Amid the end-of-year festivities and celebrations following his 84th career victory, capping off his sixth title-winning season in style, a landmark moment passed Lewis Hamilton by largely unnoticed.

Abu Dhabi marked Hamilton’s 250th grand prix start, an achievement only managed by eight other drivers in Formula 1 history.

“Jeez, that’s a lot of races,” Hamilton said after learning of the stat.

“You didn’t celebrate that, 250?” asked Max Verstappen. “No pit board? You didn’t care?"

“No!” replied Hamilton. So what would he care about? “300? 350?”

“No, I don’t want to be reminded of age!” quipped back Hamilton.

Today – January 7 – marks Hamilton’s 35th birthday. Once the baby-faced pretender ready to shake up the F1 world, he can now comfortably be considered as one of the “elder statesman” on the current grid.

It is a role Hamilton is conscious of. He has made no secret of his wish to use his profile to speak out on topics such as environmentalism, hoping to effect some wider change in the world. But his advancing age, edging him closer toward the end of his F1 career, is also something he is keenly aware of.

When Robert Kubica’s racing return to F1 was confirmed in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2018, Hamilton joked: “I’m so happy he’s coming back, because Fernando [Alonso] is leaving and I was going to be the second-oldest driver, but now I still remain the third. I can’t tell you how happy I am about that!”

But for 2020, Hamilton will be the second-oldest driver, only trailing Kimi Raikkonen (40). And if Raikkonen opts against extending his time in F1 beyond the final year of his existing Alfa Romeo contract, Hamilton would surely be the oldest come the start of the 2021 season.

Hamilton was asked many times last year how it felt to be fighting against a pair of 22-year-olds in the form of Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc week in, week out. And he was always gracious: “I’m really proud to be in a period of time where there are such great youngsters coming through. These guys have been doing a phenomenal job and I really privileged to be in the period of time where they’re here.”

But much as the emergence of Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Hamilton and, last of all, Sebastian Vettel shifted F1 away from the era of Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello, there has been a similar changing of the guard in recent years. Its acceleration became clear for 2019 when there were three Formula 2 graduates. And in 2020, only four drivers on the grid will have experience of the sport prior to 2011: Hamilton, Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean.

Hamilton’s future is set to dominate the Fleet Street F1 headlines in the coming months as he mulls over a Mercedes contract extension. There may be links to Ferrari, and a certain attraction that would come with the project at Maranello, but it is difficult to see him walking away from Brackley for another team. Given that Toto Wolff is also understood to be likely to remain in his role despite links to F1 CEO Chase Carey’s position, there would be little to unsettle Hamilton.

Retiring also does not appear to be on the immediate horizon, either. Hamilton has been clear in his desire to explore other avenues once his racing career is over, such as music and fashion. His line with Tommy Hilfiger is one of his proudest achievements, and one that he has invested a lot of time and effort in. But to turn his back on it all when he is not only within touching distance of Michael Schumacher’s records but also seemingly at the peak of his powers is hard to envision.

“I by no means feel old. I feel super light on my feet and healthier than I’ve ever been if I’m being honest,” Hamilton said in Abu Dhabi. He has long advocated his switch to a plant-based diet at the start of 2018 as being a game changer for not just his athletic ability, but also his life off-track.

“Of course, when I was 25 years old, I had age on my side a little bit more then, but I lacked the knowledge and experience that I have now, and that’s not something you can leapfrog,” he added. “There’s no quick way to get to the experience and the knowledge that I have today.

“Each year I’m constantly looking at how I can be fitter, how I can be more focused, how I can have more energy, which all complement my natural ability to do what I do.

“It doesn’t faze me in the slightest, and I’m excited that there are these youngsters are coming. Every day is a school day and every day is a day to be schooled.”

But how much longer will Hamilton want to keep learning in F1? And will he ever want to be truly ‘schooled’ by his younger opposition?

The chances are that Hamilton will soon be negotiating either his penultimate or final F1 contract. At least another two years looks likely, giving him the chance to eclipse Schumacher’s tally of seven world titles regardless of how 2020 unfolds. It would also be enough time to see how Mercedes adjusts to the new 2021 regulations, and how much enjoyment he gets out of the new-style cars.

Hamilton would almost be 38 by the time an additional two-year deal expired at the end of the 2023 season. By then, if he is still sharp and at the peak of his powers, he could opt to continue with rolling one-year deals until he decides it’s time to hang up his helmet.

Whenever Hamilton decides to call it quits, it is likely to be on his own terms, and while he is still duking it out at the head of the field. It’s hard to see him accepting a steady decline down the field as younger drivers surpass him.

The old saying goes that age is just a number. And for Lewis Hamilton, advancing into the second half of his thirties is unlikely to slow him down one bit.

 

Comments

Loading Comments...