Lewis Hamilton’s contract expired at the end of last season, and the question of will-he-or-won’t-he sign a new one for 2021 was one of the biggest unknowns throughout last year. Hamilton did eventually re-up, but way later than maybe anyone wanted. It sounds like 2021 could more or less be a repeat.
Now I still am not totally convinced that Hamilton, 36, won’t pack it in after this year, especially if he wins a record eighth title as expected, though Max Verstappen looks like tougher competition than he was in 2020. And I think in a lot of ways the situation has gone unresolved because either Hamilton or Mercedes wants it to stay that way.
It sure sounds like it’s Hamilton. From Formula1.com:
Asked if he wanted Hamilton to stay on at Mercedes next season, [team principal Toto Wolff] replied: “I very much hope so; the journey that we have had together was very successful. He has been a Mercedes driver – a Mercedes kid since his go-karting years. He never raced a single weekend in Formula 1 without a Mercedes power unit, so it’s the logical continuation of the story.”
“Certainly,” he continued. “We don’t want to leave it until January to confirm the two drivers. Valtteri [Bottas] was pretty regular during the summer – this is when it should happen. Also, to give the driver peace of mind, or be able to concentrate on the job.
“And obviously for next year there’s lots of balls in the air and we will always try to do the best for the team long-term while also giving total loyalty to our current driver line-up.
The complicating factor here is that it is possible — probable, even — that Hamilton himself doesn’t know if he wants to do another year. If that continues to be the case, you can bet that a new contract will continue to go unsigned. And if it looks like Hamilton is cruising to another driver’s championship, that new contract may go unsigned permanently.
Still, other scenarios are fun to think about: What if Verstappen does overtake Hamilton this season and wins the championship? What if Valtteri Bottas wins the title? What if Sergio Perez does? You can see Hamilton staying or going away in every one of these situations because he’s happy to hang it up — tied with Michael Schumacher at seven titles — or because he’s not and is still hungry for more.
The other complicating factor is the talented Williams driver George Russell, who subbed for Hamilton last season and nearly got his first F1 win. That’s because as long as Russell is around, and as long as Bottas keeps finishing behind Hamilton, the hotter Bottas’s seat gets. Hamilton retiring and Mercedes handing his seat to Russell might relieve some of the pressure on Bottas — but only until Bottas realizes his new teammate is another guy he can’t beat.