Lewis Hamilton is statistically the most successful Formula One driver of all time. As has happened with many sports, year on year schedules have been increased and the advance of sport’s science sees the athletes of today better equipped to break the records of their predecessors.
Whether Hamilton is the greatest of all time is a debate that will rage long after Lewis’ has hung up his racing boots.
Hamilton career choices fortunate
Unlike Fernando Alonso, Hamilton has also been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Some say that shows a deft touch with his career decisions but Lewis joined F1 and the McLaren team when they were winning races each year and pushing for titles.
Many have argued that by refusing to enforce team orders in Hamilton’s rookie year of 2007, McLaren threw away by just 1 point a drivers’ championship to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Lewis Hamilton’s decision to leave McLaren may not have been the stroke of genius many consider. Of course Lewis spent time with Ross Brawn and Nikki Laura who convinced him Mercedes would be the next dominant F1 team, but Hamilton was in all probability on his way out of McLaren anyway.
Dennis claimed he let Lewis go
McLaren’s CEO Ron Dennis, Hamilton’s sponsor and mentor since the age of 13, revealed McLaren could have retained Hamilton’s services into 2013 had he and the team so wished.
“Did we have the ability to create a situation where we could have stayed together? Categorically, yes,” Dennis told the Confederation of British Industry in December 2012.
“Would that have been the right thing to do? We didn’t think so.”
“I think it’s wrong to portray that Lewis left this team. At the end of the day, you end up with a situation where you’re going to separate if the circumstances aren’t right.” Dennis added.
Hamilton/Dennis row over pay
Hamilton had irked Dennis during the summer of 2012 by implying to the media he would be getting an even higher paying McLaren contract at the end of the season.
When asked about Hamilton’s expectations in Montreal, Dennis replied, “It’s a complex situation. He’s on the end of a contract which was signed at a time when the economy was somewhat different and now there has to be a balance between that.”
When asked whether that might mean Hamilton taking a pay cut, Dennis swerved the question and replied: “He’s very highly paid. He’s certainly paid more than I am.”
Hamilton and McLaren did part company and the rest is history.
Hamilton should call time on Mercedes
Given the wealth Hamilton has accumulated over his 16 completed seasons in Formula One clearly Lewis’ has benefitted from his faithfulness to just two teams.
Further, this stability has seen Lewis in a competitive car each year with the exception of 2022 which was the only campaign where Hamilton failed to win a race.
Following the pain of losing on an 8th drivers’ title in 2021, then ‘worst car’ he’s driven in 2022; Lewis has another difficult season ahead if pre-season testing form is anything to go by.
Hamilton has described the team’s road back to the front this year as “a mountain to climb.”
No more talk of multi-year deal
Then there’s the matter of Lewis’ future at the end of the year. Whilst previously he’s indicated he was ready to sign a multi year deal with Mercedes, paddock rumours suggest Hamilton is now adopting a wait and see approach before putting pen to paper.
Martin Brundle believes Mercedes are suffering from a crisis of confidence following a number of personnel leaving the team in the past three years.
Speaking on the Sky Sports F1 Show, ”It’s odd isn’t it right now, look at Liverpool for example. Little nuances, where you change the personnel, and there’s maybe a lack of confidence. That’s what I’m seeing at Mercedes at the moment.
Mercedes may need years to rebuild
The problem is that crisis of confidence may become endemic giving Hamilton real cause for thought about his future in Formula One.
One line of thinking expressed by Jenson Button last week is that Hamilton will get disillusioned with being just ‘an also ran’ as TJ13 reported.
Yet what are Lewis’ realistic options?
He can stay at Mercedes realistically for at minimum two more seasons even is he is soundly beaten by George Russell this year.
Yet if the team are forced to replace the W14 with a B-Spec car this summer as sources have suggested, the chances of closing the gap to Red Bull before 2026 are almost nil.
Hamilton had a Ferrari deal agreed
The Hamilton getting beaten soundly by Russell scenario is one his fans refuse to countenance, yet George is striving with every sinew to prove himself – he is on the up.
Hamilton by contrast has done it all in Formula One and whether he can be bothered fighting with a non-compliant car for lower points scoring finishes is questionable.
Back in 2019 the Italian media reported Hamilton’s management had agreed a $50m a season deal for the British driver to move to Ferrari.
The deal eventually floundered because the management in Maranello refused to other demands made by Hamilton over key personnel he wanted to bring to Italy.
Sainz not long term for Ferrari
If Lewis wants to win races regularly in the near future, his management will have to somehow re-start talks with Ferrari.
While Charles Leclerc is on a long term contract, Carlos Sainz is believed to have year on year options with the Scuderia and could be replaced as early as 2024 by the 7 times F1 champion.
Lewis has previously talked of remaining “faithful” to Mercedes through to the end of his career and even Toto Wolff played on this thought at the recent car launch.
“I don’t think it plays into Lewis’ mind any doubts that we will perform. We will. Eventually,” said Wolff, who made clear repeatedly, “we will be competitive. We don’t know when.”
Wolff also asserted he didn’t believe the team’s lack of competitiveness would affect Hamilton’s thoughts on a new contract.
Hamilton leaving would benefit Mercedes
Most F1 fans would give many a penny for Toto’s thoughts now after the pre-season test.
Hamilton’s management must open talks with Ferrari and route suite. Who knows this could in fact be the reason for the delay in getting around the table with Mercedes.
The effect on an already despondent Mercedes of Hamilton leaving for Ferrari could be dramatic at first, though this would give the silver arrows the opportunity to build for the new power unit era in 2026 and recruit say Lando Norris alongside George Russell – an F1 dream pairing.
If Lewis wants to be winning races and fighting for titles beyond his current contract his only hope is to wave goodbye to his long term sponsors and fellow champions Mercedes – and join the ranks of the Scuderia for one last great Formula One adventure.