Sir Lewis Hamilton is yet to make a decision about his future in Formula 1, amid reports that the longer he takes to make a decision, the worse his situation with Mercedes gets.
Hamilton was denied his eighth world title in shocking circumstances as race director Michael Masi opted only to allow five lapped cars through past a late Safety Car, leaving rival Max Verstappen to pass him on the final lap of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
This won the Dutchman his first-ever Formula 1 championship, and left Hamilton and Mercedes fuming.
The Briton said during the final lap that the race had been “manipulated”, while team principal Toto Wolff was on the radio to Masi exclaiming that the situation was “so not right.”
Directly following the race, Hamilton took his defeat magnanimously.
“Firstly, big congratulations to Max and to his team,” the 37-year-old said after the race.
However, rumours were sparked when he was understood to imply that he may be thinking of retiring from the sport despite him being under contract to race with Mercedes in 2022.
“We gave it everything and never gave up and that’s the most important thing.
“We’ll see about next year,” he added, leaving Mark Webber, Alain Prost and Bernie Ecclestone in particular to suggest that he may not return.
Sky Sports’ Craig Slater now reports that Hamilton’s contractual situation at Mercedes is getting messier the longer he takes to decide his future.
“It is understood that Mercedes want to see something tangible,” Slater said.
“It’s been put to me like this: the longer this drags on then the worse the Lewis Hamilton situation is, and that is from a senior source,” he explained.
Following a maximum term of 12 years in charge of the FIA, Jean Todt stepped down at the end of last year, and Mohammed ben Sulayem was elected as his replacement.
The 60-year-old, who won 61 rally events as a competitor, has moved to cool fears that Hamilton is thinking of an immediate future away from the sport.
“No, I don’t think he will [quit],” he told reporters ahead of the Dakar rally.
“I’ll ask your question, did Lewis declare that he’s not going to race? No. Exactly. Being a driver, you declare yourself, you don’t let the rumours [talk].”
With new regulations being implemented this year, ben Sulayem believes there is a big opportunity for Hamilton to come back and immerse himself in racing once more.
“I’m confident that Lewis [will return]. Lewis is a big part of motorsport, and of course of Formula 1, the new era [can add to] Lewis’s wins and achievements, and also Verstappen is there.
“I am very confident that you will see a very challenging Formula 1 season next year,” he explained.
The FIA has pledged to launch an investigation into the events of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and Mercedes have said that they will hold the governing body “accountable” for it.
Ben Sulayem maintains that he will endeavour to find ways to avoid such controversy in future.
“I am going to study the case of what happened in Abu Dhabi, and a decision will be taken how to go forward without any pressure from anyone,” he affirmed.
He maintained that any decision he makes will be to protect the legacy of the sport and its governing body.
“The integrity of the FIA, it is my job and duty to protect it, but it doesn’t mean that we do not look into our regulations, and if there is any improvement [to make], we will,” he explained.
“I said in my first press conference, this is not the book of God. This is written by humans. It can be improved and changed by humans. So that’s it.”
Wolff, who celebrated his 50th birthday earlier this week, has previously gone on record to say that Hamilton is “disillusioned” with F1, and gave no guarantees that his driver will remain in the sport.
The Briton has been silent ever since the heart-breaking season finale, although he did attend his team’s celebration of their eighth consecutive Constructors’ Championship success and received his knighthood at Windsor Castle three days after the culmination of the season.
Several of his fellow drivers, including 2021 championship rival Verstappen, have stated that they wish for him to remain in Formula 1.