McLaren CEO Zak Brown has said he “wouldn’t be shocked” if Sir Lewis Hamilton decided to leave Formula 1 following his championship defeat in 2021.
Hamilton lost out on his record eighth championship last year after a controversial Safety Car restart by race director Michael Masi at the season finale.
The Australian had initially decided not to allow any lapped runners to pass the Safety Car late on in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but four minutes later decided only to allow the five between Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen to go through.
Had he let all of them go, time constraints threatened to see the race end behind the Safety Car, leading many to believe that race control manufactured a situation in which the two title protagonists battled it out on the final lap.
The Dutchman had pitted under the Safety Car and, having been bested by Hamilton for much of the evening, used his grip advantage to pass his rival on the last lap to claim his maiden Formula 1 world title.
The 37-year-old exclaimed on the radio that the finish to the championship had been “manipulated,” but congratulated his rival immediately after the completion of the race at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Mercedes, however, enraged at the circumstances under which Hamilton was defeated, protested the stewarding decisions before lodging an intention to appeal which they eventually dropped.
Aside from receiving his knighthood and celebrating Mercedes’ eighth consecutive Constructors’ Championship success, Hamilton has been silent since 12 December last year and former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has previously stated his belief that his compatriot is done with the sport.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has said that his driver is “disillusioned” with the pinnacle of motorsport, and was not able to confirm that the Briton will be on the grid in Bahrain on 20 March for the season-opener.
Brown reckons that the seven-time world champion will have been hurt by what many fans feel was an injustice five weeks ago.
Therefore, he says that whatever decision Hamilton makes should not be taken “lightly.”
“I wouldn’t be shocked if he stopped, so no one should take for granted that he is coming back,” he said, as quoted by the Guardian.
“We should not discount or not recognise his frustration, his anger.
“Maybe he has not made a decision and what he is doing is taking time to make that decision to make sure. Because once it’s made, it’s made, I don’t think we should rule it out or make light of it.”
The FIA have pledged to carry out a “detailed” investigation into the closing events of the 2021 championship, and will finish this on 18 March.
Sky Sports reporter Ted Kravitz has recently warned the governing body that they need to quash suggestions that there is a “conspiracy” against Hamilton in their report.
Brown does not believe that any such fixation was at play, but maintained that the FIA must learn from the events of last month.
“They need to show they have taken action to make sure it doesn’t happen again but I don’t think this was a malicious decision,” he affirmed.
“For those who may have the view that the sport is corrupt, I don’t agree. Potentially a different decision could have been made but I want to wait to see what the FIA comes out with.”
Brown’s McLaren team ended the 2021 season fourth in the Constructors’ Championship after five podiums and 33 points finishes between Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.
They have retained their driver line-up for 2022.
Should Hamilton return, he will partner George Russell, who out-qualified Williams team-mates Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi 57 times in 59 races while at the team.
He has replaced Valtteri Bottas, winner of 10 races in five years with Mercedes, helping them to the Constructors’ Championship in every one of the seasons he spent there.
He was out-qualified 72 times in 100 races by the Briton, who claimed the championship in four of their five seasons together, and the Finn has now headed to Alfa Romeo.