Is Hamilton starting his final F1 season? Why this may not be his ‘last dance’ with Mercedes

2021 F1 season

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Last year, while Formula 1 fans thrilled to the second instalment of Drive to Survive, another acclaimed Netflix documentary told the story of a fascinating chapter in the history of basketball.

The Last Dance explored how Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ seven-year near-total domination of the NBA in the nineties drew to a close. It’s a revealing study of what happens when a great sporting power is forced to confront the timeless truth that nothing lasts forever.

They won six titles in seven years. The parallel to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes is almost too convenient. But as it proved for Jordan and the Bulls, so it will one day be the case for Mercedes and Hamilton. Could that day even come this year?

For a while last year it seemed Mercedes’ ‘dream team’ which dominated the V6 hybrid turbo era was starting to coming apart. Engine mastermind Andy Cowell departed. The futures of both Hamilton and team principal Toto Wolff remained uncertain for a long time. Eventually Wolff re-committed, as did Mercedes, albeit with a reduced stake.

Question marks remain over the future of Valtteri Bottas, who Hamilton has always been quick to praise, after a less than stellar showing when George Russell made a one-off appearance as his team mate last year.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Hamilton is seeking an eighth title – and star on his helmet
As for Hamilton, he is in the rare position of having almost nothing new left to win in Formula 1. He has already won more races and set more pole positions than anyone else, and the chances are high he will become the first person to rack up centuries of each this year.

He goes into the 2021 F1 season as hot favourite to win the title for a record-breaking eighth time. He’s insisted that won’t be “a deciding factor” in whether he continues. But what will?

The saga of Hamilton’s Mercedes contract negotiations over the past 12 months fed an expectation that he’s planning to hang up his helmet. Discussions around his latest deal were repeatedly postponed as first the pandemic delayed the start of the season, then the championship fight became his focus and, shortly after the title was won, Hamilton was laid low by Covid-19.

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Finally, he agreed to extend his contract with Mercedes by a single season. Team principal Toto Wolff indicated at the time this was a case of kicking the can down the road for another year, and that they would begin talks on “2022 and onwards” earlier in the new year. However Hamilton subsequently indicated he is only considering further one-year extensions rather than another multi-year deal.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Testing suggested Hamilton may have a fight on his hands
Is the opportunity to spend more time on his other interests – such as music, fashion and his passionate advocacy of diversity and equality – luring Hamilton away from F1? Wolff insists he has “no doubt about his commitment” to the sport and believe he still “enjoys racing a lot”.

“We enjoy working with each other and we discussed that a lot. But he’s absolutely right. The times change. [There’s] new priorities for all of us in terms of the way we live, our health. And he’s very passionate about his initiatives against racism and inequality.”

For much of the past seven years Mercedes have been in an almost unapproachable position. Hamilton has converted that into six world championship wins.

The sport has responded to this by trying to level the playing field. A budget cap has been introduced for the first time this year – a driver salary cap may follow in future seasons, which would hit Hamilton, believed to be F1’s top-paid driver by far, the hardest.

This year, for the first time, Mercedes have been permitted less aerodynamic development time than their rivals, as a consequence of their latest championship victory. Further success this year will result in an even lower limit next season.

F1 will also introduce a radical new generation of cars next year which it hopes will reduce scope for teams to vastly out-develop their rivals. It all points to Mercedes’ domination of F1 coming to an end.

Is that when Hamilton will take his cue to leave? Wolff thinks not. “We have this massive regulatory change in 2022 that’s going to reshape what Formula 1 will be for the next few years. I don’t think that this plays a role, to be honest.

“I think it’s fair enough for a driver that has won seven championships to give himself the flexibility in his mind to decide what he wants to do in the future. Whether this is racing or outside of the circus.”

Hamilton insists “I still love what I do” in F1 and he is “fully invested in this season and in delivering”. But much like last year, he indicates a decision on his future isn’t likely to come until the second half of the season.

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“I’m in the fortunate position that I don’t have to commit to multiple years. So I chose to have a one-year deal then I could see how the year goes and where we’re at mid-year or towards the end of the year – who knows whether we will still be in a pandemic. But it doesn’t mean I’m not still very, very committed to the sport.”

Drivers, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
2021 F1 drivers and teams
As things stand, Mercedes appear to have a tougher fight on their hands from Red Bull this year. If that is indeed the case, and Hamilton is about to embark on a year-long scrap for the championship with Max Verstappen, his focus may not be on signing a new deal any time soon.

However there are signs he is beginning to think about his life after Formula 1. He intends to start making use of the £18 million home he bought in west London four years ago, though he stressed that “currently I’ve no plans of changing where I live.

“I live in a dream place that all the other drivers live in Monaco. I do have a home in England, which I’m really, really excited to be finished so [that] when I do come to England, I have finally a place to call my own rather than stay in hotels, which is never particularly enjoyable considering that’s what we do a lot through the year.

“So I think it’s a start of something great… a place that I [will] naturally have my family come to and maybe in the future have a family [of my own].”

As Wolff says, Hamilton and Mercedes are well aligned in terms of their priorities for widening participation in Formula 1 among under-represented groups. His latest contract announcement was accompanied by news of a new foundation established by the two to promote diversity and inclusion across motorsport.

This, as much as their continued success, make it hard to see Hamilton being tempted to join Ferrari or another top-line rival who might afford him. But the upshot of his latest one-year deal is he faces another 12 months of being asked when he will firm up his plans for the future.

This is Hamilton’s 15th season in Formula 1
“It’s not like it’s my first rodeo,” he said. “I’ve been in this position where I’ve been asked the question for a period of time. So I don’t really feel pressured in that sense.

“Naturally I continue to have a huge belief and an always bet on myself in terms of I know what it takes to deliver and I think I have an extraordinary relationship with Mercedes that’s incredibly deep, and I think there’s more than just this racing that we will probably end up doing together, as you’ve already seen with this foundation.

“There’s a lot of great things that we can do moving forward. So that will be a constant discussion through the year, I’m sure. In terms of whether I want to – whether this is where I want to continue, if this is the road I want to continue down – it will come to me I’m sure.”

Exactly when it will come to him is a question his millions of followers will be eagerly awaiting news of. And, of course, the sport itself, for as the 2021 season begins there is absolutely no doubt he remains Formula 1’s top draw.

2021 F1 season

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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25 comments on “Is Hamilton starting his final F1 season? Why this may not be his ‘last dance’ with Mercedes”

  1. I think it will be his final season. Saying he will see how the season goes before deciding anything else obviously means it’s getting very close to the end. And what he wants to see must surely be if Mercedes’ domination will continue or is about to end.

    But I think he will quit regardless, as there’s no guarantee the ’22 car will perform even if this year’s car is dominant, and after the Russell substitution scare, it will be a good time to leave before the big ’22 car change to avoid any direct comparison as Mercedes is then likely to swap out Bottas for Russell, and go for Verstappen as his replacement after that. Meaning that should he stay just for ’22 and struggle with Russell, and Verstappen comes in more or less the same car and blows Russell away ’23 or even ’24, then that will obviously not be good for the legacy and put the titles in question. Best to leave at the top, then people can still guess what you might have done had you stayed. I would have.

    1. I also think it’s more likely than not his last season: get the record number of titles, 100 wins, 100 poles, and retire to focus on what he wants to do outside of the sport. However, I do wonder if he’ll wait to see how next year’s car develops, not in terms of whether Mercedes will still have the dominant car, but whether it seems like it’s going to be fun to drive and race under the new regs.

      1. but whether it seems like it’s going to be fun to drive and race under the new regs.

        Not sure if he gets any further insights on that, beyond what Ross promised, by the time he has to make a decision.
        @f1hornet

    2. I don’t think that he has anything to be scared of Russell or Verstappen! He has proven that he can handle any competition. I think that neither of those two can beat him over the course of a full season. They may be fast and furious but even if he is past his very best, he has unparalleled racecraft and experience on his side to cover for that!
      I’m not saying he will beat anyone for another dacade but he can stand his ground for another 3-4 years if he continues!

      1. @fanatikosf1 He is scared as we saw when he insisted on having his car back from Russell even if he was still quite sick from covid. I believed he even lied about his state in order to come back. There was no reason to as both championships were wrapped up, it was obviously all about not being compared further.

        1. I believed he even lied about his state in order to come back

          Source: “TrUst mE bRo”

          What a load of nonsense.

        2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          23rd March 2021, 20:55

          @balue
          Lots of hot takes and surface deep analysis as normal. Let’s go further than skin deep and a five second take shall we!
          1. Lewis’s reaction to missing a race for the first time since he was in primary school was telling. It had a significant effect on him mentally. He was desperate to get back as soon as possible. His words. “Not racing was horrible.” “Obviously George did a great job, we could all see it.” Left unsaid… “But it’s my car and I want to drive it.” Reading between the lines. He still had a strong drive and motivation even after he won the WDC. Historically he has relaxed after achieving that and settled for second. From 2017 he went all the way to the end of season giving it all. This is an example of that.
          Reality check. He wasn’t concerned with Russell replacing him. He literally is the team and carries that confidence. Same race George did so well at, Bottas had to be given a pep talk by Toto before final qualifying as he had his head down. From a Toto perspective, would you replace Lewis, the guy who’s just won a 7th WDC and is absent because of Covid or Bottas, the guy who’s so demoralised he needs a pep talk to ensure he beats the rookie in qualifying?
          2. Lewis has gotten a little bored with the lack of challenge and constantly states a desire for a good competition. He has said this over and over again. If there is a good battle between him and Max he will be motivated to go on into 2022, especially if Max wins. If it’s just another Mercedes dominant season I can see him hanging up his boots. The challenge is what he lives for, which is why he has so much respect for Seb, being the only driver to give him a run since Rosberg.
          3. He doesn’t mind a competitive team mate. He doesn’t want a disruptive one like Alonso or Rosberg. Neither do Merc. George is not disruptive and would work with and within the team well. There is no fear involved. Anyone who thinks Lewis is scared of George really needs to look at who he’s spent 14 years fighting and realise, George would be the one learning, not the other way round.

          This is not an opinion per sey. It’s an analysis of statements, psychology and behaviour.

          Whether Lewis stays or goes depends on what the 2021 season gives him. The lesser the challenge the lesser the interest and vice versa. If it’s the hardest season he has ever experienced it’s 50/50 whether he will carry on. If it’s too easy his motivation will either drop and he’ll retire or he will do one more year to see what the 2022 regulation changes do.

          Either way, to imagine Lewis is scared of anyone is a laughable take. Mindful maybe but scared? Just seen an interview between James Corden, Lewis Hamilton ( 7 x WDC) and Tom Brady ( 7 x Superbowl winner) To imagine that Lewis is scared of a rookie when he’s sharing performance techniques with other greatest of all time athletes, sharing the same mindset that makes other sportsmen and women utterly dominant in their sports, not to mention Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Usain Bolt chipping in whenever he needs advice?

          He ain’t scared!

      2. He has proven that he can handle any competition.

        All he proved over the last 7 years is he can beat the competition when he has superior machinery too just like many drivers before him. The hybrid era has never been competitive between teams. Ricardo, Max and Vettel have never had a car/team capable of challenging the Mercedes in 7 years. No where near Mercedes. When he had competition from Rosberg, Hamilton hated it. Constantly sulking, threatening to leave in a Spa 2014 interview and just generally being sour when things get a bit competitive.

        Now with the fastest and most reliable car in a different league to his competitors + a designated No.2 who can be asked at any moment to let Hamilton by, he is happy and advocating both in the team (Bottas to stay) and the sport (Keep 2019 tyres) for the status quo to continue.

        1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          23rd March 2021, 21:07

          Another hot take revisionist opinion here. He hated when Rosberg took his rear tire out in a botched overtake attempt in Spa 2014. Nikki Lauda backed him. Toto had to tell the media that Nikki doesn’t speak for Mercedes in the fallout to protect Rosberg from backlash. Rosberg got boo’d on the Spa podium.
          Whenever Rosberg was ahead Lewis hunted him down and put him under pressure. It was rare Rosberg could stay ahead on pace and not make a mistake. Austria 2016. Rosberg completely blocked him, lost his wing and got penalised. Absurd move to prevent Lewis overtaking. When did Lewis get penalised for blocking Rosberg absurdly? I respect Rosberg as a driver but he won by off track politics and causing collisions more often than on track performance.
          Still, haters gonna hate. If you don’t think Hamilton has any talent then ask Vettel, Alonso, Verstappen, Rosberg and Button. They will ALL disagree with you and have said so on camera. I’ll take a seasoned and accomplished F1 driver with actual knowledge over a keyboard warrior any day.

          Reply moderated
        2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          23rd March 2021, 21:09

          Another hot take revisionist opinion here. He hated when Rosberg took his rear tire out in a botched overtake attempt in Spa 2014. Nikki Lauda backed him. Toto had to tell the media that Nikki doesn’t speak for Mercedes in the fallout to protect Rosberg from backlash. Rosberg got boo’d on the Spa podium.
          Whenever Rosberg was ahead Lewis hunted him down and put him under pressure. It was rare Rosberg could stay ahead on pace and not make a mistake. Austria 2016. Rosberg completely blocked him, lost his wing and got penalised. Absurd move to prevent Lewis overtaking. When did Lewis get penalised for blocking Rosberg absurdly? I respect Rosberg as a driver but he won by off track politics and causing collisions more often than on track performance.
          If you don’t think Hamilton has any talent then ask Vettel, Alonso, Verstappen, Rosberg and Button. They will ALL disagree with you and have said so on camera. I’ll take a seasoned and accomplished F1 driver with actual knowledge over a keyboard warrior any day.

      3. I agree 100% with your comment. I dont understand why people sometimes state he is afraid of this driver or that driver. When the true greats wanted to be counted among the greats because of their willingness to race againat the perceived greats and wannabe greats

  2. I think he’s definitely considering now when his last season will be. I think a big factor will be the pandemic. In football, Mark Noble recently delayed his retirement by a year as he didn’t want to finish his career behind close doors, he wanted to say goodbye to the fans he’s played in front of for his whole career.

    I can definitely see Hamilton feeling the same, having the opportunity to have his last hurrah in front of spectators at Silverstone. It would feel wrong for the statistically best driver ever in F1 to leave without that.

    1. I’d argue it’s more ‘fun’ to train hard, drive fast cars and travel the word than be confined in your home for months on end as well

    2. If he is considering it he probably needs to get it out of his head before the weekend.

  3. From the article and the reference / parallels to Michael Jordan, is there an expectation that Sir Lewis is going to sign on with a Minor League sports team.? Birmingham Barons, not so far from home for him, either.
    That would be fun to watch.
    Note to self, make sure to get his rookie card.

  4. In 2022, George needs a much newer and more competitive seat. Continuing at Williams will not happen, so either Bottas or Lewis will have to make room if he stays at a Mercedes powered team. I say there is a 44% chance this is the final season for Lewis, but I hope he stays. Verstappen vs Lewis this year could be very spicey.

  5. I just wonder if he’d quite like to move to a different team and prove people wrong who say he’s only successful because of Mercedes dominance. I wouldn’t be surprised he uses 2021 to get the 8th title in the bag, break the records, then see which other Mercedes powered team is making all the right moves to do well in 2022.

    McLaren and Aston Martin are both putting a lot of effort in to get to the front. Mercedes don’t want to pay what Hamilton wants, so he respectfully leaves on good terms and is still in the Mercedes family for the post F1 connections, but gets to go to a team that will pay what he’s worth.

    As a Ham fan I’d love to see that happen too – make sure you have the accolades in the bag then take on a new challenge. I certainly don’t think he’s “done” with F1 yet

    Reply moderated
    1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
      24th March 2021, 2:01

      He’s proven he was good while with McLaren. Jumping from one good team to another wouldn’t prove anything. At the end of the day Lewis has raced on top teams all his career. In F1, you need that in order to win championships. He’s also at an age where he probably isn’t interested in projects as that requires time.

  6. Depends on Sir Lewis getting championship number 8 in the bag a lot. I also agree on him not wanting to bow out to empty stands.
    Him leaving will take a lot of the joy out of F1 for me I confess, and I’ve been in it for 4 decades. Lewis has been a massive honour to watch.

  7. Im sure there are many F1 fans that can’t wait to see the back of Lewis. Sad really. Someone being the best in their field, doing what they were born to do and giving it everything they have and yet people will still complain about him. If it is his last which I don’t think it will be, then good luck to him. Been great to watch from his first race

    1. I do get the sense that a lot of the comments on this article are based on what the authors wish to see :-)

  8. Fine to see everyone’s opinions/predictions/thoughts regarding Sir Lewis & his future F1 plans!
    Only 1 plan really. Sit tight at Merc. WDC #8.
    Then he’s sincerely hoping & praying hard that Ferrari get their act together!
    Then his 1 year contract will see him off to the reborn, rejuvenated Prancing Horse!
    Every F1 driver’s dream to race in a Ferrari!

  9. Expect me to make jokes about Mercedes not doing announcements for Hamilton’s future during the post-season break of 2021.

  10. Here’s an idea: Wait until the end of the season, see if he renews his contract.

    The rest is just mental masturbation with a keyboard.

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