We are barely three weeks clear of the 2021 Formula 1 season finale at Yas Marina Circuit, a race that instantly earned a spot among Formula 1’s most thrilling and controversial ever, but the 2022 season opener at Bahrain International Circuit is already less than 11 weeks away.
And as the days tick by until the first grid of the new season, one spot at the front remains unclaimed — perhaps, that is; there are already 20 drivers under contract for next season.
There have been stern rumblings from Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff that Lewis Hamilton was outraged enough by the FIA’s decision making during his season-ending loss to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to walk away from the sport for good.
For their part, Mercedes seems confident, or at least hopeful, that Hamilton will return, tweeting a picture of their legendary driver with the caption: “Adversity causes some to break; others to break records.”
Of course, the best thing for Hamilton and his legacy, Formula 1 fans, and the FIA would be for him to return for what would no doubt be another epic championship battle with Verstappen. But since the crushing defeat in Abu Dhabi, he has all but vanished.
Hamilton and Wolff skipped the season-ending awards gala, which will likely result in a 10-place grid penalty in Bahrain.
In fact, after giving the required post-race live interview with Sky Sports, Hamilton has not made a statement regarding the race or whether the outcome has changed or will change his plans for next year.
With every passing day, it becomes easier for Hamilton to stay away. And while he has certainly earned some time to think through whether his competitive fire has been extinguished, every day that goes by is one less day a potential replacement has to prepare.
Hamilton retiring at this juncture in his career would be a tremendous loss for Formula 1, but choosing to walk away on his own terms is one of the last private acts that remains for an athlete once they achieve Hamilton’s measure of fame.
But he owes it to his team to come out from behind the curtain and make his plans for 2022 known. Failing to do so will give his legacy a sour aftertaste, in fans’ minds and his own.
He has appeared in public just once, three days after having his heart broken in the unforgiving desert of the United Arab Emirates. But that was to be knighted, and even a Formula 1 legend must appear when summoned by the royal family.
Hamilton became the just the fourth Formula 1 champion to be so honored by the crown, following Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss, and Jackie Stewart. He became the first to be knighted while still active.
Perhaps the sanctity of this honor will inspire him to stop whining about what he couldn’t control, accept the multiple mistakes made by his team, and win his title back on the track.