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Formula 1

Hamilton’s take on biggest question over his Mercedes F1 future

by Matt Beer
5 min read

Lewis Hamilton will still be a Mercedes Formula 1 driver in 2024.

That’s not a factual, contractual certainty yet, of course.

But the evidence that it’s the case is so overwhelming it would require a shock almost on the scale of Nico Rosberg’s abrupt retirement for anything else to be the case.

Hamilton’s not going to go to any other team, he’s made that clear many, many times. He and Mercedes also have plenty going on together beyond just racing now too.

The 38-year-old repeatedly said during 2022 that he feels a long way from retirement, is working harder than ever and has no motivation doubts.

Mercedes is hardly likely to usher Hamilton out. It’s as aware as anyone that his worst career championship position (sixth), first ever win-less F1 season and his first year outscored by a team-mate since 2016 weren’t much to do with Hamilton’s own efforts.

Hamilton and boss Toto Wolff have often – because of their confidence in their mutual trust – been content to let contract talks run closer to the wire than other teams might, so even if there’s no official deal many months from now, that won’t really ring alarm bells.

And yet to the wider non-specialist media/hardcore fan world, the fact F1’s highest-profile and statistically most successful driver isn’t tied down to his team beyond 2023 is still going to be a point of intrigue till it’s settled.

So Hamilton and Wolff’s media sessions at Wednesday’s Mercedes launch being peppered with questions about the status of Hamilton’s 2024 contract was no surprise.

Some of them came with a twist that asked a fair question, though. To very bluntly paraphrase the journalists’ points, that question was: what if the car’s rubbish again?

The history of once-dominant teams once knocked off their perch is mixed.

Red Bull needed almost a decade to recover – mostly for engine-related reasons – once Mercedes halted its 2010-13 title run.

Conversely Ferrari only really had a one-season blip – mostly for tyre rules reasons in 2005 – when it and Michael Schumacher’s 2000-04 steamroller was stopped. It then recovered quickly to fight for the 2006-08 championships. The fact its dream team began to disperse as the opposition got stronger was the main reason it began its now very long title drought, but 2004 was not a full stop on its era of competitiveness.

Formula 1 Grand Prix Race Day.

Hamilton clearly believes Mercedes is in that mid-2000s Ferrari position. It’s just had a bad season but everything about it still screams championship quality so he’s not even factoring the prospect of Mercedes getting uncompetitive into his 2024 thinking.

“It’s no coincidence that we’ve won world championships in the past,” he replied when asked how much the quality of the 2023 Mercedes might impact his F1 future.

“You don’t all of a sudden just lose the ability to be able to do so.

“I have the utmost confidence in all the people I’ve been around. The place is expanding all the time, the factory is getting bigger, there’s more and more departments and more people joining all the time.”

Pushed straight afterwards on whether he felt Mercedes needed to prove itself to him again, Hamilton was emphatic.

“I don’t feel like I need them to prove [themselves] to me,” he said.

“I think we’ve proved time and time again over the years that we have strength in depth.

“We still have all these incredibly talented individuals within the team. As I said, you don’t lose that ability.

“We’re continuing to try to improve our processes, we’re continuing to try and be smarter in how we approach things with our communication.

“I think there’s the best harmony within the team that I’ve seen in all these years. We’ve got a real fresh young group of engineers and people that have just come into the team in the past year as well. It’s an exciting time for the team.

“And I don’t plan on being anywhere else. So that’s that.”

Wolff’s response to the same question was equally firm.

“He knows what he has with the team,” Wolff said of Hamilton.

“We won eight constructors’ titles in a row and – I’m not saying anything that you don’t know – we got it wrong last year.

“The resource and the capability is there, we just need to continue to develop like we’ve done last season.

“So I don’t think in Lewis’s mind there’s any doubt that the team can perform. We will. Eventually.”

That said, Hamilton did acknowledge that he was beginning 2023 in a different frame of mind, having been utterly confident in Mercedes’ upgrade at the second test last year before it became clear that the car just wasn’t going to be able to work at the ride height it needed.

“Last year, definitely I was bullish because they were bullish, that we had big upgrades coming and I was like ‘right, we’re going to be coming up to hit hard’ – but obviously it was a shock to all of us [when the car was uncompetitive],” Hamilton explained.

“So I think this year everyone is a lot more grounded, more of the approach that we perhaps won’t be the fastest out of the gate, but hopefully we’ll be closer and hopefully have the potential to close the gap early on in the season.”

Mercedes Amg F1 W14 E Performance Launch Lat Images

Mercedes’ recovery is the first big test case for how well a toppled giant can regain its might in the cost-capped, aero-testing-restricted new F1 era. Right now, the timescale for that recovery isn’t part of Hamilton’s career or contract thinking at all – understandably so, given Mercedes’ record of success, resources and the fact it did get back to race-winning form by the end of 2022.

It’s not time for the question ‘how long are you going to stick around in F1 if Mercedes isn’t good enough to win titles anymore?’ just yet. One day, it might be.

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