Lewis Hamilton has indicated that he does not know for certain whether he will continue to race in Formula 1 next year, saying there is “no guarantee” he will sign a new contract with Mercedes. 

Hamilton claimed his 72nd F1 victory for Mercedes in Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix to score his 93rd career win as he helped the German manufacturer clinch a record seventh constructors’ world championship on the bounce. 

The result means that Hamilton will wrap up his seventh drivers’ title - and draw level with Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of world championships - at the next race in Turkey, providing teammate Valtteri Bottas does not outscore him by eight points. The achievement will seal an unprecedented seventh world championship double in a row for Mercedes. 

Hamilton is out of contract at the end of the year but it is widely expected that he will agree a new deal to remain with Mercedes into 2021 and beyond, despite a delay in finalising what was considered to be a contract formality. 

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff initially stated that he hoped to make progress with negotiations over Hamilton’s future following a hectic run of races that kicked off the condensed 17-round 2020 season, but there has been no significant update in the three months that have passed since the campaign got underway. 

The situation appears to have been complicated by delays over Wolff’s own future, with the Austrian currently finding himself in a “moment of reflection” as he weighs up his role with the team beyond the end of the current season. 

Wolff has been in talks with Daimler for some time about his future and has admitted that overseeing Mercedes’ success over the past eight seasons has taken its toll on him. His ambition is to find a successor to takeover as team principal when the time is right.

Speaking after Sunday’s race at Imola, Wolff admitted he feels his “shelf life” as a team boss is beginning to expire. Despite this, Wolff insists he remains committed to Mercedes and will remain at the team in some capacity in 2021. 

It was when discussing Wolff's future and the impact it would have on Mercedes in the FIA’s post-race press conference that Hamilton dropped an unprompted bombshell.

“I don't even know if I'm going to be here next year, so it's not really a concern for me at the moment,” he said. 

"We have a lot of deep conversations, Toto and I, so I'm very aware of where he is mentally, and we share a lot of and carry a lot of the weight together I think.

"I've been here a long, long time. I can definitely understand wanting to pull back a little bit and giving more time to family and those sort of things.”

When pressed later on if there is a real chance he could leave F1 at the end of the year, Hamilton replied: “Well we’re in November and it’s crazy, Christmas isn’t that far away.

“Naturally, I feel great, I still feel very strong and feel like I can keep going for plenty of months.

“But you mentioned Toto and about shelf life, so there’s multiple things that do stay on the top of my mind. I would like to be here next year but there’s no guarantee of that for sure.

“There’s a lot that excites me in the afterlife. So, time will tell.”

But would Hamilton really call it quits when he is on top and seemingly destined to create yet more F1 history? 

Hamilton’s victory at Imola was his ninth from the opening 13 races of the season and marked Mercedes’ 100th of the V6 hybrid era it has dominated. 

The Briton, now 35, is just three pole positions and seven wins away from reaching a century in both categories as he continues to raise the bar in F1. 

A seemingly inevitable seventh world title would put Hamilton tantalisingly close to eclipsing Schumacher’s unrivalled record of world championships, a feat previously considered unbeatable when the German won his last title in 2006.

With teams carrying over their current cars into next season due to the postponement of a radical regulation overhaul for 2022 in a bid to save costs after suffering a severe revenue hit due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is fair to assume that Mercedes would still hold a similar advantage over its rivals next year, meaning Hamilton would have a brilliant opportunity to seal an eighth drivers’ crown. 

Hamilton’s latest comments are a departure from those he made about ‘not being done yet’ after he broke Schumacher’s wins record last time out in Portugal. They are also a notable shift from ones he made earlier this year that he feels he could go on for “at least three more years”. 

His view appears to have altered in the uncertain and extraordinary times we now found ourselves living in and Hamilton has made it no secret that he does not wish to return to his previous fast-paced pre-pandemic life.  

It is well known that Hamilton is also keen to pursue his other passions away from the race circuit in music and fashion, as well as continuing his push for human rights and fight against inequality, something he hinted at with his “afterlife” comment.

Should Hamilton decide to sensationally walk away from F1, Mercedes would be left needing to find itself with a replacement, as it did when Nico Rosberg quit just days after winning his maiden title in 2016. 

However, Wolff, who knows Hamilton better than most, does not believe his star driver has reached a point in his life yet where he is ready to stop racing in F1.

“I guess if he were to decide to step out of Formula 1, which I don't think it's going to happen, and I hope it's not going to happen, then I think we're going to have a pretty frantic driver market out there,” Wolff said. 

“But I think it's the moment, it's the emotions. We are all happy, but very tired also. 

“It's the same for me. I completely relate to his feeling, that you question yourself, that you think about all the other things that matter, and when you switch on the news in the morning, and switch them off in the evening, it's all about the struggles that we all face.

"We are here in our little happy place, we try to bring some entertainment into households. But then you're back in the more difficult reality the next day.

"All of that is something that affects us. And in that respect, it's normal for somebody who's empathetic to have these feelings.”

Hamilton described Wolff as being “without doubt the best leader here” as he praised the imperative role his boss has played in leading Mercedes to its record-breaking run of achievements after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. 

“It is his mentality, the balance of drive, compassion, understanding and ego all come together to create the best boss you could have,” he explained. 

“Every single person in the team, no one’s below him, and he really cares about how everyone is doing away from the track, you know ‘how’s things at home with the family? Is there anything we can do so you can be better at the office?’.

“He’s a really great guy, I feel privileged to have him as our leader, and we wouldn’t have been able to do this without his guidance.

“I don’t know who will replace him but he is a leader, he’s not going to put anyone that’s not going to be able to do the job, that’s not going to be up to it, who’s not going to be geared up,” Hamilton added. 

“He will find the right people. That’s why we have the success we have, he’s found the right people and put them in a position to be able to shine as bright as possible. He’s just empowered every single person in the team to be the best they can be.

“It’s not one person. This team is not about one person, it’s a collective of a lot of people. Toto doesn’t build the car, it’s a real team effort.

“But I’m supportive of him whatever he wants to do moving forward.”

While both Hamilton’s and Wolff’s long-term futures are shrouded in an element of uncertainty, Wolff, who is likely to move into a new role for 2021, suggested that he and Hamilton are likely to find a resolution to ensure they remain at Mercedes together for at least one more season.

“We go together in a way, we have a symbiosis,” Wolff said. “It’s important where our heart is and mindset is for next year.

“But I’ve said that this is my team. I am a very proud co-owner with Mercedes and I’m not going to go anywhere.

“My role may change in the future, and it’s something that he has asked.

“I think nothing is ever secure. Like Niki Lauda in the 70s you could wake up one morning on a Friday or Saturday morning on a track and say I’m just not having fun anymore.

“And I think that can happen to anybody. But we want to continue this journey.

“We are not finished. Lewis and I and all the team, we’re not finished.”

 

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