Sir Lewis Hamilton has signed a new one-year deal with Mercedes but team boss Toto Wolff concedes nothing has been decided beyond 2021, making it still possible that this could be the final year of one of motorsport’s great partnerships.
After months of negotiations, Hamilton ended his long-running contract saga with Formula One’s all-conquering team when a deal was announced on Monday, less than seven weeks before the new campaign gets under way in Bahrain.
But Hamilton, who is this season bidding to win an unprecedented eighth crown, and his team agreed only on a 12-month extension – raising the possibility that the Briton may be heading for his final hurrah in a Silver Arrows.
Hamilton will be 37 next year and, tellingly, there was no mention of a plus-one option in Monday’s contract announcement.
Team principal Wolff, who has overseen six of Hamilton’s seven championships, also admitted Mercedes must acknowledge life after their superstar driver.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, 23, is considered the natural successor to Hamilton’s throne, while Williams’ George Russell, 22, impressed as his British countryman’s replacement at the penultimate round in Bahrain last year.
Verstappen has long been admired by Wolff, while Russell, a member of the Mercedes young driver academy, is entering the final year of his Williams contract.
“Lewis needs to decide what his future holds for him so I wouldn’t want to comment on where he stands (in 2022),” said Wolff.
“On the other side, the team needs to decide long-term what we are going to do about our drivers.
“Valtteri (Bottas) and Lewis have our 100 per cent commitment and loyalty for 2021.
“We will support them with everything we have. We will then look beyond this year and say what is the line-up that we imagine in 2022 and onwards?
“Our first discussion will be with Valtteri and Lewis in respecting our values of loyalty and integrity, but on the other side, the young drivers are the future and we need to consider how we want to set ourselves up for the years beyond.
“As long as Lewis enjoys racing he is very capable of going longer. He looks after himself, physically and mentally, so I don’t think in terms of ability that ends in 2021. But in the end, it is his decision.”