An F1 insider has said they believe that Sir Lewis Hamilton has “50 million reasons” to remain in the sport following his cruel championship defeat last year, and warns that retiring now would leave his Mercedes team in quite a predicament.
Hamilton missed out on his record eighth world championship at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after a controversial Safety Car restart decision from race director Michael Masi allowed Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to pass the Briton on the final lap of the race.
The pair had gone into the season finale level on points following an immense season of racing, and the 37-year-old was leading his rival by over 14 seconds heading into the final laps.
However, a late crash for Williams’ Nicholas Latifi led to the fateful Safety Car, and a pit stop from Verstappen left five lapped cars between himself and Hamilton.
Masi initially ruled that, with so few laps remaining, no lapped cars would be allowed through but four minutes later opted only to allow the five between the leading two to pass the Safety Car.
This angered many in F1, none more so than Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who radioed the race director to tell him that the finish was “so not right.”
Hamilton himself labelled the end of the race “manipulated,” before gracefully congratulating the Dutchman after the chaotic end to an extraordinary year.
Since then – besides picking up his knighthood and celebrating Mercedes’ record eighth consecutive Constructors’ Championship – the Briton has been silent, though his brother Nicolas has told fans on Twitch that the seven-time world champion is “fine.”
This reassurance has not been enough to convince many within the sport though, and rumours have surfaced that Hamilton is considering leaving F1.
Wolff said in an interview after the events of December that he and his driver had become “disillusioned” by a race control directive that was branded a “twist” of the rules by Johnny Herbert, and a “joke” by Perry McCarthy.
But an insider does not believe that a Hamilton retirement is inbound.
“It’s all part of the drama,” said the source, as quoted by the Telegraph.
“The truth is Lewis is going to have a super competitive car this year and he’s got 50 million reasons for staying [the length of his contract],” the source added, referencing Hamilton’s behemoth salary.
Given that the start of the 2022 season is now less than two months away, the insider suggests that the Mercedes team would be placed in an extremely difficult situation were the seven-time world champion to leave.
“Anyway, if he was going to retire he’s have said it by now wouldn’t he?
“Otherwise he’s just going to f*** the team because they’ve got no options.”
Should the Briton return this year, he will be partnered at the Brackley-based team by George Russell, who signed from Williams over the winter to replace Alfa Romeo-bound Valtteri Bottas.
Meanwhile, the FIA, now led by Mohammed ben Sulayem, are conducting an investigation into the closing stages of the race at the Yas Marina Circuit, which they will complete on 18 March, just ahead of the 2022 season-opener.