Lewis Hamilton is sad, according to his boss. One would imagine so, having dominated the entirety of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix only to lose it and the Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship on a questionable call on the final lap.
Hamilton and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff decided not to attend the FIA’s annual prize-giving gala on Thursday. Talking to media via Zoom, Wolff said something that now has everyone wondering if Hamilton will hang up his overalls before the new season kicks off.
Asked whether he has spoken to Hamilton about his desire to race on in 2022, Wolff said: “I am in a daily dialogue with him but also respect that there is not a lot to talk about at the moment. Each of us copes in their own way with the feelings that we have at the moment.
“I just need to do the upmost that I can to help him to overcome his imminent feelings that he has in order to ensure that he returns strong, with a love of the sport, and trust in the decision-making of the sport next year. We wish very much that this will be the case.”
Wolff said for a “man with clear values” like Hamilton, Sunday’s outcome was difficult to accept.
He added: “I would very much hope that Lewis continues racing because he’s the greatest driver of all time. When you look at it from the point of view of the last four races, he was dominant, there was not even a doubt who won the race. And that was worthy of winning the world championship.”
Is Hamilton seriously considering walking away from Formula 1? Was last weekend’s defeat so disheartening, so unjust for the seven-time world champion that he’d spurn the sport he loves because of it? The guy who dons a helmet that reads “Still I Rise” for every race?
I won’t pretend to know what Hamilton and Wolff are actually thinking, but the latter said it himself: they’re both disillusioned. When you’re disillusioned, you say hopeless, melodramatic things. And although I’d never take anything away from Hamilton’s prowess as a driver and overall fortitude, he has exhibited a propensity to be a little melodramatic over the course of his career, particularly when he feels his back is against the wall.
The panic in his voice every time he utters “Bono, my tires!” over the radio, invariably moments before his tires cross the finish line before anyone else’s. The time he insinuated his own team was sabotaging his title hopes in 2016 because his engines kept breaking when his teammate’s weren’t. More recently he threw his crew under the bus again after the Monaco Grand Prix this year, a race which he finished seventh.
Hamilton is far from the only driver to say things in the heat of the moment, then later take them back. Personally, that’s why I don’t put much stock in these comments.
The other reason it’s hard for me to believe this is really the end for Hamilton is because he’s arguably the best driver the sport’s ever seen, and I figure he’s smart enough to know that. Even if the chips didn’t fall the way he wanted, even if race director Michael Masi fudged the rules and made a mess of things at the end, it still holds true.
Hamilton led the vast majority of the race from start to finish. As happens sometimes in sports, due to a mix of total circumstance and controversial officiating, he got terribly unlucky. It happens. Lewis Hamilton’s name still shows up on the list of world champions more times than anyone else’s, save for one; he’s still at the top of his game.
If Hamilton actually wants to leave because he’s content and ready to move on with his life, that’s one thing. He’s 36 after all, and few do this past 40. Besides, we all know he has loads of creative interests. But if this comes down to how aggrieved he’s feeling this week, dare I say it’d be pretty immature to go over this.
In fact, I think he should listen to the new world champ, even though I’m sure Max Verstappen is one of the last people he wants to hear advice from right now:
“I think he should just look back at what he has achieved already and that should give him a lot of comfort.”
Correction 4:27 p.m. ET: An earlier version of this story stated Hamilton led every lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix except the last one. In my haste I’d somehow forgotten about his dramatic mid-race battle with Sergio Perez, if not for which Verstappen probably wouldn’t have won the championship. Shame on me!