Hamilton F1 future contingent on outcome of Abu Dhabi inquiry

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Lewis Hamilton's presence on the grid in Bahrain next March could depend on the outcome of the FIA's inquiry into the events that unfolded in last month's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Since F1's dramatic title-decider at Yas Marina, where Hamilton lost the title to arch-rival Max Verstappen in a last lap shootout manufactured by race director Michael Masi in controversial circumstances, the seven-time world champion has remained out of the public eye and off social media.

Last month, Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff revealed that Hamilton was "wavering in emotions" and "disillusioned" with F1 because of the dubious events that took palace in Abu Dhabi.

Since, insiders claim the Briton has lost faith in the FIA, a stance allegedly supported by Mercedes, and the pair are now awaiting the conclusions of the governing body's report on the circumstances and decisions that conditioned the outcome of F1's 2021 world championship before deciding their next move.

According to a report from BBC F1 correspondent Andrew Benson, Mercedes only agreed to drop its appeal against the result in Abu Dhabi after striking an agreement with the FIA that entails the removal from their positions of race director Michael Masi and Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA's head of single-seater technical matters.

Mercedes' ire against Tombazis, the governing body's chief regulation architect for F1, is apparently rooted in the latter's decision at the end of 2020 to introduce a series of small aero rule changes that the Brackley squad feels were implemented for the sole purpose of undermining the team's dominance.

However, Mercedes has denied that such a quid pro quo deal was reached with the FIA, insisting that it dropped its appeal last month after the governing body accepted to undertake a full investigation into the events at Abu Dhabi and that appropriate actions would follow.

And Wolff has already warned that Mercedes would "hold the FIA to account".

The consensus among F1 insiders is that Masi will likely not be retained in his current position although the FIA could be hard pressed to identify a successor.

Nevertheless, significant action by the FIA - assuming it actually grasps the seriousness of the situation, which is unclear given its lack of communication on the matter - would most probably keep Hamilton on the grid in 2022. In short, Masi needs to go.

However, beyond the actions taken by the FIA, it's worth remembering that Hamilton is contracted to Mercedes until the end of 2023, although exit clauses may exist in the Briton's covenant.

It's likely that Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali is heavily weighing in on the matter as losing Hamilton, while it would certainly delight Verstappen's massive cohort of fans, would in all probability impact the sport's finances.

While a driver leaving the grid due to the weight of time is inevitable, a mega star such as Hamilton turning away from F1 due to the sport's governing body failing to clean up its act would seriously undermine Grand Prix racing as a whole, with unsuspected consequences and ramifications.

The pressure is therefore on those sitting in the quiet lounges of the FIA in Paris and on the venerable institution's new president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, to whom the buck was passed from the outset of his recent election, to deliver the verdict that could make or break Hamilton's F1 future.

But the longer the silence, the more the uncertainty will grow.

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