It was presumed that the will-Lewis-Hamilton-stay-or-will-he-go drama would go on all season, given that that’s what happened last year and Hamilton is on a one-year contract. Except on Thursday Hamilton said he planned to be in Formula 1 next year, the strongest indication yet that he actually will stay.
Hamilton had spent the day at Imola testing next year’s Pirellis, something you might do if you planned on driving next year, especially given that Hamilton isn’t a huge fan of testing. From Reuters:
“I plan to be here next year, and I want to help Pirelli ... move forward and having a better product,” Hamilton said.
Pressed on his plans, Hamilton recognised he was “pretty spontaneous,” so they could change, but said he was relishing the battle this season.
The 2020 champion is a point clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen after two races with the young Dutch driver now a real contender, and possibly even the favourite, for the championship.
“I am enjoying this battle we are having. It is getting more exciting. It has been even more of a challenge,” said Hamilton, the sport’s only Black driver, who has been outspoken in using his platform to push for racial equality and opportunity.
Now, a few things here, one of them being that Hamilton means it when he says that he’s pretty spontaneous, as it was as recently as November that he was telling the press that he wasn’t sure if he was going to make it to this year, let alone 2022.
And I’ve been convinced for some time now that Hamilton would walk after 2021 if he wins a record eighth driver’s championship, breaking his seven-championship tie with Michael Schumacher. I still think that might happen, given that he’ll probably win his 100th race this year as well, and if he wins the title would walk away the unquestioned G.O.A.T.
But I also know that Hamilton really, truly, deeply loves a challenge. You can hear it in the quote above about fighting Verstappen this year, and you can hear it every time he gets mad at Valtteri Bottas, who has never quite challenged Hamilton, period.
And next year, if he returns, would probably be Hamilton’s biggest challenge yet, given the rule changes planned for 2022 and a lowered budget cap that are designed to make the sport more competitive. The more I think about it, the more I’m convincing myself that winning a title under those conditions might be, for Hamilton, most satisfying of all.