McLaren team principal Zak Brown admitted he would not be surprised if seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton sensationally retired from Formula One after the Brit’s Abu Dhabi heartache.
Red Bull star Max Verstappen secured a maiden world title in dramatic and controversial circumstances after the Dutchman passed the seven-time world champion – who had dominated for much of the race – on the final lap of the season as a late Safety Car and tyre change swung momentum in his favour.
Mercedes’ fury was largely aimed at FIA race director Michael Masi after he decided to not allow cars to unlap themselves, as is tradition, only to change his mind to set up the final lap showdown between Hamilton and Verstappen.
The Silver Arrows allegedly only dropped their appeal against the results of the race after agreeing a deal with the FIA, which said both Masi and FIA head of single-seater technical matters Nikolas Tombazis would be removed from their posts ahead of the 2022 season.
Masi’s approach in the finale has been heavily criticised, with Hamilton suggesting over the radio that it was ‘rigged’. An FIA inquiry was launched last week, but the findings might not be made public until the eve of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on 20 March.
It has led to reports that Hamilton could retire if Masi is retained – and McLaren boss Brown said: “I wouldn’t be shocked if Lewis stopped and I don’t think anyone should take for granted that he is coming back.
“We should not discount or not recognise his frustration and anger and maybe he hasn't taken a decision yet, and maybe what he is doing is taking time to make that decision. I don't think we should rule retirement out or make light of it.”
On Tuesday, Mercedes announced they will launch their car amid the new era of regulations on 18 February. Hamilton is believed to be in attendance for the launch along with new teammate George Russell.
While Hamilton’s deal with Mercedes expires at the end of the 2022 season, Brown believes the 37-year-old will return to action.
“I personally think Lewis still has a burning desire to race, that will ultimately drive his decision, and I think he will be back,” Brown added. “Sure, he is very angry, but I think race-car drivers want to race and he is at the top of his game.
"He is a fighter and he will want to come back and try and win an eighth world championship. Once you hang it up, you hang it up and I don't think he is ready to do that and let an incident put him into retirement.”
Hamilton and Mercedes team members did not conduct any other media interviews after the season. The Brit, who was knighted at Windsor Castle following the season, is yet to post on his social media accounts since the events of 12 December 2021.
Brown believes the pressure on Masi led to the decisions at Yas Marina Circuit.
“As you can imagine, there were five laps left and a tremendous amount of pressure (on Masi),” Brown said. “And to have people bending the ear of the referee means it is pretty difficult to make decisions when you have that noise.
“It is good for television that the microphone was open, but it created some decisions that maybe were not the right decisions.”
The 23-race 2022 campaign begins on 18-20 March, with winter testing for the all-new generation of cars underway from 23 February.
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