F1: why 2020 will be a pivotal year in Lewis Hamilton’s glorious career
World champion is chasing a record-equalling seventh title, but speculation over his future will hog the headlines
When Lewis Hamilton returns to the Formula 1 track in 2020 the spotlight will shine brighter than ever on the six-time world champion.
The Mercedes ace will go into the new season off the back of a magnificent 2019 campaign where he dominated by winning 11 of the 21 races.
Finishing the season with 413 points - 87 clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas - Hamilton proved his class to win another title and move to within one of Michael Schumacher’s record of seven.
Despite the emergence of 22-year-old duo Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Max Verstappen (Red Bull) as major contenders on race weekends, 34-year-old Hamilton will once again start the season as the bookies’ favourite to win the championship.
However, the 2020 season could also provide a major twist in Hamilton’s glorious F1 career.
Future in focus
As well as being the year where Hamilton can equal Schumacher’s seven titles, the coming season is also the final one on his current contract with Mercedes.
Ever since his victory in the 2019 finale in Abu Dhabi speculation has been rife over Hamilton’s future.
Could a move to Ferrari be on the cards for 2021? It has not been ruled out and talks have taken place between the driver and Scuderia officials.
With his Mercedes contract expiring at the end of 2020, Hamilton admits he is considering his options.
“Naturally, everything that happens behind closed doors is always private with whoever you end up sitting with,” he said.
“For many years I have never ever sat down and considered other options because we have been driving straight ahead on to the path and journey we have been on.
“We are still on that path and there is very little that is going to shift that. I love where I am so it is definitely not a quick decision to do something else.
“But it is only smart and wise for me to sit and think of what I want if it is the last stage of my career. I want to keep winning. I cannot tell you what is going to happen moving forward.”
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Ferrari are flattered
The Italian team’s chairman John Elkann has held “social” talks with the Briton, but the meetings have been played down.
Ferrari chief executive Louis Camilleri said: “Obviously, it was a social event, which has sort of been blown somewhat out of proportion, but it was a social event. They have some common friends.”
However, when speaking to staff at Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters Camilleri did say the team were “flattered” by Hamilton’s interest.
“It has been made public that Lewis has had conversations with our chairman,” said Camilleri. “We clearly are very flattered that Lewis in particular and other drivers want to come and join us. Every driver on the grid would like to drive a Ferrari.
“We have a long-term agreement with one driver [Charles Leclerc] and with the other driver [Sebastian Vettel] the agreement expires at the end of 2020. It would be premature to decide anything now. We will look at our options and see what is the best fit for our team.”
Leclerc would welcome Lewis
Should Hamilton move to Ferrari it’s likely that he would replace Vettel to become Leclerc’s team-mate.
When asked about the possibility of Hamilton joining, Leclerc said: “Of course I would welcome Lewis. We are in F1 and we want to fight against the best.
“I have had a big opportunity to have had Seb next to me who is a four-time world champion and I have learned a lot from him, so you can always learn from these types of champions.”
Could Toto move too?
It’s not just Hamilton who is being linked with a switch to Ferrari in 2021, but also his Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.
F1 pundit Eddie Jordan recently told Top Gear magazine that he is “absolutely certain” Hamilton will move to Ferrari in 2021, and Wolff could follow him.
“It would be the right time for Lewis to go to Ferrari [in 2021],” said Jordan. “He’s coming to the end of his career, but he still wants to win his seven or more titles.
“But the real belief that I think Lewis will go to Ferrari in 2021 is that Toto Wolff’s contract expires at the end of next year.
“I’m absolutely certain that in 2021, Lewis Hamilton will move to Ferrari. Toto goes with him, because as I said, Lewis won’t leave himself exposed, and it will be his way of bringing an equaliser. Do Ferrari need two number ones? No, but they won’t let go of Leclerc.”
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Berger: the timing must be right
While the “Hamilton to Ferrari” rumours gather pace, former F1 driver Gerhard Berger has warned the British star that he should only move to the Italian team once he has “beaten all the records”.
The 60-year-old Austrian had two stints with Ferrari during his 14-season career in F1 and while he loves the team and has an emotional attachment to them, he says the timing must be right for any driver to step into the red overalls.
“It is an outstanding experience - driving for Ferrari is very emotionally driven,” Berger told The Guardian.
“Some are cold to it, some react very much toward it. Me, I was affected very much because I love Ferrari, I loved the Italian mentality, the brand and I think Lewis would. Most of the drivers love it but it has to be right on timing.
“I think he should go to Ferrari but after he has beaten all he records. It would be too much to do it before because he has such a phenomenal team around him.
“You never leave a winning team, so perhaps it is not the right moment to do it now.”
While talk of his future continues to be a hot topic for F1 fans and pundits, Hamilton is fully focussed on preparing for the new campaign with Mercedes.
The German manufacturer is aiming to win a record seventh successive world championship double and Hamilton admits that the winter break will be key as they aim to hold off Ferrari and Red Bull in 2020.
“I don’t think it’s going to be any more challenging than any other year,” said Hamilton. “Every year, it couldn’t be more challenging at the end of every season.
“The guys are going through the same motions as they have every single year, trying to push for a super-high target that is almost impossible to reach, so nothing changes for us.”
Pre-season testing and first GP
In 2020 there will be six days of pre-season testing instead of two four-day tests.
Because of an extra race in the schedule the test sessions at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will be held from 19-21 February and 26-28 February.
The first grand prix of the 22-race season will be in Australia on Sunday 15 March.