Lewis Hamilton sensationally claimed he could quit Formula One at the end of the year after winning Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Hamilton, 35, whose Mercedes contract expires next month, is on the brink of securing a record-equalling seventh world championship.
His victory on the sport’s return to Imola after a 14-year hiatus took him 85 points clear in the standings with just 104 points available. The Briton will match Michael Schumacher’s all-time championship haul if he wins at the next round in Turkey on November 15.
Hamilton’s boss Toto Wolff’s future is also uncertain. The Austrian has overseen Mercedes’ unprecedented run which saw the all-conquering team capture their seventh consecutive constructors’ championship here in Italy on Sunday.
I don’t even know If I am going to be here next year. I would like to be, but there is no guarantee of that
But when pressed on Wolff’s plans for 2021, Hamilton said: “I don’t even know If I am going to be here next year so it is not really a concern for me at the moment.
“I would like to be, but there is no guarantee of that. There is a lot that excites me about Formula One’s afterlife.
“We are in November and Christmas is not that far away. I feel great, strong, and that I could go on for plenty of months, but Toto mentioned about shelf life and there are multiple things on the top of my mind.
“I have been here a long, long time and I can understand him wanting to pull back a little bit and give more time to his family.”
Only recently, Hamilton spoke about the possibility of continuing in the sport for another three years and it seems improbable he will walk away with a record-breaking eighth title likely to follow in 2021.
Nevertheless, it is curious that a new contract has not been agreed. Both Hamilton and Mercedes have claimed that formal discussions over a contract extension are yet to start.
All of the elements aligned on this momentous day. Mercedes just claimed their 7th Constructors’ Championship! 🏆 To everyone back at the factory grafting away and continuing to push and innovate. You guys are the true unsung heroes. Let’s continue to make history together🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/LB9HTg8Zq7
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) November 1, 2020
“I guess if Lewis decided to step out of Formula One, which I don’t think will happen, we are going to have a frantic driver market out there,” said Wolff, 48.
“We are all happy but very tired and it is the same for me. I relate to his feeling that you question yourself and that you think about all the other things that matter.
“When you switch on the news in the morning, it is all about the struggles we face so it is normal for somebody to have these feelings. But we want to continue this journey. We are not finished.
“I am so focused on what is happening on track. This is where Lewis and I are very similar. It didn’t feel the right opportune moment to sit down when the championships are not done.
“There will be a moment when the drivers’ championship is going to be decided so we can sit down and talk about it. We have a few months before the first race in Australia next year.”
After he was beaten to pole by team-mate Bottas, Hamilton feared it would be impossible to overtake in Sunday’s race. And when the Briton fell back another spot – gobbled up by Max Verstappen on the race to the opening bend – his bid to win for a 93rd time appeared in grave danger.
Verstappen stopped for tyres on lap 18 with Bottas following him in the next time round. But a determined Hamilton told his Mercedes team: “I am going to pick up the pace, man. Don’t stop me.”
At the venue which claimed the life of his childhood hero Ayrton Senna, Hamilton turned on the style with a hat-trick of fastest laps to move more than 28 seconds clear of Bottas by the time he stopped for tyres on lap 30.
It was a mesmerising display which enabled him to wrap up his ninth win of a crushing campaign. Hamilton finished 5.7 seconds clear of Bottas with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo completing the podium.
Verstappen was running in second after another imperious display but he retired with a dozen laps remaining following a right-rear tyre failure. A safety car was subsequently deployed but Hamilton kept his cool.
For the past three seasons, the Mercedes driver has sealed the championship with two rounds in his pocket, but he will go one better this year with an extra race to spare if he takes the chequered flag at the Turkish Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.