Williams team principal Jost Capito has said he would like Sir Lewis Hamilton to stay on the grid and partner George Russell at Mercedes, but is not really bothered whether he stays or goes.
Rumours of the seven-time world champion’s departure from Formula 1 have been in the air ever since his controversial championship defeat to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen last year in Abu Dhabi.
Towards the end of the season finale, a strange Safety Car restart from race director Michael Masi allowed the Dutchman to snatch the title on the very last lap of the 2021 season.
Hamilton said in his post-race interview with 2009 world champion Jenson Button: “We’ll see about next year,” cultivating rumours that he may well be done with the sport.
Adding fuel to an already-burning fire was a comment from Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff that he and his driver are “disillusioned” with F1 at present, and the Austrian said he can’t guarantee Hamilton will be on the grid in 2022.
Whatever Hamilton decides to do, though, Capito is not really fussed.
“I don’t care about it – I don’t really care whether he drives or not,” he told RTL/ntv.
“[It’s] totally irrelevant, really totally irrelevant.”
However, he does reckon that an experienced driver freeing up a slot for a young up-and-comer can only be a good thing.
“They always say there are not enough places for young drivers and then I think, if someone has been world champion seven times, he has actually done enough and could make room for a youngster, why not?” he added.
Russell has been signed to Mercedes following three seasons at Williams, and had been part of the Mercedes junior programme since 2017.
He out-qualified Williams team-mates Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi 57 times in 59 races, and achieved a podium at last year’s heavily disrupted Belgian Grand Prix.
He also stood in for Hamilton while he was ill with COVID-19 in 2020, out-performing Valtteri Bottas for much of the Sakhir Grand Prix before a pit stop mix-up and a slow puncture cruelly denied him victory.
Excitement has been rife as to the Briton’s potential to challenge his compatriot in 2022, and Capito indicates that it would be a shame were his former driver to miss out on the chance to challenge himself against one of the greatest drivers in the history of F1.
“For me, [if Hamilton retires] it would be bad for George,” affirmed the German.
“Because then he wouldn’t be able to beat him and I think he would like to beat him. I wouldn’t begrudge George that.”
Capito, who joined Williams at the end of 2020 and worked with the 23-year-old for a year, believes that Russell while Russell is not quite there yet, he certainly has to the potential to one day compete for championships.
“[He is] no longer a rough diamond, but already a partially polished diamond.
“[He is] a bit away from the potential he can have, [so] he can certainly develop and improve again at Mercedes.”
Russell is joining Mercedes as sweeping regulation changes come into effect, but many in the paddock have tipped the Silver Arrows to remain strong in 2022.
Mercedes will reveal the car they hope will remain competitive this season on 18 February, just ahead of pre-season testing.