Lewis Hamilton has hinted he could leave Formula 1 by declaring there is “no guarantee” he will continue in 2021, even though he intends to agree a new Mercedes deal.
Hamilton is one race away from securing a seventh drivers’ title after winning F1’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola.
He is still yet to sign a new contract with Mercedes, a process initially said to be delayed by F1’s intense race schedule and then by the desire to focus on clinching the drivers’ and constructors’ championship.
“I would like to be here next year but there’s no guarantee of that for sure” :: Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton’s future is uncertain at the same time as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff’s, although Wolff has insisted he will continue to lead the team in 2021 but just in a different role, having said his “shelf life” as a team boss is expiring.
Asked about Wolff’s future following the victory at Imola, where Mercedes wrapped up the constructors’ championship, Hamilton laughed: “Well, I don’t even know if I’m going to be here, so it’s not really a concern for me at the moment!”
When asked about that comment later, and if there is a real chance he could leave F1 after this season, Hamilton said: “Well we’re in November and it’s crazy, Christmas isn’t that far away.
“I feel great, I feel still very strong and feel like I can keep going for plenty of months.
“But you mentioned Toto and about shelf life, so there’s multiple things that do stay on the top of my mind.
“I would like to be here next year but there’s no guarantee of that for sure.
“There’s a lot that excites me in the afterlife. So, time will tell.”
Should Hamilton leave, which remains unlikely, it would leave Mercedes needing to replace its world champion late in the year for the second time in five seasons.
Nico Rosberg announced his retirement in the aftermath of the Abu Dhabi season finale in 2016.
Wolff jokingly acknowledged that if Hamilton “were to decide to step out of Formula 1, which I don’t think is going to happen and I hope is not going to happen, then I think we’re going to have a pretty frantic driver market out there”.
But he put Hamilton’s remarks down to the “emotions” of the moment, saying that everyone in the team is happy but “very tired” at the end of an intense and unusual season.
“It’s the same for me, I completely relate to his feeling that you question yourself, that you think about all the other things that matter and when you switch on the news in the morning and switch them off in the evening, it’s all about the struggles that we all face.
“And we are here in our little happy place where we try to bring some entertainment into households. But then you’re back in the more difficult reality the next day and all of that is something that affects us.
“In that respect it’s normal for somebody who’s empathetic to have these feelings.”
Hamilton said earlier this year he felt like he could, and wanted to, continue for at least three more seasons.
However, he has recently cast doubt on whether another three-year deal appeals anymore.
Hamilton’s decision over his future comes at a complicated time. F1 will switch to new regulations in 2022, creating a potential scenario in which Mercedes is finally toppled as the dominant force.
He has also been moved by global developments away from the track, in particular enthusiastically supporting anti-racism movements, and has said he does not want to return to the hectic lifestyle he led before the coronavirus pandemic.
“His mentality, the balance of drive, compassion, understanding and ego all come together to create the best boss you could have” :: Lewis Hamilton
However, both he and Wolff have indicated that the likelihood is they will strike a new deal that would give Hamilton the chance to become the outright most successful driver in F1 history.
Hamilton issued a glowing tribute to Wolff in the aftermath of Mercedes’ record title at Imola, where his win also marked the team’s 100th since the V6 turbo-hybrid era began in 2014.
“Without doubt he is the best leader here,” said Hamilton.
“It is his mentality, the balance of drive, compassion, understanding and ego all come together to create the best boss you could have.
“Every single person in the team, no one’s below him, and he really cares about how everyone is doing away from the track, you know ‘how’s things at home with the family? Is there anything we can do so you can be better at the office?’.
“He’s a really great guy, I feel privileged to have him as our leader, and we wouldn’t have been able to do this without his guidance.”
Hamilton’s faith in Mercedes over the next few seasons may depend on whether he is convinced by Wolff’s successor as team principal.
Wolff says he only needs to “put pen to paper” to finalise his new deal, which would take him into a new role like chief executive or executive director.
When asked if he was concerned about what Mercedes could offer after Wolff, Hamilton said he understands Wolff’s position, “wanting to pull back a little bit and give more time to family and those things”, and backed him to pick a worthy successor.
“I don’t know who will replace him but he is a leader, he’s not going to put anyone that’s not going to be able to do the job, that’s not going to be up to it, who’s not going to be geared up,” said Hamilton.
“He will find the right people. That’s why we have the success we have, he’s found the right people and put them in a position to be able to shine as bright as possible.
“He’s just empowered every single person in the team to be the best they can be.
“It’s not one person. This team is not about one person, it’s a collective of a lot of people. Toto doesn’t build the car, it’s a real team effort.
“But I’m supportive of him whatever he wants to do moving forward.”
Asked by The Race if he felt Hamilton needed to be convinced by Mercedes’ plan without Wolff as day-to-day leader, Wolff admitted that “we go together in a way, we have a symbiosis”.
He added: “It’s important where our heart is and mindset is for next year.
“But I’ve said that this is my team. I am a very proud co-owner with Mercedes and I’m not going to go anywhere.
“My role may change in the future, and it’s something that he has asked.
“I think nothing is ever secure. Like Niki Lauda in the 70s you could wake up one morning on a Friday or Saturday morning on a track and say I’m just not having fun anymore.
“And I think that can happen to anybody. But we want to continue this journey.
“We are not finished. Lewis and I and all the team, we’re not finished.”