Hamilton was leading the Abu Dhabi GP when the safety car was deployed in the final laps of the race. FIA Race Director Michael Masi fudged the rules to set-up a single lap showdown, promoting Verstappen to just behind the Brit, who himself was on old tyres.
Hamilton was a sitting duck and passed by the Dutchman, who won the race and the title – plunging the sport into controversy. It sparked talk about Hamilton turning his back on the sport forever.
Speaking at Silverstone as he helped launch the W13, Hamilton initially said: “I never said I was considering retirement”. That much is true, he never “said” anything in the post-race debacle as he made his own silent protest on social media and snubbing the FIA gala.
But what has become clear now is that after losing his title, he certainly contemplated turning his back on the sport. He said: “It was obviously a difficult time for me to be honest. I just unplugged. I switched off. I think that firstly, one side of it is I deserve to be able to switch off at the end of the year anyway. I had my family around me, which was a rare occasion for us all to be together, and I just focused on being present with them”.
“Obviously it took time to digest what had happened, which is still difficult to fully understand everything. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I put my focus into training, getting healthy and enjoying the time off.”
When pressed on the retirement talk, he added: “I’ve considered retiring so many times. At the end of a season, you think and question whether you are willing to commit the time and the effort that it takes to be a world champion.”
“I think a lot of people underestimate what it takes to be a world champion. And there are so many moving parts. It’s not just turning up and driving the car. The question is, do you want to sacrifice the time? Do you believe that you can continue to punch at the weight that you’re punching?”
“So that’s a normal kind of mental process for me but of course, this one was compounded by a significant factor. It is a sport I have loved my whole life and there was a moment where I lost a little bit of faith within the system.”
“I am generally a very determined person and I like to think to myself whilst moments like this might define careers, I refuse to let this define mine, and so I’m focused on being the best I can be and coming back stronger.”
Hamilton has refused to watch the race back and he does not remember what he said in the exchange with Verstappen immediately after the race. He says Masi’s controversial and incorrect actions will never change the way he feels.