Sir Lewis Hamilton’s boss Toto Wolff has indicated that this could be the seven-time world champion’s final season at Mercedes.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 Mercedes 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 countryman’s replacement at the penultimate round in Bahrain last year.Verstappen has long been admired by Wolff, and Russell, a member of the Mercedes young driver academy, is entering the final year of his Williams contract.Sir Lewis Hamilton secured his seventh world title last year (PA)“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.”Hamilton, who was knighted in the New Year Honours, has been in the unusual situation of being out of contract since his £40million-a-year deal expired on the final day of December.💬 “Our team has achieved incredible things together and we look forward to building on our success even further, while continuously looking to improve, both on and off the track.” – @LewisHamilton #LewisAnnounced pic.twitter.com/erRq1hMTjX— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) February 8, 2021He surpassed Michael Schumacher’s record number of victories last season, and emulated the German by galloping to his seventh title with three rounds remaining at November’s Turkish Grand Prix.During 2020 he also became a leading force for change, urging Mercedes and F1 to improve diversity. Indeed, an element of Hamilton’s new deal includes a joint commitment with Mercedes for greater diversity and inclusion. The world champions will also retain their anti-racism black livery for Hamilton’s eighth title tilt.Perhaps surprisingly, there was no reaction from Hamilton on his social media channels to Monday’s announcement.Toto Wolff is excited to continue working with Sir Lewis Hamilton (PA)“I am excited to be heading into my ninth season with my Mercedes team-mates,” he said in a press release.“Our team has achieved incredible things together and we look forward to building on our success even further, while continuously looking to improve, both on and off the track.“I’m equally determined to continue the journey we started to make motorsport more diverse for future generations and I am grateful that Mercedes has been extremely supportive of my call to address this issue.“I’m proud to say we are taking that effort further this year by launching a foundation dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the sport. I am inspired by all that we can build together and can’t wait to get back on the track in March.”