The McLaren chief executive, Zak Brown, has warned there is no guarantee Lewis Hamilton will continue to race in Formula One in the 2022 season. The seven-time champion’s future remains undecided after the driver was left angry and disillusioned with the sport having controversially lost the title to Max Verstappen in the 2021 season finale.
Verstappen won his first F1 world championship at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi, beating Hamilton to the win under highly contentious circumstances. Verstappen overtook Hamilton for victory on the final lap after the FIA race director, Michael Masi, applied and adapted rules regarding the safety car that many perceived as incorrect and led to Hamilton being powerless to defend against the Dutchman.
After a protest by Mercedes the FIA ruled Masi had acted within the rules but such was the disquiet across the paddock at what happened the FIA has instigated a full inquiry into the events. Hamilton said he believed the race had been “manipulated” to ensure he was beaten and is considering whether to retire from F1 as a result. Brown was convinced the British driver was serious.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if he stopped, so no one should take for granted that he is coming back,” he said. “We should not discount or not recognise his frustration, his anger. Maybe he has not made a decision and what he is doing is taking time to make that decision to make sure. Because once it’s made, it’s made, I don’t think we should rule it out or make light of it.”
Hamilton has not commented publicly since the race but Mercedes have indicated he will base any decision over his future on the conclusions and actions taken after the FIA inquiry.
The FIA’s new president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, has already met the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, to discuss what happened in Abu Dhabi and will hold talks with the other team principals to avoid a repetition of the controversy.
Brown emphasised the importance of the inquiry but said he believed it was an error of judgment rather than a calculated action against Hamilton.
“They need to show they have taken action to make sure it doesn’t happen again but I don’t think this was a malicious decision,” he said. “For those who may have the view that the sport is corrupt, I don’t agree. Potentially a different decision could have been made but I want to wait to see what the FIA comes out with.”
Masi’s future looks to be in doubt with many teams unhappy at the lack of consistency in decision-making during the season, leaving drivers unsure as to where they stood regarding wheel-to-wheel racing. With trust in the process undoubtedly further eroded by Masi’s role in Abu Dhabi the FIA may have little option but to replace him. They have stated their findings will not be released until 18 March, a bafflingly late stage, being the opening Friday of the first race of the season in Bahrain.