Defending champion Lewis Hamilton ended all speculation about his future by extending his contract with his current employers, Mercedes, for another two years. The deal will see him with the Brackley-based team till the end of 2023 and reportedly rake in £40m a year.
The 36-year-old, who has been with the team for almost nine years now, signed up with the Mercedes in 2013 post the retirement of Michael Schumacher, leaving his maiden championship winning team McLaren. Hamilton’s move to Mercedes has been one of the most successful F1 driver-team combinations, with him winning six Drivers’ Championships with the team and the team winning further seven Constructors’ titles with Hamilton at the helm.
The new contract also sees Hamilton’s deal running up to the same time as the team’s current Principal and CEO, Toto Wolff. The two have formed a formidable partnership over the years.
So what does Hamilton’s two-year extension actually mean?
Hamilton is hungry
One could have understood had Hamilton retired at the end of the season. He would have left as statistically the greatest driver of all time by the end of the season with seven world titles, which could have become eight, so you couldn’t really blame the Brit if he called it day. Hamilton has achieved all there is to be achieved and yet he agreed to an extension, showcasing that he is not done yet and the hunger is still there.
In what is turning out to be his most competitive season in the turbo-hybrid era, Hamilton and his team see themselves playing second fiddle to Red Bull for the first time in eight years. Hamilton himself trails in the Drivers’ Championship for the first time since 2018, when Sebastian Vettel had mounted a charge to the Mercedes, although that fizzled out by mid-season. His new contract shows that Hamilton is raring to go and has full trust and faith in the team to win.
Heading into this week’s Austrian Grand Prix, Hamilton had reiterated how they were not backing down from the fight with Red Bull and said that they were the world champions and would not concede early, even if it meant to develop the current W12 a little bit more than expected and taking some time off from next year’s car.
Now, 2022 will see technical regulation changes, which might see Mercedes lose their current dominance. This would surely have crossed Hamilton’s mind, but the new contract shows his loyalty to the team and belief in the project to succeed. Lewis is fiercely competitive, and would not have hung around if he didn’t believe he could win. Team Principal Toto Wolff said Hamilton is the ideal driver to lead the team into the new F1 era and Mercedes could not have found anyone better.
Backed up by the boss and with a belief to win, it will be interesting to see whether Hamilton dominates the field yet again for at least another two years.
Where does this put us with his teammate?
Much discussion has occurred about the second Mercedes seat over the last few months. With speculations being that Mercedes academy and current Williams’ driver George Russell could be the one partnering Hamilton next year, the deal might just put some light on that matter.
Hamilton had former world champion Nico Rosberg as his first teammate at Mercedes for a period of four years after which his current teammate Valtteri Bottas joined the team. Bottas and Hamilton have had a successful partnership, helping the team to four consecutive Constructors’ Titles, with the former also being the perfect foil to Hamilton, often playing the second-driver role to let the team come up with the optimum strategy while also helping out his teammate by fending off his rivals.
Bottas has been a loyal driver for Mercedes, but his current form, along with Russell’s rapid and continuous ascent, has put questions whether Mercedes should go ahead and sign the young British driver, who could be the face of the team for the future. Russell, who is 23 years old currently, has Toto Wolff as his manager, which can also play in his favour along with the fact that he has been out-performing in a Williams car that is quiet easily the second worst car on the grid, being on the fringes of the points.
Russell, who last year made a one-off appearance with Mercedes at the Sakhir Grand Prix, straight up showed the team why they should sign him by narrowly missing out on pole in his first race, leading for the majority of the race before a pit-stop mishap saw him finish ninth. He had outshone his Mercedes teammate Bottas and even put in a superb pass on the Finn in the race to further make his case for a Mercedes seat.
Although Mercedes have reiterated that they will give enough time to Bottas to prove his worth, Russell’s move to Mercedes seems imminent. But with Hamilton’s new contract extension, things might just get a little exciting. Hamilton has previously voiced his support for the Finn, and with Russell in the team, he could face an inter-team rivalry from the youngster – something which he wouldn’t want just yet. Hamilton shares a good rapport on and off the track with Bottas, and even though Mercedes are keeping their cards close to their chests, it won’t be a surprise if Bottas sticks around as Hamilton’s partner for another season or two.