Max Verstappen must heed Lewis Hamilton warning as Brit to prove Bernie Ecclestone wrong

Mercedes boss hopes ‘robbed’ Lewis Hamilton will continue racing

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“I don’t think he’s coming back. His disappointment is too great,” were the recent words of Bernie Ecclestone, the former Formula One supremo, about Lewis Hamilton’s future in the sport. Ecclestone spoke with the Mercedes driver’s father Anthony on the phone but has admitted they did not discuss what is next for Hamilton amid the uncertainty over whether or not he will retire.

And while Hamilton has gone off the radar having maintained a social media silence since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, even opting not to post his pride about receiving a knighthood, the Briton is still expected to return to F1 in 2022.

Ecclestone doesn’t expect him to – but much of the rest of the F1 world does.

His brother Nicolas said of Lewis, who has unfollowed everyone on Instagram: “I think he’s just having a bit of a social media break. I don’t blame him, social media can be a very toxic place but he’s cool though. He’s fine.”

Of course it was a traumatic end to the 2021 season for Hamilton and Mercedes, with team principal Toto Wolff declaring himself and his driver “disillusioned” with how Red Bull rival Max Verstappen was crowned world champion at Yas Marina Circuit.

Wolff added this week of Hamilton’s lack of activity on Instagram and Twitter: “The silence is there, of course, because he simply lacks words as well.”

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The Austrian however reassuringly explained: “Lewis was in the office with me and everyone else involved, and we’ve been in constant contact these last few days.”

Yet given Hamilton’s strong level of performance across the season, which was arguably his best yet even though he didn’t come out with a record-breaking eighth driver’s title, it is viewed as unlikely that he calls time on his career when he still has so much left to give.

Certainly that is how Red Bull see it, with advisor Helmut Marko insisting that seven-time world champion Hamilton – who has only missed out on the 2016 and 2021 titles in the past eight seasons – is still at the very peak of his game.

Marko explained: “Lewis will do everything to grab that eighth title. He is still too good to stop and has been able to deal with losses before. He can do that now too.”

That clearly will also serve as a message to Verstappen not to underestimate how strong the response from the 36-year-old Hamilton, who turns 37 on January 7, will be should he stay on the grid for next season when new rules and regulations will come into effect.

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Verstappen and Hamilton’s 2021 duel was one for the ages and the pair served up one of the greatest seasons the sport has ever seen, and multiple instances towards the end of the year such as the Brazilian Grand Prix in particular offer a reminder of the latter’s supreme quality.

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His performance levels, and the fact he remains under contract on a £40million-a-year deal with Mercedes until 2024, should mean Hamilton can get over the disappointment of how the Abu Dhabi race unfolded.

It is hoped and expected that by the time February testing rolls around, Hamilton will again be fully focused on fighting to become the only F1 driver ever to win eight Drivers’ Championships.

Provided with the right equipment next season, Hamilton is as likely as any other driver to come out on top, and Verstappen is well aware of that. He is relishing renewing their rivalry, having made it clear he doesn’t want the Mercedes man to retire.

The first ever Dutch world champion said: “Well, I mean, of course, I can understand that the first few days after a race like that, you’re not happy.

“But you should also understand, like I said before, that this is racing at the end of the day, and these things can happen to you. And I think he should just look back at what he has achieved already.

“That should give him a lot of comfort and should also be that drive to just keep on going, because he is still trying to challenge for that eighth title. And, for sure, he can do that again next year. So I don’t see any reason why to give up or stop now.”

Verstappen is clearly on the same page as Marko and having gone toe-to-toe with Hamilton and almost lost out, if not for the fortunate timing of the safety car in Abu Dhabi, he will know he can afford few errors across 2022’s 23-race calendar.

Ecclestone should be proven wrong, and Hamilton should line up in a new-look Mercedes car alongside George Russell in March. Can he reclaim his title? That will be the biggest question heading into the new season – and no doubt it’ll be an absolute thrill finding out the answer.

Verstappen can’t afford to expect anything less than the Briton’s very best.

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