With Lewis Hamilton celebrating his 36th birthday officially unemployed just two months before the 2021 Formula 1 season is due to get underway, speculation over his future is rife. 

That is to a certain extent understandable given that Hamilton is yet to sign a new contract with Mercedes after his previous deal expired on December 31 following a record-breaking season in which he clinched his seventh world title to draw level with Michael Schumacher

However, Mercedes has long stressed that it is in no rush to finalise Hamilton’s contract, with both parties insisting they remain committed to each other - even if not yet on paper. 

"We are not worried about eventually getting it done,” Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff said last month at the FIA’s virtual prize-giving gala. 

“We are not putting a special date to it because we don't want to be under pressure. Sooner or later it needs to be done and at the latest, before we go testing.

"We had such a successful run of championships in the past seven years there is no reason not to continue,” he added. “He is on the top of his game and will be for a while, and that's why continuing together is a no-brainer.”

One has to ask why exactly would Hamilton call it a day now when he is on the verge of standing alone in becoming the outright most successful F1 driver in history by winning an eighth world championship, as well as having the chance to continue to raise the bar for the number of race victories and pole positions well past triple figures? 

In 2020, spurred on by the push for equality and the Black Lives Matter movement, Hamilton was as motivated as ever. He channeled that additional inspiration to charge to his seventh world title in a crushing manner, winning 10 of the 16 races he contested. 

Mercedes announced last month that petrochemicals giant Ineos - its current principal sponsor - was to take a one-third shareholding in the team, with Daimler and Wolff now holding equal amounts. This may well have complicated, or put a brief hold to, negotiations with Hamilton. 

All of this comes with the added factor of the current uncertain financial climate caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with teams working to a new $145million budget cap as of this year. While a salary cap for drivers and top team personnel is in the works but not yet introduced, teams are still looking at ways to reduce their net spend as they recover from the effects of the pandemic. 

Speaking on December 18, Hamilton confirmed he and Wolff “haven’t started the conversation” over a renewal but that they “plan to do that over the coming days”. 

"On the super, super plus side, I'm really proud and grateful to see Toto's signing," Hamilton said. 

"He's such an important leading figure within this team, and the success that we have achieved would not have been possible without him.

"He is such a great figurehead, and I think that the team is just better for it, to have that longevity, and it's great to see that commitment from Mercedes.

"But the added bonus of having INEOS who came in this year and have been a part of our success this year, it's great to see they're going to be a part of this team and help with the stability of this team moving forward in growing to be better.

"It's going to take a big push for us to continue to raise the bar in this organisation, because I think we've done such a great job over these past years.

"But I think the right people are in the right place, and it looks good. The future looks bright for this team I think.”

Those are not the words of a driver who is ready to throw in the towel and quit.

Wild rumours amid a lack of contract suggest there is a growing consensus that something cannot be right behind the scenes but I understand Mercedes is confident a deal will be reached and it is happy for that process to be undertaken in private without unnecessary pressure brought on by arbitrary deadlines, as Wolff previously indicated in Abu Dhabi.

At this stage, there appears to be no reason for genuine concern.

Speculation over the reason behind the delays, fuelled by reports in Italy - which claim the deal has hit a snag over a disagreement regarding salary and potential bonuses - seem to be nothing more than unsubstantiated rumours generated by hearsay in a bid to combat the lull of the off-season. 

Talk of Mercedes ditching Hamilton in favour of the more affordable George Russell also seems far-fetched, with Wolff insisting that the team would not use the Briton’s starring debut at the Sakhir GP as leverage in a bid to lower Hamilton’s asking price. 

Time is on both Mercedes and Hamilton’s side given the intended season-opening Australian Grand Prix - originally scheduled for March 21 - is set to be postponed, with pre-season testing likely to move back as a result, thus buying all parties involved more flexibility to strike a deal.

Of course, you can never be one hundred percent sure in F1, but everything seems to point to it being simply a matter of when - rather than if - Hamilton will sign on the dotted line, and Mercedes is content with that.

 

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