In his speech on Sunday evening after winning the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton said that there was no guarantee that he would stay in Formula 1 next year.

His comments naturally aroused a great deal of interest and speculation, which led to questions that seemed to have been sufficiently answered before.

Until Sunday evening in Formula 1 it was thought that it was only a matter of time before the six-time (soon to be seven-time) world champion signed a new contract with Mercedes. In Hamilton questions were asked about his upcoming contract throughout the year, but although he never made a 100% commitment, he never got as excited in the room as he did on Sunday night.

To put his comments in context, here are some important quotes from the beginning of the year, followed by specific questions and answers from Sunday’s press conference

When Hamilton was asked about his long-term future at the British Grand Prix, he felt he wanted to continue in the same spirit for a few more years.

As far as the duration of my trip is concerned, it’s a little unknown. I’d say the COVID airlock was negative in many ways, in many ways, in some ways it gave me a lot of life, a lot of energy to concentrate on other things, and that little pause was really a bit of a pause, so it gave me new energy to maybe move on.

Of course there is a time when the physical and mental side can disappear and I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but I don’t see that happening in the short term, in the next two or three years, so I will definitely be here for the near future, hopefully.

Like Bottas on 70. Grand Prix of Valtterie has extended its contract with Mercedes for 2021, Hamilton asked if it would follow.

I really do, he said. I’m sure Toto [Wolf, Team Mercedes Director] must be a bit worried, because I wasn’t in too much of a hurry…. Let’s do it now!

I don’t know, I’m just a really cool person. I think, especially at a time when people are losing their jobs, I honestly feel a little uncomfortable talking about numbers and a new contract when there are people who don’t eat, people who are starving, people who lost their jobs during this pandemic.

So, I don’t know, I’m feeling a little uncomfortable, so I’ve been a little withdrawn. But of course I will eventually. But it’s embarrassing… That’s what I am: How long can I give her time to get back to normal and get a little better?

But I’m 100% behind my team. I’m loyal as always, and I’m not lying, so it’s not like I’m communicating with anyone else – I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Spa Francores, August

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Hamilton was again asked about his contract and why the Belgian Grand Prix was postponed until the end of August.

I’m not the kind of person who always does the same thing, so I always look at every detail, every time I do my job, to make sure I understand how we continue to grow together as a team, that our values, goals and ambitions remain the same, he said.

So that’s what you usually do to see how things can work better, how you can get the most out of both – whether it’s performance with the sponsors, performance on the track, or how we work with the technicians, whether it’s spending more time on the simulator, a lot, a lot of different things.

Once you’ve worked out all the small details, it’s time to ask the big questions.

This isn’t Toto or our first rodeo together. I think it’s okay, but we’ll be happy when it’s over and we can have a drink together.

All I know is I’m gonna drink tequila to give him a chance. Maybe I should give him a little tequila before I untie him!

Portimao, 1. October

A week ago in Portugal Hamilton was asked whether a one-year contract for 2022 was possible given the financial uncertainty in the world and the major changes in F1 regulations.

I haven’t made any decisions, he said. I really want to stay, and I think that when we get together we usually make plans for three years, but of course we are at another time.

It’s also a question of whether I want to go on for another three years. There are many, many unanswered questions. And in 2022 we will also enter a new car era. That’s why I find it a bit exciting what can happen in 2022 in terms of what machines are.

I think if you look at the short term, you can say that there are companies and businesses that will go bankrupt in that period. Mercedes, I’d say they’re in a much better place now. They’ve all had a lot of success this year.

But if you look to the future, I think the future is bright. I think there will be some changes. Ola [Cullenius, CEO of Mercedes and Daimler] has presented a new plan that Mercedes puts forward in terms of sustainability by pushing their cars towards electricity, and the same goes for AMG, so I think the future is promising.

These are all things we will of course think about, but I think that so far I have earned the right or the position to stay for a reasonable period of time, time will tell. That’s all I can say. I hope you hear something in the next few months.

Imola, November

Fault! The file name is not specified. Lewis Hamilton has won more races than any other Formula 1 driver Joe Portlock/Getty Pictures

Finally, in Imola, after the 93rd anniversary of the death of the father and the seventh Mercedes, the following questions led to the following answers.

Question: Toto just went to Sky and said he’d reached the expiration date in his current position. He has appointed a replacement, he doesn’t say who it is, the big clue is of course that he won’t be in the same role next year. Considering how worried you are about next year and… and… it’s obvious that we’re not around… but the fact that he won’t be here… You’re talking about the huge effect he’s having on the team. Are you afraid that if he doesn’t lead the team, he won’t be able to repeat the success he had this year?

Hamilton: I don’t even know if I’ll be here next year, so for now I don’t care. No, I think I understand him, and Toto and I have a lot of deep conversations, so I really, really understand where he’s in the shower, and we have a lot in common … and we carry a lot of weight together, I think.

Yeah, for a long, long time. I can certainly understand that I want to retire and spend more time with family and things like that. I don’t know who he would replace, but on the other hand, he’s a leader, he won’t appoint someone who can’t do the job, he won’t be at the top of the list who won’t accept. He’ll find the right people. That’s why we did it. We found the right people and put them in a position where they can shine as much as possible.

He just gave every member of the team the chance to be the best they could be. So he’ll find someone who can take over and move on… But, you know, it’s not one person. A team isn’t one person, it’s a team of many people. Toto doesn’t build a machine, it’s real teamwork. But I support him, whatever he wants to do to get ahead.

I don’t even know if I’ll be here next year. At first I answered some disturbing phone calls, which led to a supplementary question a few minutes later.

Question: Lewis, I just wanted to follow up on what you said earlier. You said you didn’t even know if you’d be here next year. Most people take it for granted that you sign another contract with Mercedes, but is there a real chance that you won’t be racing in Formula 1 next year?

Hamilton: It’s November, and I’m still… It’s crazy that Christmas isn’t even that far away. Of course, I feel good, I still feel very strong, I feel like I could go on for months, but you know.

You mentioned Toto and the expiration date, so there are a lot of things that really stick in my mind, but I’d like to be here next year, but of course there are no guarantees for that. There are many things that are important to me in the afterlife, time will tell.

What does it all mean?

Fault! The file name is not specified. Lewis Hamilton proposed leaving F1 Dan Eastitene – Formula 1 of Getty Images at the end of 2020.

It was assumed that the delay in signing the contract was rather limited to the desire to secure the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships first, combined with the lack of free time to negotiate during an intensive racing programme.

Hamilton also mentioned events outside Formula 1 (see Silverstone’s second reaction above) as a reason not to be interested, while Wolff mentioned the more practical difficulties of complying with the rules of social distance.

But with all this it has always seemed that the formality waiting for its time is a dot on the i and a cross on the t. Has that really changed in the last few weeks?

Only Hamilton knows the answer for sure, but on the surface there seems to be no reason to change.

Mercedes secured his seventh construction machinery championship at Imola on Sunday, and Hamilton is almost certain to take his seventh title in one of the upcoming races. If he stays another season in 2021, he has the best chance to add an eighth championship, which means he will beat Michael Schumacher’s record and become the driver with the most titles.

Wolff, who is also Hamilton’s negotiator and good friend, believes that Sunday’s comments are the result of the unique stress associated with the end of the 2020 F1 season.

I think it’s a moment and an emotion, we are all happy but very tired, he said.

It’s the same for me. I understand his feeling that we ask ourselves questions and think about everything that’s important when we turn on the TV news in the morning and turn it off again in the evening – that’s the battle we all have.

We are here in our happy little town and we try to bring a bit of cheerfulness into the household, but the next day you return to a more complex reality. All this touches us, and in this respect it is normal for an apathetic person to have these feelings.

Does Hamilton have any other options?

Red Bull still has a place available in 2021, but there is no logic in Hamilton, so Mercedes will join Max Verstappen next year.

It is inconceivable that Hamilton will join the other team at the earliest in 2022, when there will be a major rule change, and he has tried to rule him out since rumors of a move to Ferrari at the end of last year.

Nor would any Mercedes want to take over the Hamilton, and all the other top drivers are under contract for 2021 anyway.

For Hamilton it seems an easy choice between staying in a Mercedes in 2021 or giving up the sport.

The lack of opportunities for both parties also means that there is no urgent need to put the pen on paper. Hamilton can finish this season in Abu Dhabi without contract and still finish in the best car of 2021 that he has.

This trust between them gives Hamilton time to think and agree on the conditions he wants in every detail. Why make extra commitments to the media, for example when you have the negotiating power to waste your time on things you think are more important?

If there is a stumbling block in the negotiations, Hamilton’s comments on Sunday may have been an attempt to advance the deal by frightening Mercedes so much that he thinks he can get away with it. But at least for a few more months, both parties can continue playing poker at the table without the threat of bankruptcy at the end of the year.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Lewis Hamilton has proposed to leave F1 Dan Eastitene – Formula 1 of Getty Images at the end of 2020.

How does Wolf fit into this context?

If the negotiations with Hamilton on behalf of Mercedes are the task of Wolf, he too has not committed himself to the team before the end of this year. The 48-year-old Austrian is currently discussing with his parent company Daimler how his position will develop. He is expected to go from team leader to director in 2021.

Wolf’s negotiations are complicated by the 30% share of the assessment team, but what he wants to hold on to.

With Mercedes and me it’s very clear, Wolf said Sunday. It’s all about putting the pen on paper at the right time. I was also focused on bringing these championships home and it was a mistake to spend days with lawyers when I was so focused on what was happening on the track.

Lewis and I are a lot alike here. It was just a mistake to sit down before the end of the championship. The time will come when the decision to organize the drivers championship will be made and we have a few months before the first race in Australia.

Wolff also described the symbiosis he has with Hamilton – something that has been confirmed several times this year by Hamilton’s own commentary.

In all likelihood, Hamilton did not want to sign the agreement until he knew Wolf’s position after 2020, and it would be useful to require full knowledge of team succession planning before committing to the next two or three years.

In 2022, major rule changes are on the horizon to break the dominance of Mercedes, so Hamilton has the right to expect full transparency about how the team will treat them and who will lead the process.

But if we take the symbiosis quote a little further, we can assume that Hamilton and Wolf will work together to get the best possible deal. By raising some doubts about his own future and by joining Wolf, Hamilton strengthens both positions in their separate talks with Mercedes, which would have suffered significant PR exposure due to the loss of his star driver.

This may be a cynical point of view, but it would be in line with Wolff and Hamilton’s comments on the current delay.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Toto Wolf and Lewis Hamilton have played an important role in the current dominant era of the Mercedes. Dan Eastiten/Getty Pictures

What now?

Hamilton has set new records this year and has often said that he will have a successful career for a few more years. At the age of 35, a holiday can be an option, but it is unlikely to return to the same level and momentum as now.

His fame and influence, which he used so eloquently and powerfully this year to make his voice heard on important social issues, are at the height of his Formula 1 career. That does not mean that he will not succeed and have no influence in another area, but in F1 he has a powerful global platform on which he can base all his other interests.

Against this background, and given the balance of everything he has said about his future this year, it seems unlikely that he will not be involved in the Mercedes next year. But in the end it’s up to Hamilton and Hamilton.

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