The new president of the FIA does not believe Lewis Hamilton is ready to walk away from F1 just yet, despite rumours suggesting the Brit is ready to call time on his racing career.
Hamilton was gunning for his eighth world crown in 2021, but for the first time in several years faced some real stiff competition in the form of Max Verstappen.
And he agonisingly ended up on the losing side of the title battle, as the Dutchman made the most of controversial circumstances to become world champion for the first time.
He closed in on the Brit thanks to a late safety car, and overtook on the final lap using his much fresher and softer tyres to write his name in to F1 history.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team initially appealed against the result based on the way the safety car had been operated, but after it was initially rejected by the stewards they decided against further action.
Meanwhile, the Brit has not spoken in public at all since giving a few short lines in front of the cameras in the immediate aftermath of the race, and has not posted on social media since the day before the finale.
It has led to speculation that the 36-year-old is ready to step away from the sport and pursue other ventures after giving his all in an exhausting title fight.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff poured fuel on those rumours when he said both he and his star driver were “disillusioned” as a result of what had happened in Abu Dhabi, and refused to rule out the racer’s retirement.
But new FIA chief Mohammed Ben Sulayem thinks Hamilton will be sticking around. “No, I don’t think he will,” he said at a press conference ahead of the Dakar Rally when asked by reporters if he thought the Briton would quit F1.
“I’ll ask you a question – did Lewis declare that he’s not going to race? No. Exactly. Being a driver, you declare yourself, you don’t let the rumours talk.
“I’m confident that Lewis [will return]. Lewis is a big part of motorsport, and of course of Formula 1, the new era [can add to] Lewis’s wins and achievements.”
Sulayem did reveal, however, that he had attempted to reach out to the driver himself – but had not yet heard back. “I sent him messages,” the new FIA chief said.
“I think he’s not ready now to be functioning 100%.”You don’t blame him. I understand his position, being a driver – of course he’s on a different level.”