Verstappen's record run overshadowed by questions over Hamilton's future

Red Bull driver secured ninth victory in a row at Dutch Grand Prix but most of the talk in F1 centred on whether Hamilton will commit his future to Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton has yet to commit his future to Mercedes beyond the 2023 season. PA
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The headlines may belong to Max Verstappen yet again but Formula One’s rumour mill has a burning fascination for just one man – Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.

The seven-time world champion is the highest profile figure still to commit his future to his team for 2024. And more strange for the fact that his value to Silver Arrows is beyond dispute.

Hamilton is, without doubt, the sport’s biggest attraction globally even though Red Bull's reigning double world champion Verstappen, on his record run, is the man of the moment.

Hamilton is the only driver who transcends the sport and can just as easily move the needle in the United States, the UAE or Brazil as F1’s traditional heartland of Europe.

The Briton's diversity campaigns and romantic links to various supermodels and singing superstars like Nicole Scherzinger and Rihanna have helped give him enormous social media clout beyond motorsport.

He has eight million Twitter followers and 34 million more on Instagram, where he could reputedly sell a single advert for Dh1.8 million.

In 11 years of unparalleled success with Mercedes the Brit has won six driver crowns and seven constructors' titles.

So what is causing the delay when all the other leading drivers committed long ago?

Verstappen has signed to Red Bull way beyond 2024, to 2028 and Lando Norris has committed to McLaren until 2025.

It’s a reasonable assumption that Hamilton’s key motivation is to be at the wheel of a car that will take him to an elusive eighth world title so he can retire, undisputed, as the sport’s greatest driver.

If it were all about blind loyalty to Mercedes in tough times the deal would have been done long ago.

It’s fair to say the German car giant is not helping it’s own cause. Even boss Toto Wolff called their strategy at the Dutch Grand Prix “catastrophic”.

One retirement and a sixth-place finish for Hamilton was Mercedes' worst team performance of 2023 by some distance even if there was evidence of improved speed.

If Hamilton is biding his time that could suggest he has other options. But one door, if it was ever open, slammed shut in Zandvoort as rumours over Sergio Perez's future were quashed despite a string of mediocre performances which continued in the Netherlands.

Dutch GP in pictures

“It’s easy to beat up on Sergio when the barometer is so high on the other side [of the garage] but he will be our driver in 2024,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.

Ferrari president John Elkann is said to have made a personal approach to Hamilton. But Maranello is hardly covering itself in glory either.

After a round of sackings the new management is presiding over a decline rather than a revival. It’s more than a year since their last win. Their issue is race management not racers.

And would Hamilton really quit Mercedes for their bitterest rivals in the hope (and it could only be hope) of glory elsewhere? Given his indelible links to Mercedes that would be a tough call to make.

And for Ferrari, he is surely too riven through with silver for success in red to be anything but a historical postscript, even at Ferrari.

Moving to Ferrari would also be kissing goodbye to a more long-term involvement as a Mercedes brand ambassador.

It would be the F1 lifestyle and adulation without most of the media aggravation he hates so much. An endless victory lap would be an easy way to fill the days in retirement between his fashion and music interests.

All this year both Hamilton and Wolff have insisted a contract is a simple matter of ironing out a few kinks with the term and salary, in the region of £35 million-per-year, reportedly already agreed. But this lingering delay hints at more fundamental issues.

Looking back it is reasonable to assume the controversial end to the 2021 season, when Hamilton was pipped to the title by Verstappen, was more significant for the Mercedes man than we ever knew. Was he preparing to walk away as an eight-time champion if he won? Was a dignified departure as well as a world title ripped from his grasp by Michael Masi on that day?

As he ruminates on what is surely his last big deal and what lies ahead, how many times, I wonder, has Hamilton wished that day in Abu Dhabi had turned out differently.

Updated: August 28, 2023, 9:09 AM