Lewis Hamilton ‘anger’ made F1 rivals believe Brit would retire

Lewis Hamilton on difficult season for Mercedes in November

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Max Verstappen’s maiden Formula 1 crown came as a result of arguably the greatest controversy motorsport has witnessed. So great that the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix result almost convinced Lewis Hamilton to retire from F1, and some wouldn’t have been surprised if he stepped away for good in response.

Former race director Michael Masi paid with his job after his safety car ruling which effectively saw Red Bull’s star man start just behind his Mercedes rival at Yas Marina in a final lap shootout despite the Brit’s dominance in the race, after clearing every car that stood between them in the process. Having entered the ‘Decider in the Desert’ level on points—though with Verstappen behind on race wins that season—Hamilton was denied a record-breaking eighth world championship in the cruellest of circumstances.

What followed was months of speculation as to whether he would return for a 16th season in 2022, which was at the time the final season left on his contract. And McLaren team principal Zak Brown was among the Briton’s sympathisers, encouraging respect for the veteran given the injustice Hamilton suffered in Abu Dhabi.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if he stopped, so no one should take for granted that he is coming back,” said Brown at the time. “We should not discount or not recognise his frustration, his anger. Maybe he has not made a decision and what he is doing is taking time to make that decision to make sure.

“Because once it’s made, it’s made, I don’t think we should rule it out or make light of it. They [the FIA] need to show they have taken action to make sure it doesn’t happen again but I don’t think this was a malicious decision.”

In a way, that anger will have only been amplified by a chaotic 2022 campaign, in which Mercedes’ skewed W13 design prevented the team from launching any sort of challenge on the title. Hamilton placed a career-worst sixth in the standings, while fourth-place George Russell became the first team-mate to finish ahead of the 38-year-old since Nico Rosberg beat his old comrade to the championship in 2016.

The compassion for Hamilton’s cause didn’t end with Brown, either, as F1 legend Jackie Stewart recommended retirement midway through last season. The seven-time title-winner sat sixth nine races into the campaign at the time, but Stewart appealed for his countryman to relinquish his ambition to break clear of Michael Schumacher’s joint-record and pursue something else.

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“It’s time for him to resign,” commented the 83-year-old in June 2022. “He’s got music, he’s got culture, he loves clothing and the rag trade would be absolutely suitable for him. I’m sure he’ll be very successful because he’s been earning a huge amount of money — rightfully so because he’s been the best of his time.”

Hamilton may no longer have the same anger inside him ahead of 2023, which is once again the final year left to run on his current deal with Mercedes. Team principal Toto Wolff recently confirmed contract talks with the Silver Arrows star is on his to-do list during this off-season, though it’s understood negotiations are still yet to get underway.

The team in Brackley have a job on their hands in constructing a car capable of closing the gap on Red Bull, particularly after Verstappen sealed his second straight title with four races to spare in 2022. Hamilton deserves his praise after returning for the fight following a frustrating end to 2021, though rivals may find that motivation makes him an even more dangerous prospect in what could potentially be his final F1 campaign.

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