F1: Lewis Hamilton extends Mercedes contract
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The Lewis Hamilton saga is over! Well, no, not really. The iconic Formula One driver has signed a new deal with Mercedes but one only 12 months in length – meaning the ‘Will he? Won’t he?’ speculation will continue throughout 2021 until we know more about his intentions for 2022 and beyond.
This season, Hamilton can become a record-breaking eight-time world champion and is also likely to reach the century landmark for race wins (he’s currently on 95) and pole positions (98).
With the landscape of F1 set to change from 2022 when new regulations are introduced Hamilton may think it time to call it a day later this year. This is his 15th season after all.
Former F1 driver Martin Brundle says that if he wants them, Hamilton can win as many as 10 titles.
But given he is likely to clinch a record of eight titles, that will take an extraordinary effort for anyone to ever match never mind surpass, Hamilton may opt to move on and pursue other interests in his life, of which there are many.
The 36-year-old’s father Anthony Hamilton certainly hinted that other ambitions are beginning to feature on his son’s mind.
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He told talkSPORT this week after Lewis’ new one-year deal: “They’ve [Hamilton and Mercedes] had a long relationship together. I think loyalty is quite important in this world nowadays, so it’s nice to see them coming together for another year.
“I don’t think the record is the target… there’s a realisation that obviously he’s getting older and wants to do other things in life.
“There’s more to life than racing, but for now he’s happy to do another year.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said in a conference call with the media after Hamilton put pen to paper: “Lewis needs to decide what his future holds for him.
“The team needs to decide in the long term what we want to do about drivers. As long as he enjoys racing, I think he’s very capable of going longer.
“He develops as a driver, he looks after himself in terms of physical training and the mental preparation side, so I don’t think in terms of ability that ends in 2021, but at the end it’s his decision.”
Hamilton himself, speaking last year, insisted that he will only call it a day on his F1 career when he isn’t enjoying himself.
“Yes, it’s a competitive space that I’m in, but when I get in that car and put down the visor, the team start up the car and I leave the garage, I have the biggest smile,” the seven-time champion said.
“Even today, after all these years of racing. If there’s ever a day that that doesn’t happen, I don’t get that smile, I know that it’s done and I need to move on to something else.”
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If reports are to be believed, Mercedes are already drawing up plans just in case Hamilton does decide to retire at the end of this year.
The Daily Mail say that Wolff is keeping a keen eye on Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who has won 10 races in his five seasons with the Austrian drinks giants.
The Dutchman is still only 23 and is widely considered the second-best driver on the grid after Verstappen, having steered his Red Bull to 11 podium finishes last season despite only completing 12 of the year’s 17 races.
As far as successors to Hamilton go, talent-wise, they don’t come much better than Verstappen, who is claimed to have a break clause in his Red Bull contract that would allow him to leave after this season.
It remains to be seen what Verstappen to Mercedes would mean for Valtteri Bottas and George Russell, with Hamilton’s current team-mate also currently out of contract for 2022.
Russell is racing at Williams and the 22-year-old is entering the final year of a three-year agreement with the backmarkers. Despite their poor car, he has impressed in his two seasons so far.
He shone in Hamilton’s place when he stepped into his countryman’s W11 at the Sakhir Grand Prix, qualifying a close second to Bottas and finishing ninth in the Mercedes on Sunday. He would have surely won the race if not for a team pitstop mistake and then a puncture.
Many see Mercedes junior driver Russell as a star of the future, including Daimler chief Ola Kallenius who wants him as the team’s new No 1 over Verstappen if overseas reports are to be believed.
If Hamilton retires, will the Silver Arrows keep Bottas if they poach Verstappen? They might hope the Finn is able to keep a harmonious working relationship with the Dutchman just as he has with Hamilton.
It’s not as clear how Russell and Verstappen would get on alongside one another and while the kind of sparks that came from Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s time together thrilled F1 fans, Mercedes have repeatedly declared their intention not to allow a repeat scenario.
The likelihood of pairing Hamilton and Verstappen, if the Briton decides to stay into 2022, seems immensely unlikely therefore. A duo of Hamilton and Russell might be more likely and it would be an incredibly interesting and entertaining proposition.
Much will obviously depend on Hamilton’s decision, as Wolff says. If he still has the hunger to continue after winning an eighth title, as he is expected to, then the attention turns to the future of Bottas with the Brackley-based outfit.
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