Lewis Hamilton is not responding to Formula 1’s authorities despite their threats of action after he failed to show up to an end-of-season trophy gala following his controversial title defeat.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the newly-elected FIA president, admitted Lewis Hamilton is not “100 per cent”, but he is confident he will not walk away from F1 after the furore in Abu Dhabi.
However, Ben Sulayem said in his first press conference there could be “no forgiveness” for a potential rule breach after Hamilton missed the prize-giving in Paris last month.
Hamilton has yet to respond to messages from the new FIA boss. “I sent him messages,” Ben Sulayem said at a press conference at the Dakar Rally. “I think he’s not ready now to be functioning 100 per cent. You don’t blame him. I understand his position, being a driver – of course he’s on a different level.
“But also the rule is there. For me it’s not particular, a driver or a certain team. It is in general, there are rules that we have to respect, and the integrity of the FIA we have to respect. And I cannot judge anyone unless I get the correct facts.”
Hamilton and Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff missed the FIA prize-giving gala as an act of protest. In the weeks since the 36 year-old lost the title to Red Bull rival Max Verstappen, 24, there has been much speculation that the Briton may be considering his future. Hamilton congratulated Verstappen in his post-race interview but has been largely silent since his controversial defeat, with Wolff saying he was “disillusioned”.
As well as missing the event in Paris, Hamilton has gone to ground, making no posts on social media and unfollowing all accounts on Instagram. Ben Sulayem added: “I feel that, of course, not being present at the gala dinner, it’s something that the team and Lewis knew about it. But at the end of the day, you are human also. The stress and the pressure has been there. I am confident that everything will be sorted out. We cannot think of our past. We have a lot to think about. We are the people of the future.”
Ben Sulayem, who was elected last month, has already announced plans to make changes to F1’s rulebook to prevent a repeat of what happened in Abu Dhabi. But he does not believe Hamilton will quit the sport.
He said: “I’ll ask your 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’ wins and achievements, and also Verstappen is there.
“I am very confident that you will see a very challenging Formula 1 season next year.”
The FIA, the governing body, is still investigating the controversy. It centres around the decisions taken by race director Michael Masi following a crash by Williams’ Nicholas Latifi which brought out the safety car with five laps remaining. Red Bull’s Verstappen, who was well behind Hamilton at the time, took the opportunity to dive into the pits to change his tyres.
When Masi then decided to allow five unlapped cars between Verstappen and Hamilton to unlap themselves, and then withdrew the safety car with one lap remaining, allowing the drivers one final racing lap, the Dutch driver suddenly found himself in the perfect position, on Hamilton’s tail and with fresh rubber.
Describing how the subsequent furore had hit Hamilton, Wolff told Motorsport-Total.com: “He won the World Championship until the last lap, and then everything is taken away from you from one second [to the next]. Of course you lose faith because you can’t understand what has just happened.”
Since Abu Dhabi, Hamilton has received a knighthood from Prince Charles. “What I told him before that was that he should try to take these positive moments with him during these few hours, in which his life’s work and his achievements are honoured,” Wolff added. “I think he did that.”
Ben Sulayem, meanwhile, believes the FIA must be “proactive rather than reactive” in resolving sporting regulations. “I am going to study the case of what happened in Abu Dhabi, and a decision will be taken how to go forward without any pressure from anyone,” he added.