Will Lewis Hamilton leave F1 at the end of 2020?

11th November 2020
Ian Parkes

It was a comment that was the equivalent of a bolt from the blue, as left-field as you could possibly get. For a moment you were left wondering whether there was any truth in it, or it was simply a powerplay in a game of smoke and mirrors, orchestrated to grab the full attention of the media, and in turn, make the intended target of such a remark sit up and pay full attention.

When Lewis Hamilton remarked that "I don't even know if I'm going to be here next year" in the wake of his 93rd Formula 1 victory at Imola recently that leaves him on the precipice of equalling Michael Schumacher's record of seven world titles, there was initial disbelief.


It naturally resulted in an additional question being posed to Hamilton to obtain unequivocal clarification that he meant what he had just said. "I would like to be here next year but there's no guarantee of that," replied the British driver.

Hamilton further clarified that "there are multiple things that are on the top of my mind. There's a lot that excites me about life after racing, so time will tell."

You can appreciate the frenzy that followed. Surely Hamilton could not be serious? Why would he want to walk away now when, in all likelihood given the stability in the Formula 1 regulations for next season, he will add an eighth world title and become the most successful driver in the sport's history?


In essence, Hamilton is factually correct in what he said – there is no guarantee he will be in F1 in 2021. It is November, the current season concludes in a few weeks, and yet the 35-year-old is currently without a contract for next season and beyond. Negotiations have yet to commence. It is quite a remarkable situation Hamilton finds himself in.

The reasons behind the delay are numerous, initially that Hamilton was not in a comfortable place during lockdown over the first half of the year before the season began in early July to start talks with Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff.

Once the condensed 17-race calendar did then get off the ground, the rapidity of the grands prix have pushed that time to sit down with Wolff to one side.

The obvious COVID-19 restrictions regarding the movement of team staff in between races have also had an impact. Discussing the minutiae of a multi-million-pound deal is not going to take place over a Zoom call.


Then there is Toto Wolff himself. The Austrian is currently embroiled in his own negotiations with parent company Daimler regarding his future role.

Earlier this year, Wolff discovered life beyond F1 which opened his eyes to the possible dilution of his current position, with matters made more complicated by the fact he is a 30 per cent shareholder of the Mercedes F1 team.

Hamilton has developed a strong, comfortable bond with Wolff over the years, to such an extent the last time they sat down together to discuss terms on the current deal it was conducted in the former's apartment in Monaco, and over a pizza.

Wolff has at least informed Hamilton he has no intention of leaving Mercedes. Knowing he will be in place in some capacity will at least have been reassuring to the six-time F1 champion.

The primary issue, of course, is the terms of the new deal. Hamilton is understood to earn in the region of the $30-35 million per year. As with any new contract, it is reasonable to assume Hamilton would like a pay rise in recognition of not only his length of service with the team but also his astonishing success, claiming the record for the most number of race victories from Schumacher this year, whilst also matching the legendary German's title-winning milestone.

At any other time, this contract would likely have been signed a long time ago. The problem for Daimler is the uncertain nature of a COVID-affected future. Like any business, it has to cut its cloth accordingly, and the car industry has naturally been severely affected.


Hamilton is not oblivious to such constraints as he has made mention of Daimler's position, although has additionally expressed his confidence the company is "now on the climb back" and they are "in a much better place but everyone’s had a big hit this year”.

There is a further spanner in the works in that F1 is poised to introduce a salary cap from 2023 after all 10 teams agreed to the proposal at a recent meeting of the F1 Commission, that also comprises representatives from F1 and the FIA. The figure on the table is $30 million across a driver pairing

When Hamilton learned of such a potential imposition he made clear he was far from enamoured, calling for the Grand Prix Drivers' Association to become involved. As Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has remarked there are "legal ramifications" to such a prospect that ensure it is far from a done deal, but it is an added concern for Hamilton if he is to continue to remain the highest-paid driver in F1.


So could he really call it a day? He has plenty of outside interests, such as his music, fashion links and acting options, but you suspect he is far from done with F1 just yet.

Yes, there are hurdles to overcome but to suggest he is willing to walk away was a lesson in megaphone diplomacy from Hamilton as he knows his words will have alerted the powers-that-be inside Daimler.

Despite the financial impact of COVID-19, Daimler chairman Ola Källenius knows Hamilton remains one of the most marketable sports stars on the planet, and one of his company's biggest assets, and there is no way they will let him leave just yet.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Formula 1

  • F1 2020

  • F1 2021

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Toto Wolff

  • Mercedes

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