Mercedes might have to change their plans for the 2022 season at short notice if Lewis Hamilton does decided to call time on his F1 career. In that circumstance, though, the Silver Arrows can take comfort from the fact the money they save on his contract could land them virtually any other driver to replace him.
Hamilton is said to be considering his future after being cruelly denied the title in acrimonious circumstances at the end of last season.
He looked to be on course to comfortably win both the race and the championship in Abu Dhabi, until a late safety car complicated things.
Still, the Brit would have happily trundled over the finish line with no-one allowed to overtake if the yellow flags continued to fly until the end of the race.
But race director Michael Masi boldly decided to fast-track the process and ended the safety car period early, allowing Max Verstappen and his new soft tyres to roar past and snatch the glory.
Mercedes were fuming and immediately launched protests, only to have them waved away by the stewards several hours later.
The team announced its intention to appeal but backed down a few days later after being assured the FIA would be making changes to ensure such an occurrence doesn’t happen again.
The investigation into what happened is currently ongoing, and the FIA are expected to report back at some point before the start of the 2022 season.
Hamilton is now reportedly waiting for the outcome of that probe to decide whether or not he is satisfied enough to continue his affiliation with the sport.
The retirement rumours were given further life by team principal Toto Wolff admitting both he and his star racer were “disillusioned” by what had happened in Abu Dhabi.
He has also said that he plans to have a meeting with Hamilton some time before the end of February, where they will decide where they go from here.
Losing Hamilton would be a huge blow to the team’s aspirations – anyone would feel the loss of a man whose total of seven world titles is matched only by Michael Schumacher.
But the Silver Arrows would at least be off the hook for a massive amount of cash if the 37-year-old does call it a day.
Every major driver in the sport is currently signed to another team for 2022, but they could strike a deal with another team to essentially buy that racer from them.
They did something similar in 2017 when they had to scramble to replace Nico Rosberg, and agreed a compensation fee with Williams to take Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton’s current deal is worth £30m per year plus bonuses, so saving that sum alone would give them a huge amount of financial wiggle room.
Verstappen is the driver whose current contract comes closest to Hamilton’s in terms of base salary, as the Dutchman rakes in £18m per year.
Next up is F1 great Fernando Alonso, who is on a £15m per year contract with Alpine.
That means, theoretically, the cash they would save on Hamilton’s current deal would give them the cash to buy out any other driver on the grid who would be willing to join them.
While Verstappen would be extremely unlikely to consider switching from Red Bull, most other racers on the grid would be tempted by the prospect of racing for the team which has dominated the sport in recent years.
Losing Hamilton would be far from ideal, but at least Mercedes can be confident they have the financial power to pay for an able replacement should the need arise.