Mercedes considers post-Hamilton era

08th March 2021
Ian Parkes

As we all know, three into two does not go. But that is the conundrum set to tax Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff over the coming months as he ponders his driver line-up for 2022.


A wheel has yet to turn in anger on the forthcoming season but already one of the most talked-about sub-plots centres around who will be behind the wheel of next year's Mercedes.

Wolff finds himself in the unusual situation that all of his drivers are out of contract. Lewis Hamilton only has a deal for this season; Valtteri Bottas operates on a one-year rolling contract, while Mercedes junior George Russell's three-year tenure with Williams draws to a close.

You could even throw into the mix Esteban Ocon, who is managed by Mercedes and whose two-year contract he initially signed with Renault – that has since morphed into Alpine – comes to an end this term.

Without a doubt, the most intriguing aspect of what will most likely be a long-and-winding saga is whether seven-time Formula 1 champion Hamilton wants to continue – and at this stage, that is not a given.


You would assume Hamilton wants to at least savour F1's new era next season when significantly revised aerodynamic regulations come into force that will make the cars look different, but crucially, with the hope they lead to much closer racing.

Hamilton, though, is refusing to commit himself to 2022. That much was made clear when the team launched its new challenger for this season, the W12.

"I’m in a fortunate position where I have achieved most of the stuff I have wanted to achieve up until this point so there is no real need to plan too far ahead into the future," said Hamilton.

"I think we are living in quite an unusual period of time in life and I just wanted one year. Then we can talk about if we do more and keep adding it one [year at a time] if we have to.”

You would assume that if Hamilton failed to win an eighth drivers' title this year, ensuring he becomes the most successful in the history of the sport, he would want to continue until that target is achieved. But that is not something that drives him.

"A real important decision in my mind is that I don't want that to be the deciding factor," added Hamilton. "I got into racing because I loved racing, and I think that's got to be at the core of what I do.

"If all you are going for are accolades and titles, I feel like I could potentially lose my way. Of course, it's the ultimate dream but I don't think it's necessarily going to be the deciding factor on whether I stay or keep going.

"I think it's more about when I put the helmet on and I still have that smile when I leave the garage. It's going back to 'Do you enjoy it?'

"Last year was a real tough one for everyone, including me, but I think there were some real impactful moments. Will that be the case this year? Will I enjoy it as much? We will see. I'm excited currently, so I'm sure I will."


From Wolff's perspective, despite the puzzle he is seemingly faced with, he maintains that Hamilton and Bottas will be given first refusal should he determine they remain the right pairing to take Mercedes forward into F1's new era.

"I think if Lewis continues to race we will want to do this together and we will discuss that shortly," said Wolff "With Valtteri, we know exactly what we have and we appreciate this.

“At the same time, the landscape changes with new cars, new regulations and we have got to take the right decision for the team going forward but that also means we will have the discussions with our two drivers first and then we will see where that goes.”

Beyond the Mercedes 'bubble', there is then the Max factor. Only recently, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner suggested that should Hamilton opt to bring the curtain down on his F1 career, he is certain Mercedes would seek to sign Max Verstappen.

Although Verstappen is contracted to Red Bull through to the end of 2023, it is understood there are performance-related clauses that could result in an early release. Wolff has insisted Mercedes will look in-house first before considering any other option.

“The symbiosis that we have in the relationship, it is always that we have a mutual understanding of what we want to do in the future and that will also be the case in the discussions with Lewis going forward," added Wolff.

“The sheer fact we have had so much success together in the past and the relationship that we have, the trustful relationship, will mean that any conversations we will have on 2022 and the future will first be with him.

“Max is certainly an outstanding young driver that will be on everybody’s radar in the future but, as I have said before, we are not flirting outside before we have a clear understanding with our two drivers.”


Hamilton has insisted he is "fully invested in this season and delivering", that he is "still very committed to the sport" and that "I still love what I do". But, and this is quite a significant but, he has conceded his main focus is not F1 this year.

Part of Hamilton's gaze last season, en route to equalling Schumacher's record of titles, was directed towards his push for greater diversity in motorsport along his anti-racism stance.

Alongside the launch of the Hamilton Commission, he has joined forces with Mercedes in a bid to spearhead the push for diversity.

"What I am really focused on is trying to make sure there is still a great discussion on this diversity issue," said Hamilton. "It remains an issue to this day and it won't change overnight. What is important is we keep delivering and actually taking action.

"I am really proud of my team and I am already seeing that with the steps that we started taking last year, progress little by little. It just takes one step at a time, of course.

"That is kind of my driving force this year, too, to make sure we continue to push for accountability and on top of that, hopefully, I can deliver some good performances."

Is Hamilton's eye firmly on the ball this year? A record-breaking calendar of 23 races will tell us more.

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Valtteri Bottas

  • Toto Wolff

  • Mercedes

  • F1 2021

  • F1 2022

  • Formula 1

  • Max Verstappen

  • George Russell

  • Esteban Ocon

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