Hamilton's one year deal: Will he retire or race on like Schumacher?


Lewis Hamilton's new Mercedes contract keeps him at the team that is far from done setting F1 records just like the Ferrari-Michael Schumacher combo

Lewis Hamilton, 2020 Turkish GP

Hamilton, Wolff and Mercedes could go down as the greatest team of all time

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

A new one-year deal will keep Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes until the end of the current season and keep intact the most dominant combination the sport has seen since the Michael SchumacherFerrari dream team of the early 2000s.

Much like Schumacher with Ferrari in 2003, Hamilton has signed on the dotted line arguably at the peak of his powers, off the back of a record-setting season and with uncharted territory fast approaching on the horizon.

Where Schumacher was sweeping away the records held by Fangio, Prost and Senna, it’s the German who is now being replaced in the record books by the newly-knighted Mercedes driver.

Even if this year’s calendar is reduced from the current 23-race schedule, Hamilton can still tip his career total of F1 wins beyond 100, claim a record eighth Drivers’ Championship and — depending on the length of this season — challenge the record of 13 victories in a season.

This latest deal could well be the Briton’s final F1 contract. Now 36, he is the third oldest driver on the grid, eclipsed only by old foes Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso. As Schumacher did, Hamilton will have to fend off a new generation, growing restless as they wait in his slipstream.

Jean Todt and Michael Schumacher with trophies in 2006

Winning combination: Todt & Schumacher re-signed for Ferrari in 2003

Gilles Levent/DPPI

At the time of signing his Ferrari deal, Schumacher was level on five world championship wins with Juan Manuel Fangio. Although he wouldn’t end his F1 career for another decade, he was still the second-oldest driver on the grid and the next generation had well and truly arrived.

The main challenger to Schumacher’s throne turned out to be Renault’s volatile Alonso, as McLaren’s lack of reliability prevented Räikkönen from getting close enough. But the dominance of the Ferrari team, with its championship-winning experience, was greater than ever in 2004.

Team principal Jean Todt re-signed with the team along with Schumacher in 2003 to keep the dream team together and Schumacher won a record-breaking 13 grands prix in that season.

Sound familiar? Mercedes’ Toto Wolff has just committed his future to the team, which looks stronger than ever, thanks to restricted development for 2021, which limits the abilities of rivals to catch up.

Even if the Silver Arrows make an uncharacteristic error, Hamilton has a good chance of keeping his pretenders at bay for another year, thanks to the situations they find themselves in.

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Ferrari is keeping Charles Leclerc from battling for race wins, with a disappointing 2020 car that isn’t tipped to evolve into a thoroughbred this year. George Russell showed his promise in Bahrain last year, but is mired in a Williams again, while McLaren may need more time to adapt to its new Mercedes engine.

Until preseason testing suggests otherwise, only Max Verstappen looks likely to be able to challenge Hamilton in 2021.

A Hamilton/Verstappen title fight would captivate casual and diehard fans, much like the Schumacher/Alonso battles on-track signalled much more than a change of position but rather a changing of the guard.

Come the end of the season, however, it’s hard to see anyone but Hamilton with their hands on the drivers’ trophy.

But then what? Because unlike Schumacher, Hamilton has made no commitment beyond the end of this year, when new regulations come in and the established order goes out of the window.

If Mercedes is going to be toppled, then 2022 is a prime opportunity, just as it was for Schumacher’s successors, who took advantage of a 2005 ban on tyre changes, which hit the Bridgestone-shod Ferrari hard.

Michelin-tyred teams took every victory that season, apart from Schumacher’s sole win at Indianapolis, where all Michelin runners famously withdrew. The following year gave him more opportunity to add to his race win tally, with seven victories, but Alonso still took his second title.

Lewis Hamilton Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen

Past and present on the left. Who is the future?

Xavi Bonilla / DPPI

With a one-year deal, Lewis Hamilton doesn’t yet have to commit to F1’s next chapter.

He’s said that he hopes to have a season in the new-generation car and the door seems to be open at Mercedes. But he’ll also be aware that the current order may change.

Not for Hamilton a Räikkönen-like glide to retirement: you just have to remember his frustration when racing a McLaren that was second, or third-best to the Red Bulls, and the 2016 season where Nico Rosberg emerged triumphant.

Will new rules and competitive uncertainty, potentially combined with a record-breaking title haul see Hamilton hand over the baton to F1’s young guns, leaving on a high and avoiding Schumacher’s post-glory years?

Or will he, like the German great, struggle to turn his back on the exhilaration of grand prix racing, and the chance to prove himself against the new generation?