The saga of Lewis Hamilton’s contract renewal is turning into a greek tragedy. Hamilton was a sure shot certainty to renewing his contract with Mercedes in 2020, somehow finds himself in the peculiar situation of not having a confirmed drive for 2021 with his team. This is despite being the defending world champion, the most successful F1 driver of all time statistically speaking, the third youngest British sportsperson to be knighted. And yet, just about two months away from the start of the 2021 season, where he neither has a contract with Mercedes nor does he have a foreseeable option with any team, leave alone the usual suspects Ferrari and Red Bull.
Over the last seven years, Hamilton’s dominance in partnership with the silver arrows has been indomitable. It has been crushing and made the sport predictable. Besides for the odd fight with his former teammate Nico Rosberg in 2015 and 2016 and some skirmishes with Sebastian Vettel in Ferrari, Hamilton has been mostly been unchallenged.
His domination has also helped create Team LH – the brand of Sir Lewis Hamilton. It can be argued that the brand was already quite developed by the time he joined Mercedes in 2013, with the iconic exploits of his first season where he challenged Fernando Alonso in the McLaren in 2007 or his first world title with the woking team that he had grown up within 2008 or his much-publicised relationship with Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger.
Hamilton was always different – he was a maverick. He is gifted and his interests go beyond the race track. That’s what Team LH is about. And his domination with Mercedes and partnership with Toto Wolff has created this phenom who gets what he wants.
And now he finds himself in this situation which can be argued is of his own doing. Now firstly, this could be just all smoke and mirrors – the deal between Hamilton could’ve already been done or Mercedes has offered something shamefully ridiculous to the 7-time world champion.
But this is not what is being reported. There are reports that Hamilton is asking for upwards of 40 million euros as his base salary per year. He is also asking for a share from the prize money Mercedes rakes in and at the same time wants a long term 4-year deal which will mean he will be 40 by the time that contract expires. He has also demanded one Mercedes AMG One hypercar which Hamilton helped design. Perhaps, the most perplexing bit is the demand for a veto on who partners him which potentially blocks a drive for George Russell, in the case the German team decided to not renew the contract of Valletri Bottas.
Daimler chairman Ola Kalleneius has reportedly been shocked by these demands. And he should be if these demands are true, then Hamilton deserves to not get a seat, especially in the best car on the grid. If 2021 was a normal year, some of these demands would be worthy of Hamilton’s talent, skill and what he’s achieved in the sport. But 2021 is not a normal year.
2020 found the world in turmoil because of the COVID19 pandemic. The world was under siege because of this invisible virus which continues to ravage lives. The auto industry was amongst the most impacted with millions losing jobs – Mercedes which is predominately a luxury car brand is not insulated from this.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel till 2020 was the second-highest-paid driver making a sliver less than Hamilton at 37 million euros agreed to a pay cut even though he knew his contract wasn’t being renewed. He has reportedly gone for less than half of that amount to Aston Martin.
Sure, Vettel’s star may have waned because of what happened at Ferrari but he is younger than Hamilton and till a couple of years ago had more titles than the Brit thanks to his spree of 4 consecutive championships with Red Bull between 2010 and 2013.
This rubs one the wrong way, even more, when you see Hamilton talk about positivity around the world and talk about veganism which involves his dog Roscoe as well. Notably, Hamilton was against a new race in Rio because he felt Interlagos in Sao Paolo was good enough and the creation of the new track would kill thousands of trees. His environmentalism is admirable but it seemingly is only a front something Christijan Albers recently pointed out when he eluded to the fact Hamilton travelling in a private jet.
This rubs one the wrong way even more so when it puts up a front legitimately so for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. His activism could’ve been seen front and centre almost every race in 2020 which also resulted in Mercedes changing its livery to black for the cause and F1 creating the mantra #WeRaceasOne.
Hamilton’s influence and power were witnessed more so than ever in 2020- but now it seems like he is also trying to squeeze his employer into gaining significantly more money in a year filled with millions of job cuts. Hamilton for some reason believes he is above the system. If Mercedes were to bow to Sir Lewis’s demands that would send the wrong message – “We are okay to pay millions more to someone worth more than $300 million, but we have to fire thousands of people because of COVID.”
Hamilton’s plan to not sign till the end of the season has seemingly come up a cropper ironically because of COVID. Before the penultimate race of 2020, Hamilton himself tested positive for COVID19 and had to miss the race at Sakhir GP. He was replaced by Mercedes junior, the uber-talented George Russell, who stepped into Hamilton’s car without much notice; a car in which he was cramped as the seats were designed for Hamilton, who is shorter than Russell. In his first go, he came shockingly close to beating Valletri Bottas to pole and in the first lap itself overtook him to take a commanding lead over the Finnish driver, in almost a Hamiltonisque way.
Russell’s race was ruined by a botched pitstop during the safety car where the crew put the tyre set reserved for Bottas on his car. Despite that, the young British driver again overtook his teammate. But a win was not on the horizon as a puncture ensured that Russell didn’t win on his Mercedes debut. Luckily he had done enough in the eyes of the world which includes the Daimler management to give them confidence about the teams future in a world that wouldn’t have Hamilton. Hamilton’s age obviously has been a factor but he has been driving out of his skin in the last couple of years and there is no sign of him putting the gas off the peddle.
However, Hamilton’s demands are clearly untenable. Hamilton was also against the proposed salary cap as he is off the belief that the driver is central to the sport. He may be right. He has also spun his activism towards this subject and claimed that he is doing this for the betterment of the young drivers as they are putting their lives on the line and have a very short career. Again, his argument has some merit, but when one looks at the mind-boggling numbers that Hamilton is sitting on, this argument reeks of greed.
If Mercedes were to yield to Hamilton, it will set the wrong precedent for young talent that’s inbound. It will also make the sport less sustainable. The teams already are having to offload staff because of COVID and the budget restrictions – astronomical driver salaries will make things worse.
No sportsman, in any sport is bigger than the sport. Roger Federer isn’t bigger than tennis, Lionel Messi isn’t bigger than Barcelona or Football, nor is Virat Kohli bigger than the Indian Cricket Team or Cricket. The same rule applies to Lewis Hamilton and these contact negotiations fuelled by his attitude and success reek of a person who believes he is above the team and sport.
Apart from his now pedantic domination of the sport, which has made an F1 race – a masterclass in boredom, his attitude arguable spells, even more, doom for the future of the sport. Ask anyone which were the three best races of 2020 and they would probably cite the first race in Austria, the Sakhir GP which Hamilton missed and the race at Monza as the best three of the year. All three races had one thing in common, Lewis Hamilton didn’t win, nor did he get to the podium.
So with that in mind, it really wouldn’t be a travesty if the 7-time world champion, the most successful driver of his generation doesn’t get to drive for Mercedes in 2021. On the contrary, it will make F1 even more fascinating.