Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc have secured top seats for the foreseeable future, but what do their renewals tell us about Lewis Hamilton’s plans?
Some expect the 35-year-old to retire in the near future, others envision him donning the red of Ferrari and many can’t see him leaving Mercedes.
While it’s still unclear what he’ll do, some conclusions can be drawn from the deals that the contenders to his throne have made.
He doesn’t fancy being team-mates with Max
The prospect of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen being team-mates at Mercedes had many a fan drooling and dreaming.
With the Dutchman now staying at Red Bull until Hamilton is 38, it looks like it’ll never happen, and we can’t help but think it was the Briton’s decision.
With Verstappen originally being a free agent at the end of 2020, Mercedes surely would have snapped him up to replace Valtteri Bottas, and he’d have almost certainly jumped at the chance.
If that was the case, negotiations would have already begun and he wouldn’t have committed to Red Bull. So, if both team and driver would have been up for it, why didn’t it happen?
Hamilton has a considerable influence at Mercedes and was consulted on whether Valtteri Bottas or Esteban Ocon got the 2020 seat, so it’s safe to assume that he can veto such a move. That’s not to say he’s scared of Verstappen, but more that he’d rather remain as the team’s clear-cut number 1 driver and have a rear-gunner like Valtteri Bottas to help him out.
It’s understandable, but disappointing from a narrative perspective nonetheless.
The retirement plans are on the back-burner
Even if Hamilton prevented Verstappen from joining him at Mercedes, many were confident the Dutchman would replace him when he eventually called it a day in F1. If he was likely to do so soon, Mercedes would surely be aware and would ensure Verstappen was free for when it happens, as would Verstappen himself.
The fact that this hasn’t happened suggests that Hamilton plans to stick around for a good while yet. It’s a near certainty that he’ll want to drive in 2021 to see what the new regulations are like and to potentially go ahead of Michael Schumacher in the World Championship count.
Retiring after that seemed the most likely possibility, but with Verstappen and Leclerc opting not to wait for Mercedes and the German team happy to let them be taken off the market, don’t be surprised if he ends up signing a longer-term contract himself.
Age is just a number, right?
Mercedes or bust
Regardless of when Hamilton leaves the grid for good, it’s looking more and more likely that the remainder of his career will be spent at Mercedes and not Ferrari, as many had hoped.
The rumours of such a move began to swirl at the end of the 2019 season when the Italian team admitted they were pleased he was available for 2021 and it emerged that the two had held talks. The idea of Hamilton ending his career with a new challenge at the sport’s most iconic team seemed more and more likely by the day. And then Leclerc signed a new deal.
Ferrari prefer having clear number one and number two drivers, and haven’t enjoyed having two of the former in their ranks since Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel became team-mates.
With the Monegasque driver committed to leading the team for five seasons at the least, they’re not going to want a driver come him and disrupt things when they could just have someone like Antonio Giovinazzi assist their golden boy instead.
Unless Hamilton is tempted by the romantic idea of ending things where they began at McLaren, it’s hard to imagine him leaving Mercedes before he retired.