton should already hold the record for most world championships considering the controversial manner in which Verstappen won his maiden title in 2021. The FIA later conceded ‘human error’ played a substantial role in the infamous Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that year, where former race director Michael Masi’s decisions paved a path for Verstappen to overtake Hamilton at the death.
In the wake of that disappointment and the nightmarish 2022 season that followed, one could forgive Hamilton for seeing his passion for the sport somewhat subdued. A faster start to 2023 could be crucial if the Hall of Famer is to put pen to paper this year, with the next few months becoming a critical crossroads period for both him and Mercedes.
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