Mercedes were fully expecting Lewis Hamilton to retire from racing had he managed to beat Max Verstappen to Drivers’ Championship glory in Abu Dhabi last month, according to reports. The 37-year-old is currently mulling over whether or not to return to the grid for the upcoming season after he was controversially denied a record-breaking eighth title at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Race director Michael Masi gifted Verstappen a late opportunity to fight back when he was allowed to move through the field after only the five lapped cars between himself and Hamilton were asked to overtake the safety car during the closing stages of the race.
Verstappen went on to force his way ahead of the Mercedes man during the final-lap shootout that followed to rubber-stamp his first Drivers’ Championship triumph under extraordinary circumstances.
Hamilton was left aggrieved by Masi’s handling of the race and it became apparent that his long-term future was in doubt when Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff quickly suggested that he could retire after losing trust in the FIA.
However, it seems as though the prospect of Hamilton walking away from the sport was not totally alien to the Silver Arrows even before the five red lights went out in Abu Dhabi.
Those in command at Mercedes were adamant that the seven-time world champion would have called it quits if he had taken the chequered flag in the final race, according to The Telegraph.
The report speculates that Hamilton may have had a clause inserted into the deal that he signed at the start of last year that would have allowed him to do so.
Whether or not such a clause exists is unclear, with Mercedes technically able to sue Hamilton if he decides to call time on his F1 career before the expiry of his contract at the end of the 2023 season.
However, it is claimed that there is little to no danger of the Silver Arrows mounting a legal challenge against their driver in the event of his untimely departure.
Hamilton is said to be waiting on the results of the FIA’s investigation into what happened in Abu Dhabi before committing himself to the sport for the foreseeable future.
Their findings are set to be announced just two days ahead of the opening race of the new season, though, leaving the man from Stevenage with a big call to make over the coming weeks.
It has recently been suggested that Hamilton could eventually decide upon taking a sabbatical in order to judge the FIA from afar before returning to the grid at a later date.
He is arguably at the peak of his powers in spite of his recent championship setback and Wolff has already suggested that he could maintain his current performance levels until at least the age of 40.
“Yes, absolutely, I have no doubt about that,” the Mercedes boss told reporters back in May when quizzed on whether Hamilton is capable of driving at the highest level for at least another three years.
“He is so disciplined that in a way it is inspiring. As long as Lewis continues to look after himself mentally and physically, continues to develop cognitively, then he can go on for much longer.”
Meanwhile, former world champion Jacques Villeneuve recently opined that Hamilton may be distancing himself from Wolff by maintaining his prolonged social media silence in the wake of his crushing defeat in Abu Dhabi.
“You can lose in style, instead Toto behaved like someone who plays Monopoly; because he is losing, he throws it all upside down,” Villeneuve told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“For me, he [Wolff] has damaged his image, and Hamilton is sensitive on this issue because he is thinking about his future in America, perhaps in Hollywood.”