Newly-elected FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem feels confident Lewis Hamilton will not walk away from Formula 1 after his controversial title defeat in Abu Dhabi last month.
Hamilton missed out on a record-breaking eighth world championship after being passed by Max Verstappen on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following a late restart by race control that did not appear to follow the regulations.
Mercedes initially protested the restart procedure and considered a further appeal, but ultimately put an end to pursuing any action after the FIA announced it would launch a full investigation into what happened in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton has not spoken publicly since a brief interview in parc ferme following the race Abu Dhabi, and has not put any posts on social media since the day before the title decider.
Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff said that both he and Hamilton were “disillusioned” by the events in Abu Dhabi, and that he “would very much hope that Lewis continues racing”.
Ben Sulayem was elected as the new FIA president last month, and has already eyed making changes to F1’s rulebook to prevent a repeat of what happened in Abu Dhabi.
Asked during a press briefing ahead of the Dakar Rally if he was afraid that Hamilton may not race next year, Ben Sulayem 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 1, the new era [can add to] Lewis’s wins and achievements, and also Verstappen is there.
“I am very confident that you will see a very challenging Formula 1 season next year.”
Ben Sulayem stressed the need for the FIA to be “proactive rather than reactive” in resolving the sporting regulations to ensure there was no repeat of what happened in Abu Dhabi.
“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,” Ben Sulayem said.
“The integrity of the FIA, it is my job and duty to protect it, but it doesn’t mean that we do not look into our regulations, and if there is any improvement [to make], we will.
“I said in my first press conference, this is not the book of God. This is written by humans. It can be improved and changed by humans. So that’s it.”
Ben Sulayem said in that first press conference there could be “no forgiveness” for Hamilton if he was found to have breached the FIA’s rules by skipping the end-of-season prize giving in Paris last month.
Ben Sulayem revealed that he had reached out to Hamilton, but was yet to hear back from him.
“I sent him messages,” Ben Sulayem said. “I think he’s not ready now to be functioning 100%.
“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.
“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.”