Question marks remain over whether Lewis Hamilton will remain in Formula One into his 40’s like his ex-McLaren team mate and double world champion Fernando Alonso.
The British driver has been used to driving a title winning car for the best part of a decade and his reaction to another mediocre season with an uncompetitive Mercedes car is unknown.
Hamilton’s future uncertain
Hamilton claimed in Mexico last year he was looking to sign a multi-year deal though at the recent Mercedes car launch Toto Wolff admitted no progress had been made on a new Hamilton contract.
Pre-season woes for Mercedes include reports of the new W14 car porpoising at their Silverstone testing/filming day. Further, TJ13 sources have revealed the team discovered very worrying suspension concerns from the wet day out at the Northampton track.
Fans of Ferrari know all too well no team has the right to win races and titles year in year out with their last championship win being the year Lewis Hamilton joined Formula One in 2007.
New 2023 regs don’t suit Mercedes
How long Mercedes could remain in the championship wilderness may well determine the length of Hamilton’s F1 future.
The big regulation change in 2022 saw the once all dominant Mercedes stumble as their car suffered from extreme bouncing during the first half of the season.
Having complained vehemently to the FIA, Mercedes were able to persuade F1’s governing body to change the 2023 car deign regulations to reduce the bouncing effect on the new breed of cars.
However given the Mercedes car was designed to run more closely to the asphalt than most of its competitors, the new 2023 rules which force the cars to run higher may ironically create more problems for the Brackley based team than for others.
Wolff admits W14 not initially competitive
At the car launch Toto Wolff was careful with his wording when asked how competitive Mercedes W14 would be. The Mercedes boss admitted the team did not expect the car to be pushing for victories in the near future but that the “car that will eventually be competitive enough to fight at the very front of the grid.”
When asked how far away Mercedes were from the front of the grid, Wolff admitted “I don’t know when” that will be.
Toto even admitted he and Mercedes PR team had crafted his response to such a question with great care.
“I was contemplating about that word for 15 minutes when we talked about the press release,” he said. “Because, on one side, you want to say we will be competitive.
Hamilton faces possible 3rd season with no title
“On the other side, you need to stay humble and realistic so you could be saying, ‘I hope that we will be competitive’. We will be combat competitive. We just don’t know when. Eventually.
This is not the news Lewis Hamilton would want to hear as he begins his third season since his last F1 championship win.
Hamilton’s search for a record breaking 8th F1 drivers’ title continues but as Lewis’ ex-team mate Jenson Button explains, a non-competitive car could force the British champion to retire.
“It’s something [not having a winning car] we all go through in our careers,” Button said. “It’s a reason why a lot of people retire, they are not in a winning car anymore. That’s why I left.
Mercedes drought set to continue
“You can deal with the pressure you put yourself under and the calendar, if you are in a winning car. When you are not, you are like ‘I’ve had enough, I want to get out’.
“Mercedes have given him a winning car for so many years. Last year obviously didn’t but the car did win a race last year, so you would say at the end of the year they were strong.”
The lack of a signed contract which Wolff intimated before Christmas should take just “a few hours” could mean Hamilton is biding his time before committing to multiple years in F1.
And as Button suggests eventually driving an uncompetitive car takes its toll on a driver used to regularly winning.
The golden years for Mercedes may now be behind them and as Ferrari well know despite dominating the sport for much of the noughties, their search for a championship now extends into its 16th year.