Arguably the greatest Formula 1 driver of all times, Sir Lewis Hamilton could have raced his last lap. After a very controversial finish to the 2021 F1 Season, the brit has been unusually quiet. He has not given any interviews. He remains silent on social media – which he updated on a daily basis prior to the Abu Dhabi GP. The mixture of strange decisions from both the Race Director Michael Masi and Lewis’ own Team, Mercedes AMG F1, transformed an otherwise perfect race from the 7 time World Champion into a tainted win for his rival.
Albeit virtually impossible to prove, foul play cannot be ruled out. Every F1 fan, who closely follows the sport for over 25 years, has never seen a race decided outside of the track in such a manner – let alone the World Championship. Masi’s decision blatantly contradicted FIA’s regulations and the way Safety Car protocols have been applied in the sport for decades.
Under normal circumstances, losing a World Championship is gut wrenching. When we add all the specifics on this year’s loss, it is not farfetched to think we have seen the last of Lewis.
The Champion himself has not confirmed his future, declaring at the end of this season:
I’ve felt great in the car in the past couple of months. We’re still in the pandemic and I just want everyone to stay safe and spend Christmas with their families.
We’ll see about next year.
Mercedes AMG F1
The questionable decisions by Lewis’ team in the last race of the year were far from the team’s only missteps during the 2021 Season. Mercedes committed several strategy mistakes throughout the year, mainly on pit-stops. Monaco, Turkey, Netherlands and Portugal. These are a few other instances where the German squad’s race plan directly hurt Hamilton or helped his rival.
As the sport’s first black driver and its most victorious one by any metric, Sir Lewis Hamilton lives to overcome opposition from all sides in his quest for greatness. Fighting against his own team has got to take a toll on the man. In spite of him publicly expressing his utmost appreciation for them in every chance he gets, loyalty has a limit.
If Lewis decides to race another season, a team change could be the way forward. Rumors say that Scuderia Ferrari will have a strong car for the 2022 campaign. They have plenty of cash to pay Mercedes for the hefty contract breakup clause. The British pilot has talked about driving for the Italian team before:
For years, whenever I come to Monza and see the fans, I hear them saying ‘Come to Ferrari!’, it warms my heart but it’s pretty amazing that I’ve never driven for Ferrari after so many years. Because it’s a dream for everyone, a goal to be achieved.
FIA Politics and Bernie Ecclestone
Since a young 22 year old wonder joined Formula 1 in 2007, the sport’s long time czar has always made inexplicable and improper criticism towards the pilot. Ecclestone has even contended Hamilton should retire in a sign of respect towards Michael Schumacher’s 7 World Titles mark.
With the recent election of Fabiana Ecclestone, the 44-year-old wife of the F1 former ruler, as FIA Vice President, we can only expect the political environment at Formula 1 deteriorating towards Lewis.
As a quick reminder of Bernie’s track record, here are some of his controversies related to Lewis himself or race in general.
2008 – Racism is a joke
As F1’s first black driver got closer to becoming the sport’s youngest Champion, fans in Spain and Brazil made hundreds of racially abusive and threatening comments towards the driver. Spaniards went as far as painting their faces black and wearing “Hamilton’s Family” t-shirts to the track. Ecclestone’s response as the supreme leader of the sport was:
I don’t think it was anything to do with racism. (…) that was probably beginning as a joke rather than anything abusive.
I think people look and read into things [things] that are not there. All those things are all a bit of a joke and people are entitled to support who they want to support.
“I don’t see why people should have been [insulted by it]. These things are people expressing themselves.”
2009 – Hitler, Hussein and Taliban
When interviewed by Britain’s Times newspaper, the F1 executive said democracy “hasn’t done a lot of good for many countries” and defended his support the son of famous fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, stating he “would do a super job” as British prime minister.
Ecclestone went on to give a few examples of despots he admired, including Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban:
In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done.
He went on to say Britain’s decision to support the US in overthrowing Iraq’s Hussein was a great mistake because “[Hussein] was the only one who could control that country” and that “it was the same” with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
2020 – Black Lives Matter Protests
As Sir Lewis Hamilton publicly joined in the fight against racism – fueled by the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in the US – Bernie Ecclestone was quick to comment:
In lots of cases, Black people are more racist than what White people are.
Ecclestone continued by saying The Hamilton Commission would not have any significant impact on the sport. He added “I don’t think it’s going to do anything bad or good for Formula One”.
In response to these remarks, Hamilton said:
So sad and disappointing to read these comments. Bernie is out of the sport and a different generation but this is exactly what is wrong – ignorant and uneducated comments which show us how far we as a society need to go before real equality can happen.
It makes complete sense to me now that nothing was said or done to make our sport more diverse or to address the racial abuse I received throughout my career. If someone who has run the sport for decades has such a lack of understanding of the deep-rooted issues we as black people deal with every day, how can we expect all the people who work under him to understand. It starts at the top.
Formula 1 themselves criticized Ecclestone’s comments by releasing a statement. It read they “completely disagreed with Bernie Ecclestone’s comments that have no place in Formula 1 or society. Mr Ecclestone has played no role in Formula 1 since he left our organisation in 2017, his title Chairman Emeritus, being honorific, expired in January 2020.”
2021 – Sir Lewis
Upon Lewis Hamilton’s knighthood, Bernie Ecclestone did not shy away from demonstrating his disliking of the British driver – even outside of the F1 space.
Only people who have really done something for the country should be knighted, I don’t think many people who are knighted now really deserve it.”
They all make a lot of money and donate some to charity but they haven’t done anything specific for the country.
For Ecclestone, Formula 1’s first ever and still only black driver, who came from humble beginnings into a rich man’s sport and shattered every relevant record is undeserving. I am curious to know what then Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart have done to be considered deserving of the same honor – as summed up the three drivers do not match Lewis’ totals in either World Championships or in race wins.
It remains to be seen whether the Ecclestone Family’s return to active executive duty within FIA will impact Hamilton’s decision, but their history with the driver is not irrelevant.
Possibly not even Sir Lewis Hamilton himself knows what 2022 holds for his career. His abnormal silence speaks to an introspective state that is proper for soul-searching in deciding on his future. His own brother Nicholas said on Christmas Eve he has not spoken to Lewis, adding “I tried to speak to him but I’m just gonna leave him for a bit. (…) I think he’s just in a place where he doesn’t want to talk to anyone, including me which is fine”.
The Ecclestone piece of this puzzle cannot be understated and could be a deciding factor for the British driver. With Bernie himself claiming Hamilton “will not return for the 2022 Season”, this could ignite a fire within the Champ to prove the long-time foe wrong one more time.
If he decides to end now his unbelievable career, Lewis can bow out at ease. He is the most victorious athlete Formula 1 has ever seen. His fans will support his decision, whatever it may be. His opponents will sleep better if he leaves for good. History will for long remember him as The Greatest and cherish his potentially unmatchable records.
For everything Sir Lewis Hamilton represents, we can only hope he still feels deep in his heart the will to fight against all odds for another season. We know it would be as unforgettable as the past 15 years have been!