Formula 1: The major fallout if Lewis Hamilton actually retires

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /

If Lewis Hamilton actually does not return to Mercedes and retires before the 2021 Formula 1 season, what would happen next?

While it still seems like the most likely possibility, with every passing day, it seems less and less likely that seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton will be back for what would be a ninth consecutive season with Mercedes in 2021.

He and the team have reportedly had multiple disagreements on contract terms that have recently been presented, and the two sides have not yet come to an agreement on a deal for 2021 and beyond.

In fact, now that Friday, January 1 has come and gone, the 36-year-old Briton is no longer an official member of the team, as that is when his previous contract expired.

The deadline for him and the Silver Arrows to get a deal done is reportedly at the end of February, which is just days before preseason testing is scheduled to commence at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Let’s say, for all intents and purposes, a deal doesn’t get done.

What next for Mercedes and for the sport?

It’s not as far-fetched as it seems. This has been a rumor that has been supposedly “shot down” many times over the past year, with Hamilton and the team saying that they simply hadn’t had the time to iron out the details, yet here we are.

Really, it should surprise nobody, given what happened in early August.

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Valtteri Bottas, who became Hamilton’s teammate in 2017 and has won just nine races compared to Hamilton’s 42 since joining the Brackley-based team, signed another extension.

Hamilton still hadn’t done so.

Skip ahead five months, and it’s possible that it may not happen.

The team have been very clear that Bottas won’t be replaced ahead of the 2021 season, despite speculation that George Russell would be signed after impressing the team by comfortably outpacing Bottas in his relief appearance for Hamilton in the Sakhir Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit after Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19.

If Hamilton doesn’t return, both Bottas and Russell could compete for the team in 2021. Of course, Russell is under contract with Williams through 2021. But as a Mercedes-backed driver, there is hardly a doubt that it would be he who gets the call to replace the seven-time world champion, especially given his Sakhir performance.

In fact, this would work out perfectly for Williams. Claire Williams made clear that Russell was under contract with the Grove-based team through the 2021 season and that Mercedes would have to wait to get their hands on him in one of the factory cars until at least 2022.

However, Williams have since been purchased by Dorilton Capital, and Claire no longer serves as deputy team principal.

It’s no longer her decision, and let’s be honest, even if it were, the right circumstance could certainly alter that choice.

After the purchase of the team, there were even rumors that Russell, despite a perfect qualifying record (37-0) against his Williams teammates since signing with the team in 2019 and despite signing a deal that runs through 2021, would be cut after the 2020 season in favor of a driver with substantial financial backing along the lines of what teammate Nicholas Latifi brings to the struggling organization.

Williams acting team principal Simon Roberts shot down those rumors and maintained that Russell would not be getting the short end of the stick in that scenario.

A few weeks later, the team approved Russell’s relief appearance for Hamilton. While there is no guarantee that such a scenario would happen for an entire 23-race season (and, let’s be honest: long after that if that were to transpire) like Formula 1 is set to run in 2021, the chances it doesn’t happen, should the opportunity present itself, are small.

Given Hamilton’s lofty contract demands and what Russell showed in his solitary start with the team, Russell would be a much cheaper option who still gives the team a great chance to secure more driver and constructor championships.

That would give Mercedes plenty of money to give Williams to get Russell out of his current deal, and they’d still be able to save many millions of dollars by not re-signing Hamilton.

While it would be naïve to say that Russell’s lone start proved that he is just as good as Hamilton and that “it’s all the car”, there is an extent of that argument that holds water when it comes to what matters most: winning.

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If that extent is enough to secure another dominant season for Mercedes with Russell behind the wheel, it’s not hard to see it coming to fruition, and if it does, we’re all going to be wondering why we didn’t realize it was going to happen a lot sooner than we did.