It's January, and there is still no clarity on when the contract extension will be announced. Mercedes and Toto Wolff can come out and say that the contract negotiations have been going according to plan, and an announcement is imminent, but it's becoming harder and harder to believe.
What could be the sticking points is slightly predictable. Lewis Hamilton, a 7-time world champion, would command a certain sum of money while Mercedes, with the advent of budget cuts in the 2022 regulations, might not be too willing to pay much to the driver, especially when that money could be used to make the car faster.
The question though, is that at this point who holds the aces in the negotiation table? We try to find out what the leverage each party holds as they try to end this stalemate.
#1 Lewis Hamilton is one of the best drivers on the grid
Lewis Hamilton is the winningest driver ever in the sport. As a 7-time world Champion, he commands a certain sum of money that he thinks he deserves. Moreover, he has time and again showed that even though he's driving the best car, the man behind the wheel is arguably one of the best if not the best on the grid.
Mercedes might have the best car on the grid, but if somehow the opposition manages to cut the gap, then they would need someone of the calibre of Lewis Hamilton to take the car to the Championship.
They would need someone who can do what Lewis Hamilton did at the Turkish GP last season. Losing Lewis Hamilton could mean losing that assurance, which could be a huge blow for Mercedes.
#2 Lewis Hamilton brings with him the biggest fanbase in Formula 1
Lewis Hamilton is not just a Formula One driver. He is a force of nature who has got his hands in multiple things. He has his own fashion line. He has his own brand, and he is also vocal about issues around the world.
Lewis Hamilton' allegiance to the 'Black Lives Matter' initiative was responsible for Mercedes changing the livery to black last season. Lewis Hamilton has the most following on social media out of all the drivers on the grid, and the same also rubs off positively on Mercedes as well.
Dropping Lewis Hamilton before the start of the season could lead to a lot of negative PR that is just not desirable in this day and age.
#1 Mercedes cars have been the class of the field since 2014
In what was a true indication of the extent of Mercedes' domination, last year George Russell stepped into the Mercedes at short notice at the Sakhir GP and went on to comfortably lead the race till Mercedes messed up his pit stop.
That was not a surprise to many considering the domination of the silver arrows car over the rest of the field in the last few years. Such has been the chasm that Lewis Hamilton has basically won all of his titles at Mercedes with a few races to spare.
However, with budget cuts looming large in 2022 and driver salaries a part of it, Mercedes would be losing crucial millions that could be used to make the car faster if that money is paid to the driver.
#2 In George Russell, Mercedes have a capable driver for the future
For a long time, George Russell has been hyped up as the driver of the future by Mercedes. At the Sakhir GP, this was evident, as George Russell took the race lead from Valtteri Bottas and never looked back.
Russell should have won the race if not for a goof-up at the pitstops by Mercedes. In George Russell, Mercedes already have a driver who could, in essence, deliver what Lewis Hamilton can do in the car.
His performance at Sakhir was a clear indication of how good he can be even at short notice, Russell surely has potential, and he would come at a bargain compared to Lewis Hamilton. That could potentially save Mercedes millions of dollars which can go into investment on the car and maintaining their advantage on the grid.
Ultimately the stalemate could end with one of the two sides backing down.
Lewis Hamilton, on his part, will have to keep in mind that if he wants to be competitive in Formula 1, then there's no place better than Mercedes on the grid.
Mercedes, on the other hand, will have to understand that by banking on George Russell, they're banking on an unknown quantity who has not yet proved himself.
It's highly unlikely that Lewis Hamilton won't be seen at Mercedes in 2021, but what would be interesting to see is who blinks first, the driver or Mercedes. The Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes saga seems to be far from over.Published 11 Jan 2021, 17:05 IST