Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Mercedes, Red Bull, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Toto Wolff, Bernie Ecclestone

Motorsport

Ex-Formula 1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone has made the worrying prediction that Lewis Hamilton will retire following the contentious end to the 2021 title battle.

That’s despite Mercedes boss Toto Wolff ensuring the seven-time world champion isn’t about to call time on his illustrious career.

Hamilton’s first title challenge in five years ended in polarising scenes when Red Bull’s Max Verstappen surged past him on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, taking advantage of a controversial safety-car process to win his first world championship.

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Mercedes lodged two protests against the outcome of the grand prix but withdrew its case several days later.

Hamilton is in need of just one more title to break his deadlock with Michael Schumacher, but Ecclestone believes the Briton would be so devastated that he’s not interested in continuing.

“I don’t think he is coming back. I think he will not race next year,” Ecclestone told Switzerland-based publication Blick.

“His disappointment in Abu Dhabi was too big and I understand him.

“Now, tied for seven titles with Michael Schumacher, it is the perfect time for him to fulfill his dream and be a fashion entrepreneur.”

Ecclestone speculated that the changes to Formula 1 cars set to be introduced in 2022 could halt Hamilton’s long-standing dominance.

Among the host of changes are a counterattack against ‘dirty air’, which leads to immense downforce loss. The hope is that change will lead to closer racing and more overtakes.

“Lewis could only lose in 2022,” Ecclestone said.

“Who knows how the new cars will reposition the field?

“With (incoming Mercedes teammate) George Russell, he would have an ambitious teammate, of whom I am not as convinced as many experts, by the way.

“And then we don’t forget about Verstappen. With him, Hamilton has finally found an equal opponent after many years.”

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F1 title decided by dramatic final-lap shootout

Mercedes boss Wolff admitted he and Hamilton were “disillusioned” following the events of Abu Dhabi, but he said the great career the 36-year-old had already carved out should spur him on to continue.

“I think he should just look back at what he has achieved already,” Wolff said.

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“That should give him a lot of comfort and should also be that drive to just keep on going, because he is still trying to challenge for that eighth title and for sure he can do that again next year.

“So I don’t see any reason why to give up or stop now.”

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