Mercedes EQ Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne does not believe that there is a cloud over Sir Lewis Hamilton’s future in Formula 1 after the seven-time champion missed out on his eighth title to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The 2021 championship was decided in controversial fashion at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when a strange Safety Car decision from race director Michael Masi put Verstappen on the back of Hamilton, allowing the Dutchman to pass the 36-year-old on the final lap.
Masi allowed the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to go through past the Safety Car ahead of the final lap in Abu Dhabi, leaving the rest in their place.
And, with Verstappen on a fresh set of soft tyres, the Dutchman was able to overtake the Silver Arrows driver to claim his maiden F1 crown.
Hamilton’s seething Mercedes team saw a protest denied by the FIA, before later withdrawing an appeal of the championship classification.
The Briton has since been silent – barring an interview immediately after the grand prix’s completion – leading to rumours that he may be ready to walk away from Formula 1.
While Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was unable to promise that Hamilton will stay, he maintains that he hopes he does.
“We will be working through the events over the next weeks and months. I think as a racer, his heart will say, ‘I need to continue’, because he’s at the peak of his game,” said the Austrian earlier this month.
Hamilton’s brother, Nicolas, recently assured fans that he has simply been taking a social media break, and that there is nothing to worry about.
“Social media can be a very toxic place. But he’s cool, though. He’s fine,” the 29-year-old said on Twitch.
Vandoorne, who acts as Mercedes reserve driver alongside his Formula E duties, concedes that the chaotic ending to the season finale in Abu Dhabi will take some getting over.
“Lewis didn’t post anything on social media after the race, and I think he must feel very bad to have lost in this way on the last lap when he had everything under control and didn’t put a foot wrong during the race. For sure, he’ll have a hard time accepting what happened in Abu Dhabi,” Vandoorne said in an interview with RTBF.
However, he reckons that Hamilton will come back stronger from the 2021 setback, and he insisted he does not fear an impending retirement for the seven-time champion.
“He’s still so hungry to push himself and do better that I’m sure he’ll use all these events as motivation to come back even stronger,” he explained.
Mercedes withdrew their intention to appeal the result of the world championship on the morning of the FIA Prize-Giving Gala. To Vandoorne, who made his F1 debut in 2016 before contesting 2017 and 2018 with McLaren, this came as no surprise.
“Honestly, I’m not surprised that Mercedes withdrew their appeal. For the sport, it really wouldn’t have been right for the title to go to court. So sport-wise, it’s good that the situation ended there.”
However, Mercedes said in their statement that they would hold the FIA “accountable” for the investigation they will carry out into the events of the race in Abu Dhabi, which the Belgian driver sees as a positive.
“But I think it shows that Mercedes didn’t agree with what happened and the team still thinks it was right, but it still had to get justice.”
Should Hamilton return, he will partner George Russell at Mercedes in 2022, after the 23-year-old earned a promotion from Williams.
Ambiguity remains over just how Russell will compete with his compatriot next year, with former world champion Damon Hill saying: “I think it will be great to watch. I’m sure Lewis will be wanting to encourage George. I don’t see it going wrong.”
Russell scored his first-ever F1 podium at the farcical 2021 Belgian Grand Prix earlier this year.