Jenson Button went the other way, saying he did not see his former team mate walking away from a fight despite his sharp disappointment. “I think it will be game on next season, and hopefully it won’t just be him and Max [Verstappen] fighting for the title but some other racers getting in the picture as well,” Button said. One can only hope.
Of course, there is always the possibility that Hamilton really does walk away. He is already the most successful driver in F1 history, never has to work again, and would not be short of interesting offers if he chose to hang up his racing boots now. And Ecclestone is right that the 36 year-old’s legacy could be hurt should he stay and be beaten by Russell.
Hamilton, though, has never shied away from a challenge. And Ecclestone is quite wrong when he says the Stevenage-born driver can “only lose” if he carries on driving into his late 30s. How much better would Hamilton’s CV look if he stayed and beat Russell and Verstappen this year, and bounced back to win that eight world title?
Mercedes’s tweet this week, stating “Adversity causes some to break; others to break records” alongside a picture of Hamilton, suggests they are confident their man will continue. But still, the FIA should take their threat extremely seriously. Hamilton is entirely within his rights to be fuming about the way things unfolded in Abu Dhabi.
The marked change in tone from new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem when addressing the media at the Dakar Rally this week, dropping the “rules are rules… and there can be no forgiveness” tack he originally adopted over Hamilton’s decision to boycott the FIA gala dinner last month, and instead stating that he does not blame Hamilton for keeping schtum and that he “understands” the Mercedes driver’s emotional response, was perhaps a sign that motorsport’s governing body realise they need to work harder to placate him.
The FIA’s priority right now must be to keep the sport’s biggest star – and to that end, show real transparency and get this review carried out quickly and efficiently. F1 needs Hamilton more than he needs F1. After an extraordinary season that captured the world’s attention and brought millions of new fans flocking to the sport, it would be nothing short of a disaster if he chose to walk away now.