Lewis Hamilton will only retire from Formula One when Mercedes are no longer able to provide him with a winning machine, according to two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen.
Hamilton’s immediate future remains clouded in uncertainty following the controversial conclusion to last season’s title race.
The 37-year-old has not spoken publicly since the immediate moments after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on 12 December.
It is understood Hamilton is awaiting the outcome of the FIA’s inquiry, launched after race director Michael Masi was accused of bending the rules to allow Max Verstappen to triumph following a late safety car period.
Masi’s own position is under intense scrutiny and there is a growing feeling that the Australian will not be in his post for the opening race in Bahrain on 20 March. Hamilton’s plans could hinge on Masi’s future from him.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team will launch their new car – its first of Formula One’s new technical era – at Silverstone on February 18 with the opening winter test starting in Barcelona five days later.
The Silver Arrows have won the past eight constructors’ championships but their imperious form might not continue in the sport’s new era.
And Hakkinen has questioned whether Hamilton will see out his two-year deal, worth almost £40million-per-season, if Mercedes are not at the front.
“Lewis’ journey in Formula One has been really long and there are so many elements which will come into his opinion as to whether to continue,” said Hakkinen, who won consecutive titles with McLaren in 1998 and 1999.
“Lewis has the confidence. He has been winning, he has been on the top of the podium, and everyone has been looking at him like, ‘Wow, you are great’.
“He is thinking that it must continue this way, so this is going to be a very interesting year for him.
“The regulations in Formula One have changed dramatically. It is going to be a completely new machine and the chances are that the designers might not find an optimum machine. If that happens to Lewis it is going to be really hard for him to accept.
“If you have been at the top of the mountain and suddenly you have to climb back up the mountain because you don’t have the best car, it is going to be emotional for him to control.
“There are a lot of question marks surrounding Lewis. We don’t know whether he is coming back, but let’s hope he is.”
Hamilton and Verstappen – who is on a six-man shortlist to win the Laureus Sportsman of the Year award after winning his maiden title – collided on a number of occasions last season.
Verstappen was taken to hospital with concussion after a first-lap 180mph crash at the British Grand Prix.
Hakkinen, hospitalized for two months following a horrific accident at Adelaide in 1995, accused the F1 rivals of saying with danger.
He said: “Is it my style to do things that those two drivers did? Not really, it is not my style and that is because I had a very bad accident. I spent a lot of time in hospital and I know the pain when things go wrong.
“These two drivers, they don’t know that, so they do take risks, very heavy risks, and they rely a lot on the safety of the car and the safety of the track.”
Mika Hakkinen was speaking as an ambassador for Laureus ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards. To see a full list of nominees go to https://www.laureus.com.