Why losing Hamilton may not be the worst-case scenario for Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton is only the second driver in Formula 1 history to become a seven-time world champion and is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats.
Not having Hamilton on the grid this year, however, may not be the worst-case scenario for either Mercedes or Formula 1.
I can hear the incredulous comments at such a remark - how can you suggest Hamilton leaving would be a good thing? Why would you say this? Don't you know Sir Lewis is a British and global sporting icon?
Well, just hear me out.
It is impossible to know what goes on behind closed doors at any team, certainly where contract talks are concerned, and when just two individuals are involved, as is the case with Hamilton and Toto Wolff. It is certainly possible the discussions have been progressing nicely, contrary to reports seen in the tabloid media.
After clinching his seventh title at last year's Turkish Grand Prix, Wolff did state - with a smile - that retaining Hamilton's services had just become a lot more expensive, an obvious problem for Mercedes.
Of course, Hamilton's marketing potential softens that blow, but on the horizon is the likely implementation from 2023 of a driver salary cap which limits spending on a pairing to $30million. This will not have escaped the German automotive manufacturer's notice.
It is understood Hamilton earned that figure alone under his previous deal with the team.
The Williams driver shone on his substitute appearance for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix, qualifying just 0.026 seconds behind Valtteri Bottas in a car in which he did not fit, wearing boots a size too small and that he only drove for the first time that weekend.
On a reported annual wage of £675,000, it is easy to see why Mercedes may find the 22-year-old a more attractive proposition.
While it is still expected Mercedes and Hamilton will reach an agreement, the pace of Russell will have placed an ace in Wolff's hand at the negotiating table.
Another point is that Hamilton has just turned 36. With Fernando Alonso returning this year, he will be the third oldest driver on the grid behind only the Spaniard and Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamilton is only a year younger than Michael Schumacher when the German announced his first retirement from F1. At that point, it seemed inconceivable the sport would be able to continue without his name, but continue it did.
In 2006, Schumacher was still a regular race winner and, although Fernando Alonso had taken both the '05 and '06 titles, the German remained a force to be reckoned with.
As I write now, to many fans of the sport, F1 without Hamilton is equally impossible to imagine but with the likes of Russell, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris emerging as potential champions of the future, it looks genuinely exciting.
Now, I am not suggesting none of these drivers could beat Hamilton on track, but the Briton has an increasing number of interests and projects away from F1 and may decide this is where his priorities lie.
F1 has given Hamilton a platform upon which to show his support to causes such as Black Lives Matter and raise awareness of global issues, but he has arguably reached a point where his voice would still be heard from outside the paddock.
This being said, the 2022 regulations could level the playing field, strip Mercedes of its dominance and provide Hamilton with a challenge from one of the above drivers. Who doesn't want to see that?
Coming back to his age, and it is impossible not to compare Hamilton to seven-time MotoGP premier class champion Valentino Rossi.
Rossi, now 41, last won a title in 2009 and is a prime example of a superstar name who did not know when to call time on his career.
Similarly to Hamilton, Rossi is the headline name in the sport. He is the most successful, is viewed by many as the greatest of all time and is the most marketable personality around.
Rossi, however, has not won a race for over three years. Underneath the veneer of success, this is a fact that often remains unspoken.
While Hamilton keeps winning, his legacy will continue to grow, but he must know when enough is enough and it is possible, however unlikely, now could be that moment and he will retire while still at the top of his game.
Weighing up the arguments, should Mercedes be unable to strike a new deal with Hamilton, the manufacturer would save a lot of money, has a cheaper race-ready replacement in Russell and a proven race-winning car that is widely expected to remain the class of the field this year.
The negatives, of which there are surprisingly few, all surround the marketing value of Hamilton and, even if Russell were to replace his countryman and be successful from the start, this is not something that can be recovered quickly.
It seems, as ever, the decision will be based on money but, as you can see, it would not be the worst-case scenario for Mercedes if another contract cannot be agreed.
It would be a fresh, forward-looking, new start for the team.
Firstly Rossi has lost it Hamilton has not. Big difference. Why should anybody still at the top of their game call it a day when there is more to be won - especially if as in Hamiltons case you are one title away from the out and out record. Secondly as good a prospect as Russell is he is still a novice and is NOT Hamilton.
It would be so good to see George in that car now. Some may consider him to be a novice, but he did drive better than Botas in a car too small for him.
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