Max Verstappen has opened up a 32-point gap to the seven-time World Champion in the Drivers’ standings over the course of the first triple-header of the season, with the Red Bull driver looking increasingly dominant in that time.
The Dutchman was comfortably ahead of the field in the Austrian Grand Prix at the weekend, opening up enough of a gap to Valtteri Bottas in P2 to be able to take an extra pit stop, set the fastest lap of the race and still win with a 17-second margin.
With the Red Bull having been significantly upgraded in recent weeks, where Mercedes have stayed relatively static, the gap at the front has opened up between the two teams.
With that in mind, Formula 1 reporter Clarkson feels Red Bull’s performance is one factor behind the Briton signing a new two-year contract with the Silver Arrows over the weekend.
“I thought [Hamilton] was pretty deflated after the race [in Austria]. You know what? I think one of the reasons he’s re-signed for two years is he can see the writing on the wall for this season,” Clarkson said on the F1 Nation Podcast.
“I think, somewhere in the back of his head, he thinks: ‘This is over, I need number eight’.”
Co-host Natalie Pinkham retorted by asking Clarkson: “Are you serious?”, but could see the logic behind his reasoning.
“I do know what you mean, in that he’s giving himself another chance of securing that eighth title,” she added.
“He went on record as saying he was enjoying this fight so much, it invigorated him and he wants more of the same.”
Damon Hill threw in the variable of the new regulations for 2022 potentially mixing up the order but, despite the unknown of whether or not Mercedes will be at the front of the field, the team could have signed anyone on the grid if Hamilton did choose to retire at the end of the season.
“They want to keep Lewis. If they lost Lewis, though, they’ve got the pick of the bunch,” said the 1996 World Champion.
“They’ve still got a great car, but they’ve got a new regulation change, so who knows what’s going to happen next year?”