LEWIS HAMILTON could still retire before the 2022 Formula One season, according to reports.
Question marks still surround what is next for Hamilton with various suggestions he could quit.
The Brit was pipped to a record-breaking eighth world drivers’ title on the final lap in 2021.
Max Verstappen’s controversial win in Abu Dhabi sparked a furious reaction from Mercedes who immediately protested the outcome of the race.
However, they later withdrew their appeal for another check after the FIA promised to investigate the events surrounding the use of the safety car.
F1’s governing body confirmed that probe on December 15 but according to Sky Sports, a delay in the findings could impact Hamilton’s future in the sport as the clock ticks down to the Bahrain GP on March 20.
Sky Sports reporter Craig Slater said: “With 69 days to go until the first Grand Prix in Bahrain, it is still unclear whether Lewis Hamilton will be on the grid.
“In terms of Hamilton coming back to Formula One, having the appetite to do so and getting over the ‘disillusionment’ that his team boss Toto Wolff said he felt after Abu Dhabi, the onus is on the FIA to deliver on the pledge they made before Christmas to investigate the happenings on that final lap and to come up with some findings.
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“It is understood that Mercedes want to see something tangible. It’s been put to me like this: the longer this drags on then the worse the Lewis Hamilton situation is, and that is from a senior source.”
After the Abu Dhabi finale, Hamilton said ‘we will see about next year’ in a cryptic interview with Jenson Button.
Neither he nor his Mercedes team did any further interviews following the race and he has not posted on social media since.
Hamilton, who was knighted in December, also ignored newly-elected FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s messages – and skipped the FIA end-of-season gala.
But despite the radio silence, Ben Sulayem is confident Hamilton will be battling to reclaim the world title when the season starts in Bahrain in March.
He said: “No, I don’t think he will quit.
“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 One, 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 One season next year.”
Mercedes have posted a series of tweets of Hamilton – dubbed ‘Mr Mercedes’ – to hint the Stevenage star will be joining winter testing at the end of February.
However, even former F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone reckoned Hamilton’s time was up because he is ready to explore other ventures.
Ecclestone said: “I don’t think he is coming back, I think he will not race next year.
“His disappointment in Abu Dhabi was too great, and I understand him.
“Now, tied for seven titles with Michael Schumacher, it is the perfect time for him to fulfil his dream and be a fashion entrepreneur.”
Elsewhere, Red Bull boss Christian Horner insisted the ‘best is yet to come’ from his team.
In a throwback post to when he joined in 2005, the team principal reflected on their five drivers’ championships and four constructors’ titles but fired the warning shot at Mercedes.