Formula One insiders are said to be ‘cautiously optimistic’ that Lewis Hamilton will be involved in the upcoming 2022 season despite fears he could retire this month. The Mercedes driver remains dissatisfied with the management of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December by FIA race director Michael Masi.
The Australian ordered the five unlapped cars between race leader Hamilton and Red Bull rival Max Verstappen to move out of the way to set up a one-lap shootout for the title after a safety car.
Yet Masi did not order the three lapped cars behind Verstappen to unlap themselves which meant he went against the FIA’s own written rules, which understandably angered Hamilton and Mercedes.
The Dutchman had fresher tyres for the race restart and despite the Briton’s best efforts, having eked everything out of his rubbers before Nicholas Latifi’s crash brought out safety car he was ultimately helpless and Red Bull earned their first Drivers’ Championship since 2013.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has since been unable to confirm that Hamilton will continue racing in 2022 even though he remains under contract for this season and next season.
The 37-year-old may opt to walk away from the sport if an FIA investigation into the Yas Marina race does not result in changes, with some suggestions that Mercedes would like Masi axed, though the Silver Arrows have denied those claims.
And in a new report from The Guardian, it is claimed F1 insiders remain optimistic – though not completely certain – that the seven-time champion will line up on the grid at the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20 for the 2022 opener.
Mercedes are expected to learn the results of the FIA’s inquiry, headed by the new head of F1 Peter Bayer, at the F1 commission meeting on February 14.
The constructors’ champions are then due to launch their 2022 car four days later and it is anticipated both drivers will be present at the event.
It is unclear if that will be newcomer George Russell and Hamilton or whether there will be a replacement for the veteran, who faces having to make a decision on retiring in the coming weeks.
Hamilton and Mercedes are disillusioned with the way the Abu Dhabi race panned out and Wolff has said his driver needs to be able to “trust in the decision-making of the sport next year” to return.
“Lewis has the confidence. He has been winning, he has been on the top of the podium, and everybody has been looking at him like, ‘Wow, you are great.’
“He is thinking that it must continue this way, so this is going to be a very interesting year for him. The regulations in Formula One have dramatically changed.
“It is going to be a completely new machine and the chances are that the designers might not find an optimum machine. If that happens to Lewis it is going to be really hard for him to accept.
“If you have been at the top of the mountain and suddenly you have to climb back up the mountain because you don’t have the best car, it is going to be emotional for him to control.
“There are a lot of question marks surrounding Lewis. We don’t know whether he is coming back, but let’s hope he is.”