“I’m kind of in a fortunate position where I’ve achieved most of the stuff that I’ve wanted to achieve up to this point, so there’s no real need necessarily to look too far ahead into the future.
“We live in quite an unusual period of time in life, and I just wanted one year then we can talk about if we do more and keep adding it on if we have to.”
Lewis Hamilton’s words and stance as he unveiled Mercedes’ 2021 Formula 1 car, the F1 W12, were those of someone who really doesn’t know what his 2022 might hold. This isn’t a case of the next big contract just being a COVID-delayed formality that Hamilton and Toto Wolff will get around to eventually.
The world champion is clearly in a genuinely thoughtful and reflective place when it comes to life beyond 2021.
Foremost in his priorities is making sure he can enact some real positive change to improve diversity in motorsport. Then comes his “incredibly deep” relationship with Mercedes, which has partnered with him in his new charitable foundation – designed to support “greater diversity and inclusion in all its forms in motorsport”.
Actually racing in F1 felt like the third factor in his mind after those two as he expanded on his reasoning for signing just a one-year deal during Mercedes’ 2021 launch day.
Which is not to suggest it’ll be a distracted and half-hearted Hamilton lining up on the Bahrain grid at the end of this month.
“I’m fully invested in this season and and delivering – I still love what I do,” he emphasised.
“I’m just generally in a fortunate position that I don’t have to commit to multiple years. So I chose to have a one year deal. So then I could see how the year goes and where we’re at mid-year or towards the end of the year.
“But it doesn’t mean I’m not committed. I’m still very, very committed to the sport.
“What I’m really focused on is… I think there was a lot of great discussion around this diversity issue and it still remains an issue to this day and it’s not going to change overnight. But what’s really important is to make sure that we are actually delivering and actually taking action.
“So that’s kind of my driving force this year too: to make sure that we continue to push for accountability, and top of that hopefully I can deliver some good performances.”
Hamilton’s social conscience was becoming ever more prominent even before last year, and the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly made him think even more deeply about his place in the world.
Asked about the fact he’d drawn little attention to the signing of his 2021 F1 contract on his social media accounts, he alluded to his own brush with COVID having effects that lingered into the off-season. But he also intimated that early 2021 felt like an almost tasteless time to publicly celebrate something as ultimately trivial as an F1 deal.
“I continue to be kind of conscious of what’s happening in the world,” he said. “Posting pictures and celebrating of things, such as a contract being signed, is kind of not really important to me.
“And that’s not really a message that I want to be sending out to people who are losing families, who are losing relatives still, who are struggling in a pandemic. That’s just not where I’m at.
“So I just kind of kept to myself. I was focused on my recovery because it wasn’t a quick situation and getting myself back to full strength, and getting the deal done, and working on some personal relationships that I have.”
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) February 12, 2021
Those wider feelings were apparent again in how he portrayed the role actual on-track matters will play in his decision on whether to race on past 2021.
Whether he is champion again this year will make no difference, Hamilton suggested. If he clinches that unprecedented eighth title, that won’t mean ‘job done, time to go’, and neither will he be pushing himself to stay to reclaim the crown if he’s deposed.
“What I’ve made a really important decision in my mind is that I don’t want that [another title] to be the deciding factor,” he said.
“I got into racing because I loved racing, and I think that’s got to always be at the core of what I do.
“If I don’t love racing, if all you’re going for is accolades, if all you’re going for is titles, then I feel like I could potentially lose my way, so of course it’s the ultimate dream, but I don’t think that’s necessarily going to be the deciding factor on whether I stay.
“It’s more whether I still have that smile when I leave the garage. It’s going back to: ‘do you enjoy it?’
“Last year was a really tough year for everyone, including me. But there were some really impactful moments.
“Will that be the case this year? We’ll see. Will I enjoy it as much? We’ll see. I’m excited currently so I’m sure I will.”
While it’s far from clear whether he’ll still be in a Mercedes cockpit on the F1 grid in 2022, there’s certainly no prospect of him cutting ties with Mercedes.
His new charitable foundation is a joint initiative announced as part of Hamilton’s contractual renewal, proposed by Daimler chief Ola Kallenius and met with a multi-milion euro commitment from Mercedes.
Hamilton stressed that it was “absolutely” core to his commitment to a 2021 Mercedes deal when asked by The Race about the role it played in talks, and stressed how committed his team is to making the kind of structural change he feels is necessary to tackle motorsport’s diversity problems.
“I’m very, very proud of, Mercedes for being open minded to change, and not just taking the smallest of steps – really taking a step back and saying ‘what we can do?'” he said.
“We’ve done a real deep dive into what we can do here, not only at the [F1] factories, but back at Mercedes-Benz, and so for them to be open to putting a foundation together and really putting some money towards pushing for real systematic change within our own organisation I think is fantastic.
“If we really do what we’re planning to do, I really think we’re going to create and open up pathways for young minorities to get into STEM subjects and I’m really hopeful that in the future we see it just being more diverse because it just works out better for everyone.”
Hamilton cited that again when expanding on his “extraordinary” and “incredibly deep” relationship with Mercedes, underlining that “there’s more than just racing that we will probably end up doing together, there’s a lot of great things that we can do moving forward”.
And he clearly doesn’t feel he needs to be racing Mercedes’ F1 car in order to achieve those aims.
Whether he’s trying to enact the changes he wants to see in the motorsport world as an active F1 racer or a retired one is going to come down to an instinctive decision sometime during 2021.
“In terms of 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.”