Key test looms over Lewis Hamilton’s F1 future as Mercedes look to make a dent on Red Bull’s supremacy
Brad Pitt is making Lewis Hamilton feel youthful.
At 59, the American will be the star of the Hollywood movie currently being made about Formula One — as a washed-up driver returning to the grid for one final shot.
And F1 believe the project, which is being co-led by Hamilton and Pitt, will help catapult the sport’s current success well beyond the Drive to Survive high it is enjoying.
Hamilton said having Pitt get behind the wheel of an F1 car — albeit for the silver screen — meant he was now “the third oldest driver” on the grid.
Far from being washed up himself, there are still constant question marks over Hamilton. He is now aged 38, has achieved more than anyone in the sport’s history, is in a car that looks a long way off from being a race winner and does not have a contract beyond this season.
So, what next? The Miami Grand Prix this weekend will be another race in which Mercedes will, most likely, start slowly and gradually improve their pace but only end up vying with Ferrari and Aston Martin in the scrap for third behind the two Red Bulls.
It begs the question how much longer will Hamilton, who has only really stayed in the sport for what would be an outright record of eight world titles, hang on?
The next race in Imola in two weekends is the crunch point for him and Mercedes. Contract talks have not sparked into life with any great effect, Hamilton waiting to see what happens at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
To date, the once dominant team of F1 have held back on any upgrades of note after finally admitting for a season and a bit they had gone down entirely the wrong route with their car design and were instead taking a different pathway.
Instead, they plan to go with a major upgrade for Imola. There is quiet positivity behind the scenes that it will be a major catalyst for change, but it is implausible to expect it to turn them into race winners because of their current big time deficit to Red Bull.
The crux to the upgrades is whether it offers Hamilton enough of a glimmer of hope for what lies ahead for the rest of 2023 and beyond.
He has constantly pushed the line he is happy at Mercedes, he wants to end his career there and he has unfinished business in the sport. He echoed that in Miami on Thursday again, saying: “I don’t plan to leave here any time soon.”
But such utterances will surely run thin if Imola is not the magic bullet the team have aspirations for it to be. And with no major regulation changes looming until 2026, there is the very real prospect Mercedes could still remain well behind Red Bull for some seasons hence.
What are the options for Hamilton? There had been talk of Red Bull replacing Sergio Perez, who has endured a fractious relationship with Verstappen, but Hamilton’s relations with the Dutchman are frosty and any talks with Red Bull have never really got off the ground.
Ferrari look the only viable destination, with Charles Leclerc on Mercedes’s radar as the replacement should Hamilton opt to quit the team.
But the Prancing Horse are in a rebuild of their own under new team boss Fred Vasseur and one could argue their climb back to the front will be even more arduous. And yet there is still that magical lure of the Ferrari name, which Hamilton has alluded to in the past.
The other option is to walk away altogether. Traipsing around to 23 races a year — potentially more in the future — becomes less tempting if only vying for a lower podium spot at best.
And yet he is adamant he remains in a good place. He used the example of Tom Brady — apt with Sunday’s race staged in and around an NFL stadium at the home of Miami Dolphins — to explain the secret to sporting longevity.
Hamilton said: “There’s different ways you can train, it’s how you eat, what’s your focus. It’s just about the mentality and whether you still have the drive to sacrifice the same amount when you first started. I pretty much still do. I’m looking forward to more great fights.”
Still, when all is said and done, he is a racer and, without an injection of pace come Imola, that drive will be severely tested.