Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2022

After 300 grands prix, Hamilton may surprise himself by racing on into his forties

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The prospect of a top-level athlete retiring never fails to provoke interest. Headlines question “when will Federer and the Williams sisters call it quits?” or declare “England legend James Anderson hits back at Michael Vaughan over retirement claim.”

Lewis Hamilton is no different in that regard. It’s one thing to be at the top of your game, winning championship after championship, but as soon as you are perceived to have dropped the ball, the retirement speculation mounts.

The issue of age and the passing of milestones often figures prominently in the narrative. So it was at the French Grand Prix last weekend, where the seven-time world champion marked his 300th race in Formula 1. How many more does he have left in him?

Hamilton’s current contract expires at the end of next season, so is he already thinking about an extension? Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff admitted they had “talked a few weeks ago” about “how long our partnership can go.” With a coy smile which indicated he wasn’t being entirely serious, Wolff added: “The number that was discussed was five to ten years – so I think we can go to 400 [races].

(L to R): Toto Wolff, Mercedes Team Principal; Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes; Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Hamilton discussed his future at Mercedes with Wolff recently
“Someone once said you have not just got to win the eighth [title], so why not 10?” added Wolff with a laugh.

In the recent past Hamilton’s commitment to F1 seemed to be waning. He opted for only a one-year contract extension with Mercedes in 2020. Following his controversial championship defeat to Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi last year he went silent on social media prompting some (though by no means all) to suggest he wasn’t coming back.

When he did return, he indicated he didn’t plan to race far beyond his current deal, which will expire a month short of his 39th birthday. Asked at the start of the season whether he expected to emulate the likes of American National Football League star Tom Brady, playing in his mid-40s, Hamilton brushed it off.

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“I haven’t thought about that number because I’m 37. I’ve still got a bit to go,” he laughed during pre-season testing in Bahrain. “I honestly haven’t thought about that and I don’t plan to be here close to that age. Hopefully I have some other fun things to get on with.”

The new Mercedes team mates are working well together
The beginning of the season gave more fodder for those predicting Hamilton would head for the exit sooner rather than later.

Coming into the season, many suspected the team were sandbagging during testing. Yet when the Ferraris and Red Bulls left them behind in Bahrain – Hamilton only finishing 10 seconds off the lead thanks to a Safety Car – it was clear their struggle was real.

Saudi Arabia was even worse for Hamilton. New team mate George Russell, 13 years his junior, took fifth; Hamilton was eliminated in Q1, missed a call to pit during a Virtual Safety Car period and finished 10th.

It took until Canada for Hamilton to get back on the podium for the first time since the opening round. The worst of the porpoising Mercedes suffered at the start of the season has eased. That began a run of four back-to-back podiums for Hamilton, including a season-best second place last weekend as he completed a third century of F1 race starts.

His critics who eagerly wrote him off at the beginning of the year as being finished have notably quietened. The man himself admitted the W13 is now a much more pleasant car to drive.

“From a driver’s perspective, understanding this car was so confusing,” said Hamilton in Paul Ricard. “We were trying so many different things, we were trying to advance and [you had] no trust in the machine beneath you, particularly like the rear end.

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“That’s really kind of held us back a little bit. So to now be in a position where we’re starting to understand the car a little bit more, we’ve got more consistency coming up, we’re seeing more consistency, it’s given us much more of an enjoyable drive.”

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Silverstone, 2022
F1’s oldest current racer turns 41 on Friday
He is still waiting for the final step which will put them team back into firm contention among the front-runners. “We still lack performance in some of those areas but we’re slowly getting there, just constantly just chipping away at it.

“Unfortunately, you can’t take big leaps at the moment. But who knows, maybe one big leap will come at some stage and we’ll be right there.”

Hamilton’s talent has never been in question, yet inevitably age does take a hold of everyone and things that were simpler when younger, become a lot more of a challenge. How much longer can he realistically race on for?

He isn’t the oldest driver on the grid. Fernando Alonso will turn 41 on the first day of practice for this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Is age starting to take a toll on his fitness? Not judging by the way he laughed off questions about how physically demanding last weekend’s race at a punishingly hot Paul Ricard was.

“Not much,” smiled the Alpine driver. “That’s probably why I’m P6 and I had a better start and better finish – green lap, [personal] fastest lap on the last lap.

“So, yeah, the young boys, they are not very prepared.”

Even so, Hamilton was startled by the thought of hitting 400 grand prix starts. “That’s a lot of races!” he exclaimed.

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“I firstly just want to be grateful to get to this point. But I still feel fresh and still feel like I’ve got plenty of fuel left in the tank.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2022
“I’ve got plenty of fuel left in the tank.”
“I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I’m really, really proud and enjoying arriving every day and working with this incredible group of people.”

His promotion of diversity and inclusivity through his team also spurs him on to continue. “I’m enjoying working with the sport more than ever. We’ve got some great people leading the sport and having great conversations about the direction we’re going as a sport, so I’m enjoying it more than ever.

“I would say in that space, of course, I want to get back to winning ways and that’s going to take time. I’m sure we’ll sit down at some stage and talk about the future. But again, just with our team, I always want to continue to be building.

“It’s one thing having races, but it’s also continuing the work that we do outside and doing more, which I think Mercedes and us can always do more, and we will.”

Hamilton is a hugely ambitious individual with interests beyond Formula 1 in fashion, music and more. If he chooses to continue it will be on his terms. It looks increasingly as though he might, and bring himself closer to that 40-year threshold he didn’t expect to approach.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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16 comments on “After 300 grands prix, Hamilton may surprise himself by racing on into his forties”

  1. Alonso is a Fangio, difficult to imagine him ever wanting to stop car racing. As for cognitive and physical faculties, the Argentinean showed it’s possible into your 50s in far more physically challenging cars. I really can’t see an impediment if body and mind stayed honed (big sabbaticals are probably not a good idea). Alonso really is the bar set on this one.
    Those wanting Hamilton to retire have three factors to persuade him to leave F1: (1) a bad car incapable of a few to lots of wins every year (the 2022 is at least improving and I’m personally still hoping for and looking forward to at least one Hamilton win); (2) being beaten by his team mate (I’ve seen enough to think Russell will trade blows with him at most for now; not enough to dissuade Lewis); (3) off-track distractions. To my mind (3) was always the more likely. But as he gets older, somehow I think they’re less likely and his appreciation for racing will actually deepen. It’s obvious that success on track, or its possibility within grasping range, kindles that fight in him again. If the car does hit the front of the pack again, he will stick around for a bunch of years I’m certain.

    1. Yeah really hard to know, eh? Only he knows but probably even he won’t know until he feels it’s time and that is obviously not yet. So interesting because I think the new F1 is designed to keep the cars and the teams close, so wins and Championships now are going to be harder fought imho. Of course there’s a big points gap for Max now but that doesn’t mean the competition with Ferrari hasn’t been close when they’re on track together. Really interesting times with these new cars and potential regs changes to come.

    2. Tim (@tsgoodchild)
      27th July 2022, 16:57

      Totally agree. Also whether people like it or not he has a huge following and a very influential platform across social media. When that platform is on global TV for 23-odd weekends per year that is quite a powerful position to be in…which must surely drive decision to continue or not – he will want to continue being in the top half of the championship to add value to that platform, but as long as Mercedes continue their funding as they are now, I can’t see that changing any time soon.

    3. I’ve always thought off-track distractions were going to cause the premature end of his career. This sudden interest of racing longer in F1 catches me by surprise. Maybe Lewis is finding renewed interest in the sport by actually feeling some struggle after so many years comfortable at the front.

      I still think he’s not likely to do what Alonso is doing. Simply because he seems to interested in becoming a Hollywood type celebrity. Producing shows isn’t a part-time job. I think he’s sort of given up on his musical career after the short-lived foray. But I could see him trying to get into Hollywood producing

    4. David: ” As for cognitive and physical faculties, the Argentinean showed it’s possible into your 50s in far more physically challenging cars.”

      I’m not sure the cars of the fifties were physically more challenging, just differently challenging. Modern steering is lighter, for sure, and the gear changes smoother and doesn’t require double-declutching, but I think the modern driver has to endure far more G forces, and braking, for example, is not assisted, so the driver’s foot has to generate all the pressure. In the earlier days there was a driver, I think it might have been Ascari, who drive a race with his foot in plaster from a broken ankle. When asked how he managed to drive he said “It’s okay, I never use the brakes anyway”.

      The other thing to consider though is that sports science and professionalism has moved forward hugely since Fangio et al, so whilst Lewis may have to cope with higher G and higher brake pressure, he has the benefit of a dedicated personal trainer, training and physio most days, great diets etc compared to the 1950s. In other words, whilst Fangio etc would have struggled with the physical demands of a modern F1, so would any of the current drivers if we still had 1950s sports science and training.

      1. They are all valid points Alan and I wouldn’t underestimate the physical exertion and basic physical fitness and strength needed today, especially the G forces like you say. I guess I would also factor in the exposure to more physical danger in the past, which is its own kind of mental/physical stress, while today’s drivers undoubtedly have to multi-task far more complex systems. But like you said, given the physical and mental conditioning and support for drivers now, I just don’t see someone being in their 40s or even 50s as an inevitable limiting factor.

  2. If he drives like Alonso, ok.
    If he drives like Vettel, no, thanks.
    Sincerely, he should consider going to N. America.
    Not sure if he is a fan of ovals and Indy street tracks, but the marketing machine in the US would push his legacy to new highs.

    1. He’s said it many times, he’s not interested in trying other categories. I think he’s worried about damaging his legacy if he doesn’t perform to the level of others who have done well like Montoya, Mansell, or Alonso.

      I think he’d be very well received in America, where motorsports in particular are deperate for non-white drivers who can actually win; and Lewis loves America. Some Brits would even say he loves America a bit too much. I don’t think it’s a problem and if anything it will help him in his future career.

  3. Neil (@neilosjames)
    27th July 2022, 23:06

    It’ll be a very sad day when he goes, but I think he’ll only stay while he remains one of the very small elite at the top. Once he dips far enough from his peak, he’ll know it and won’t stick around to be ‘normal’.

    Some drivers keep going because they like doing it, even if they’re not what they once were (Raikkonen, Alonso, Vettel, Schumacher of recent champions) but I really don’t think Hamilton will do that. Or Verstappen, when his time comes.

    1. @neilosjames The Verstappen retirement discussion officially starts with your post! XD

      1. And let’s throw it to Nico for his opinion on when to retire.
        (did anyone else think they went to Nico too often during the race?)

    2. Lewis has other interest which he could focus on, Max has only 1 thing and that is racing.
      It depends also on if Mercedes can make a good car so Lewis can win again.

  4. Ageism — like sexism — should have no place in F1. Judgment should be performance based: I for one enjoy watching Alonso’s race craft, hunger, and cunningness every weekend. It is inspirational for every generation.

    1. It’s not ageism, it’s been proven by mathematical models that beyond 35 performance gets worse and then significantly worse after 40, which makes alonso’s performance even more impressive.

  5. Better to follow Vettels example imho

  6. @macleod max has only 1 interest and it took him, redbulls 100% focus and FIA intervention to beat lewis last year. Says more about the talent Lewis is who is focused on 9ther stuff besides f1. As compared to verstappen who was practically gifted the championship.

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