Outgoing Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas is set to race with Alfa Romeo in 2022, but, amid reports that Sir Lewis Hamilton is mulling retiring from Formula 1 with immediate effect, could the Finn be recalled by the Silver Arrows?
Although Bottas has said he is looking forward to taking on a new challenge at Alfa Romeo and helping a smaller team grow and improve, it’s hard to imagine he would turn down another season at Mercedes, as they are expected to continue to be much stronger than the Zurich-based team next season.
Why is Hamilton mulling retirement?
The seven-time world champion is understood to have started mulling his future in the sport immediately after the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in which he missed out on his eighth F1 crown to Max Verstappen.
The end of the race was marred by controversy, due to race director Michael Masi allowing only the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to un-lap themselves.
This gave the Dutchman a clear run at Hamilton on the final lap and allowed him to make use of his fresher and grippier tyres to overtake the Mercedes driver to secure his maiden Drivers’ Championship.
The seven-time world champion got on the radio during the final lap to claim that the race was being “manipulated,” and in a post-race interview he hinted that he could retire from Formula 1.
He hasn’t spoken to the media or posted anything on his various social media channels since.
Mercedes team principal and co-owner Toto Wolff, meanwhile, has said that Hamilton is “disillusioned” with the sport and admitted he could decide to walk away as a result of what happened in Abu Dhabi.
Could Bottas re-join Mercedes?
Mercedes are set to have an all-British driver line-up in 2022, with Russell joining the Silver Arrows and Bottas moving to Alfa Romeo.
But, should Hamilton indeed decide to retire, Mercedes would need to swiftly find a replacement.
Perhaps the most straightforward course of action would be to recall Bottas, though it’s unclear if Alfa Romeo or the Finn would be open to this.
Bottas recently spoke of how the constant pressure that comes with only being on a one-year contract at Mercedes affected his “well-being”, but he may well be willing to return to the team, especially if Hamilton is out of equation.
Mercedes also have reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne – who previously raced with McLaren in Formula 1 – to call on, and Esteban Ocon also has ties to the team via Wolff.
But, the Frenchman is under contract with Alpine for 2022 and it’s unlikely they would be willing to let him join a rival team, particularly as they would have little time to find a replacement.
Another potential replacement for Hamilton at Mercedes is Sebastian Vettel, according to Ralf Schumacher.
The former F1 racer recently said he believes the four-time world champion could be the ideal replacement, as Aston Martin’s 2021 car had a similar design philosophy to Mercedes’ challenger, in addition to them running the same power unit.
“The experience that Sebastian has, the speed that he has, continues to be there,” Schumacher said.
“And above all, he knows his way around the Mercedes car – and with the engine. And I think the Aston Martin concept is also very close,” he added.
Crucially, although Vettel is under contract with Aston Martin this year, the team may be willing to release him, given their close relationship with Mercedes.
It remains to be seen what Hamilton will decide, but his retirement could significantly change the driver line-ups at one or two other teams in 2022 as well.