Lewis Hamilton’s future in Formula 1 remains deeply uncertain, over four weeks after his controversial Abu Dhabi defeat to Max Verstappen on the last lap.
Hamilton looked set to secure his eighth world championship, what would have been his fifth consecutive title at Mercedes, for the majority of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix until Nicholas Latifi’s crash only a few laps from the end quashed his considerable lead.
The ensuing Safety Car allowed Verstappen to pit for brand new soft tyres without losing a position to teammate Sergio Perez – a novelty which Hamilton couldn’t embrace himself as the gap to Verstappen was too small to safely pit into without losing the place.
Sergio Perez had been instructed to hold Hamilton up mid-race, which he did so with an array of masterful defensive moves, but moves in which were part of a clear team order to assist teammate Verstappen.
FIA Race Director Michael Masi’s fast-tracking of the discretional lapped cars overtaking rule on the penultimate lap, and immediate ending of the Safety Car period contentiously set up a dramatic last lap showdown between the two championship protagonists to decide the fate of the Drivers’ Championship trophy.
Verstappen teamed his aggressive style, soft tyres and his effective championship advantage (a greater number of race wins in the season would have given Max the title if both were to retire from the race) to pull off a risky lunge on Hamilton into Turn 5, hold off Hamilton for the remainder of the lap and clinch his first ever F1 world championship.
Lewis Hamilton was admirably humble and gracious in defeat post-race, congratulating Verstappen and Red Bull prior to the podium ceremony.
Mercedes lodged preliminary protests into the race result and rallied Michael Masi to reverse the decision and take the finishing result from the previous lap.
However the team later withdrew their appeals, stating they’re satisfaction that the FIA promised to make changes to the regulations whilst investigating the procedures at play on the last few laps at Abu Dhabi.
Both Mercedes and Hamilton’s social media went silent for several days, until Mercedes posted their appeal withdrawal statements and subsequently picked up their previously dynamic content posting routine.
The seven-time champion however hasn’t commented on the matter since the day of the crushing defeat, his social media falling eerily silent to this day.
Rumours of his imminent retirement in retaliation to the FIA and Formula 1 have only grown each day the silence has drawn out, with many speculating that Mercedes are looking into emergency driver options whilst convincing their star driver to stay alongside new teammate George Russell.
Mercedes of course are no stranger to unexpectedly losing a driver – Nico Rosberg quit racing altogether just days after beating Hamilton to the 2016 championship.
The team then reportedly paid Williams in the region of £10 million to acquire the services of Valtteri Bottas.
The outcome of the FIA’s investigation is thought to be key to whether Hamilton decides to stay beyond what team boss Toto Wolff described as “disillusionment” and a loss of “faith” in the sport.
Hamilton is contracted until the end of 2023 – on a two year extension signed last July – so is absolutely expected to return, but Wolff acknowledges that if Hamilton wanted to step away, he could do so.