Formula 1: What does Lewis Hamilton’s new contract imply?

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by Giuseppe Cacace - Pool/Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by Giuseppe Cacace - Pool/Getty Images) /

What does Lewis Hamilton’s new Mercedes Formula 1 contract imply as it relates to their potential future together beyond the 2021 season?

At long last, more than a month after he officially became a free agent and was no longer employed by the team, seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton signed a new contract with Mercedes to pursue an eighth title and perhaps to become the first driver to eclipse the 100-win mark.

Hamilton won his record-tying seventh title last season, tying Michael Schumacher on the all-time list, and he broke Schumacher’s wins record of 91. He sits at 95 wins entering the 2021 season following his 11-win 2020 season.

But many were shocked to find out that the 36-year-old Briton’s new contract, which many had assumed would be his last before retirement, was only a one-year deal.

So what does that imply about his — and Mercedes’ — future?

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There were all kinds of rumors going around about what Hamilton wanted from the team, including but not limited to a four-year deal worth $200 million and a veto clause effectively allowing him to pick his future teammates, with Valtteri Bottas having signed a fifth consecutive one-year deal in August and thus not guaranteed a spot with the team beyond 2021.

Again, Hamilton signed a one-year deal, which, in itself, implies no such clause, given the fact that he himself isn’t guaranteed a place with the team next year.

This may not necessarily be Hamilton’s final deal with Mercedes, however. In fact, all they have done is basically put themselves back in the same situation they were in throughout the 2020 season, except now agreeing to new terms is clearly far from a certainty, given how long this new deal took.

Hot. Lewis Hamilton contract comments raise eyebrows. light

Clearly what Hamilton wanted was more than Mercedes were willing to give, and part of that, while team principal Toto Wolff denied it, undoubtedly has to do with George Russell’s performance in his car after he tested positive for COVID-19 early last December ahead of the Sakhir Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit. Many believe that that performance capped Hamilton’s value, given the dominance of the car.

So this new contract may have effectively been a band-aid heading into an even more interesting negotiation period. Preseason testing is right around the corner, and if something wasn’t signed by then, both sides would have been in a precarious situation. They had been adamant for months that they wanted to get a deal done. And they did that.

But now, heading into the 2021 season, they know that agreeing to terms on a future deal is far from a simple formality.

And now Hamilton, who claims he opted for a one-year deal despite conflicting reports, knows that the team aren’t afraid to go about it with that perspective and with a focus on the future, especially since both of the Brackley-based team’s seats are slated to be open after the 2021 season ends.

With Hamilton not having a clause in his contract to prevent any new drivers from joining the team, the Silver Arrows are clearly set to make some kind of a change after the 2021 season.

Let’s also not forget the reports of Hamilton’s “grumpiness” heading into preseason testing.

Trending. Lewis Hamilton grumpy heading into 2021?. light

It seems only a matter of time before the 22-year-old Russell, a Mercedes junior driver, replaces one of the team’s two drivers, especially after absolutely dominating the 31-year-old Bottas in his maiden Mercedes start last year — and doing so in a car that left him bloody because he barely fit inside the cockpit. And “barely fit” is being generous regarding the size of the cockpit.

And let’s not forget that the veto clause — the one that isn’t actually in Hamilton’s contract — has often been referred to as the “Verstappen clause”, given the fact that 23-year-old Max Verstappen, who is under contract with Red Bull through the 2023 season, can technically opt to leave the team after the 2021 campaign if their performance does not meet a certain standard.

Pairing Verstappen with Hamilton is something that many fans have wanted to see for years, but it is something that they have also speculated that Hamilton has no desire to deal with.

It may not have to be. Could Mercedes do a complete lineup overhaul for 2022?

Hamilton’s one-year deal makes that a real possibility. With eight titles and presumably 100+ wins, Hamilton would have nothing left to prove. Statistically, he would be the GOAT. Wins-wise, he already is, but triple-digit wins and more championships than anybody else would solidify that once and for all — again, statistically.

With sweeping rules and regulation changes slated to take place ahead of the 2022 season, will Mercedes still be as dominant as they’ve been throughout the V6 turbo hybrid era, which began in 2014? They have still yet to lose a world title during this era.

It would be a perfect time for Hamilton to walk away on top and allow Mercedes to enter a completely new driver era, whether or not that includes Verstappen.

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But for now, Hamilton’s sole focus in regard to Formula 1 is on winning an eighth world championship, and he is slated to begin that pursuit on Sunday, March 28 in the Bahrain Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit, a race he has won in both of the last two seasons. ESPN is set to provide live coverage beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET.