Seven-time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton has committed his future to Mercedes by finally agreeing a new deal.
The contract announced on Monday only covers the 2021 F1 season.
Mercedes says “a significant part of the new agreement builds upon the joint commitment to greater diversity and inclusion in motorsport that was made last year by Lewis and Mercedes”.
The two parties will create a “joint charitable foundation, which will have the mission of supporting greater diversity and inclusion in all its forms in motorsport”.
“I am excited to be heading into my ninth season with my Mercedes team-mates,” said Hamilton.
“Our team has achieved incredible things together and we look forward to building on our success even further, while continuously looking to improve, both on and off the track.
“I’m equally determined to continue the journey we started to make motorsport more diverse for future generations and I am grateful that Mercedes has been extremely supportive of my call to address this issue.
“I’m proud to say we are taking that effort further this year by launching a foundation dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the sport. I am inspired by all that we can build together and can’t wait to get back on the track in March.”
Hamilton clinched a Michael Schumacher-equalling seventh F1 world title last year, and also broke the Ferrari legend’s win record as well before eventually moving onto 95 grand prix victories.
He led Mercedes to its seventh consecutive title double as Red Bull and Ferrari again failed to challenge, yet Hamilton’s future became an unexpectedly drawn-out saga.
It seemed inevitable he and Mercedes would strike a new deal given their unparalleled success.
However, various delays meant that process kept getting pushed back, and all urgency was removed once Hamilton’s rivals were all tied down to new deals – closing off any exit routes for him and denying Mercedes any of the established frontrunners as replacement options.
Once the season finally began and with the COVID-19 threat a factor, Wolff and Hamilton played down any rush to get the deal signed, while at the same time Hamilton hinted that his desires had changed, and a straightforward copy-paste of his usual three-year deal would not necessarily appeal.
It was initially hoped a gap in the intense schedule would facilitate negotiations, but they were then put back to after the titles were sealed and then eventually after the season entirely.
Hamilton ended the season reiterating his desire to get a deal done and said talks would start in the days after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
However, he claimed a week later that he and Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff had not found time to do that, and the delay carried over into 2021.
Speculation early in January suggested that Mercedes had rebuffed Hamilton’s financial demands but there were conflicting reports that listed salary, duration of the contract, image rights and bonuses as all potential reasons for the lack of a resolution.
Wolff then told Austrian broadcaster ORF that the negotiations had been complicated by lawyers having to check each party’s respective positions but remained calm about striking a deal, stating more than once that Mercedes had until the pre-season test in Bahrain in mid-March to get it done.
Now Mercedes has confirmed its star driver will remain with the team for at least the 2021 season.
“We have always been aligned with Lewis that we would continue, but the very unusual year we had in 2020 meant it took some time to finish the process,” said Wolff.
“Together, we have decided to extend the sporting relationship for another season and to begin a longer-term project to take the next step in our shared commitment to greater diversity within our sport.”
Hamilton, who has just turned 36, said one of his motivations to continue in F1 was to be a key part of Mercedes’ and the championship’s efforts to enact crucial changes in diversity and sustainability.
He has become a more vocal proponent of off-track endeavours than ever in 2020, particularly pushing anti-racism initiatives, championing the need for greater inclusivity and climate change awareness.
In the next few months, his newly-founded Hamilton Commission will unveil the findings of its research into the barriers to black engineering personnel pursuing careers in motorsport.
Mercedes has pledged to use that information to inform its own internal company overhaul in a bid to become more diverse.