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Hamilton - Why his retirement would be damning for F1

Hamilton - Why his retirement would be damning for F1

Hamilton - Why his retirement would be damning for F1

Hamilton - Why his retirement would be damning for F1

F1 is nothing without its drivers and Lewis Hamilton has been its biggest star for many years.

Yes, Max Verstappen's stock is rapidly rising, as is that of the younger generation of Lando Norris, George Russell, Charles Leclerc and others, but to the uninitiated on the streets, Hamilton is the name most will recognise.

With 103 grand prix victories, a number matched by pole positions, Hamilton stands on his own when it comes to statistics.

But for F1, the Briton's importance runs far deeper than simply the numbers.

Bringing politics into any sport is a risky decision for any athlete, with a vocal number of the fanbase vehemently opposed to sports stars focusing on anything other than the competition. But Hamilton did just this in 2020.

The killing of American citizen George Floyd sparked fury amongst the global public and brought the issue of systematic racism to the forefront of mainstream media.

Racism is a topic fans could have been forgiven for not thinking was not an issue in motorsport, but after Hamilton stood up and spoke out about his own experiences, change began to happen.

This agenda could not have been pushed by any other driver on the grid, with Hamilton's upbringing providing him with an unfortunate insight into the distasteful world unseen by many.

For those who only tune in on a Sunday afternoon, it would be easy to dismiss the results of Hamilton's actions as being a black livery for Mercedes and the pre-race taking of the knee, but the effects have been far reaching.

The Hamilton Commission is one example, created "to improve the representation of black people in UK motorsport" and with a detailed report detailing suggestions for change released last year.

Hamilton has also repeatedly been unafraid to call out F1 host countries for human rights violations, including those against the LGBTQ+ community.

Equally, where his peers have remained silent, as was initially the case following the killing of George Floyd, Hamilton rallied drivers and teams to take a stand, warning "I see those of you who are staying silent".

Whether as an individual you find his personal stance tasteful or not is a matter for you alone, but for F1, Hamilton is the greatest tool the sport has for elevating itself and this is a position he appears to relish.

Sebastian Vettel is another driver openly challenging the 'system', but it would be impossible to argue that his stock is comparable to that of Hamilton at this moment in time although his efforts should also be widely acknowledged and applauded.

We must, of course, discuss the elephant in the room.

At whatever point Hamilton decides to leave F1, it will leave a hole that will somehow need to be filled.

When Michael Schumacher left for the first time, Fernando Alonso had just clinched the second of his back-to-back titles and partnered a then-rookie Hamilton at McLaren.

The first corner at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix demonstrated, though, the loss of the German had no detrimental effect on the action and F1 continued without fuss.

In this instance, it is the manner of Hamilton's potential exit that would cause a ripple of negativity rather than his retirement following a regular set of events.

FIA race director Michael Masi was at the heart of the controversy of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in which Hamilton lost the world title when the safety car was recalled in a more than questionable manner to allow a single-lap shootout for glory between the Briton and Verstappen.

The word "disillusioned" has been frequently used by Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff to describe the feelings of both Hamilton and himself across the winter, with his driver believing the Yas Marina race to have been "manipulated".

The use of such words from both team and driver are damning for F1, to say the least, with all eyes waiting to see the FIA report into the incident ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

If some reports are to be believed, this outcome will have a significant impact on Hamilton's decision-making process.

After Mercedes dropped its appeal against the outcome of the championship ending race, Wolff vowed: “[We] expect the commission to not only come up with words but actually follow it with actions and we will hold them accountable for the actions."

Should Hamilton elect still to enter retirement after the publication of this report, it would be another truly damning statement against the FIA and F1 and would demonstrate a vote of no confidence in the governing body.

For either F1 or the FIA to underestimate the potential damage of this or believe the popularity of Netflix series Drive to Survive would repair the gaping wound would be foolish at best.

Of course, F1 would endure and would recover as it always does, but the damage would likely be significant, potentially having an impact on the sport's partners.

The story for the FIA is slightly different, with years of bowing to the demands of teams and allowing rule-making decisions to be voted in by a committee, creating numerous grey areas that are frequently exploited by teams.

It was these grey areas that can be pointed to for each and every controversial moment across 2021.

Whether the FIA or Masi could ride out the storm of Hamilton's potential retirement is a matter for debate.

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