Lewis Hamilton isn't leaving F1 any time soon - those excited by rumours of a shock exit at the end of the 2021 season have had their optimism squished, but can they thank Max Verstappen for that?
Lewis made clear that he's sticking around for at least another year recently, saying that it's 'sensible' to avoid a repeat of his last agreement - which was called a 'rushed deal' - and that he wants something finalised by the summer break. Was it really, though, a 'rushed deal', or perhaps it was part of Hamilton's plan? The first four rounds of the season haven't been the usual plain sailing that the champion is used to, with Max Verstappen right on Lewis's heels at almost every opportunity so far this season. Formula One, for Lewis, is no longer the repetitive, albeit tiring, two hour drive of most of the last few years have been. It's more challenging, it's more interesting, and it's more fun - it's exactly what every F1 driver wants.
Maybe Lewis held out on a longer contract, and went into this year seeing what the regulations and changes have done to the car and competition. They didn't help the car too much, but that meant they did help competition, and brought Max Verstappen and his Red Bull closer. Last year, for example, Verstappen's only pole position came at round 17 - Abu Dhabi. His first pole position of this season came at round one - Bahrain. Now let's compare the results of each drivers first four races this year - Bahrain, Imola, Portugal and Spain - to those same races last year. Lewis scored 94 so far this year, and those races gave him a total of 102 points last year. Max has scored 80 points in these four opening rounds, while last year they supplied him with just 50 points. That's a difference of 14 between Hamilton and Verstappen this year, compared to the massive 50 from last year's runnings of these races. Yes, these should be taken with a pinch of salt, as these don't take into account what happened during the race, points just show how they finished. Then again, that seems to also be how Red Bull rate their drivers - and, of course, it's how Formula One works.
The main point of all this is to show that the Red Bull RB16B, or at least Max Verstappen, are closer to Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes-AMG W12 E Performance. Lewis Hamilton once again has a championship fight on his hands, this time with Max Verstappen, or at least that's what we hope. Lewis's new - and quite public - contract plans show this fight to be something he likes. We'll never know for sure if Hamilton and Mercedes would part ways at the end of this year if Lewis had an easy pathway to the record-breaking eighth title, of course, but it's nice to speculate and think about these things from a fan's point of view.
For example, Lewis could also be using this challenge as a chance to prove himself as the greatest of all time to those who doubt him - those who say 'iT's jUst ThE cAr' will have a little less reason to say so if Lewis goes and wins a championship fight, although it's not as if he hasn't won a championship fight before, of course.
This also begs the question of what happens to George Russell. Hamilton wants a Mercedes seat, and there's no doubt he'll get it, so where does that leave Valtteri Bottas? Well, this unexpected rivalry seems to be all about performance, but with one driver in a much faster car than the other. It's going to be an interesting one, and if you happen to be Team Principal of Mercedes and your name's Toto Wolff, don't expect it to be easy.
So: Lewis Hamilton's reason for sticking around could be because his rival, Max Verstappen, is doing well.
Ironic. But it's Formula One, so anything can happen.
Header image courtesy of LAT Images.