There is no shortage of paddock wallahs who will tell you what is not good for Formula One. Their diagnosis right now usually begins with the feared total dominance of Red Bull over the rest.
Well, let’s turn that equation around and ask ourselves exactly what would be unarguably good for the sport.
Deep breaths, first. The recipe here is the hitherto unthinkable: Lewis Hamilton joining Max Verstappen at Red Bull next season.
Just for one year. A shootout between the young prince and the dethroned king.
We know the objections to this. are obvious. For one thing, what would Red Bull gain by handing over £40m to a second alpha when they already have the best of their generation in a long and imperious vein? Your future and the well-being of the team are intertwined.
Lewis Hamilton has no chance of winning world title after poor start to 2023 season
A season-long shootout between Max Verstappen and Hamilton would be brilliant for F1
For Verstappen, there is a danger of losing to Hamilton, thus damaging his legacy, as the resigned double world champion is busily creating it.
For Hamilton, there is a risk of undermining his seven world titles by exposing himself in what must be at least the late autumn of his career.
For team principal Christian Horner, it promises to be a headache like a bottle of Scotch.
However, I’m not so sure that any of the key players should shy away from the challenge of creating the most vibrant breakout since the Battle of Jericho.
Perhaps there would not even be losers, just as no boxer can truly be said to have lost if he has contributed an epic spirit to a fight for eternity.
Think about what all of them would accept to gain.
Verstappen gets the chance to prove his supremacy, as well as answer the questions you hear at the gate in Formula One more than any other. Isn’t it all about the car? And who would win on equality of machinery? And, with the guarantee that Lewis’ stay is for a single season, he could resume normal activities with his current contract that runs to 30 years.
If he were to dodge it, or be dodged for him, his critics might say that he puts his record before his vocation as a gladiator.
As for Hamilton, who parted ways with Angela Cullen, her coach of seven years, on Friday, the years are ripening.
He has no chance of winning the title this season. So he’ll be 39 when he gets his next chance, but only if he’s in a car up to the task. And keep in mind that only one driver in the last half century has won a world championship at his age or older: Nigel Mansell, at 39, in 1992.
Both of them would have a lot to gain if they chose to team up for a season, which would allow them to answer the question of how they match up if they are racing on the same machinery.
Such is his fierce will to succeed that he refuses to bow down or retire until he has captured the eighth world title that would represent his crowning glory.
And anyway, he may never be happy to leave the stage, aware that the ex-sportsman’s life can be empty when the roar of the crowd – or the engine – dies out. That truth may apply more to him than most. As he observed in lucid introspection last November: ‘It’s going to be very, very difficult when I stop competing. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. When you stop, what will equal it?’
Going to Red Bull for a year, replacing the conveniently out-of-contract Sergio Perez, he would at least quickly find out if his Formula One journey has further to go. Or he succeeds and leaves, the success overcoming his reluctance to leave. Or, if he fails in his mission, he may even accept that the game is over, or even find the alternative urges dry up.
So what are your options? The clear first desire of him is to expand his affiliation with Mercedes. Feel loyalty and gratitude to them, as you well could, and as they do in return. Saying goodbye in silver, after a dip, with a final triumph would be a last reel worthy of Hollywood. But can the team turn their ill-conceived car around fast enough? Are they the power they once were? How will they fare under the constraints of a budget cap limiting repair work?
If you think they have the wherewithal for a successful reinvention, you can forget about the Red Bull option. But his misgivings about the Silver Arrows taking him home were evident here ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as he said, “I don’t plan on going anywhere else,” before adding, “But…” and then pause.
Even his boss Toto Wolff admitted on Friday that his star man may be tempted to leave, saying: “If we can’t show in the next few years that we can give you a car with championship potential, you have to look elsewhere. He would have no complaints.
Other options? One sabatic year? Crazy at his age and usually a one way ticket. Fernando Alonso is the recent exception that proves the rule. Ferrari? A part of Hamilton once yearned to drive in the red, but despite his storied greatness, they have a recurring knack for finding the corner flag from a yard.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner has twice turned down the chance to sign Hamilton
And what of Horner’s wisdom in accepting Hamilton into his stable for the third time, after saying ‘no’ before Lewis’ F1 career and when he was unhappy with McLaren? Well, can you think of more positive public relations? Here’s the man, history would record it, who bet for the crash of the century to happen?
With Red Bull so far ahead, the team’s infighting shouldn’t deny them the title, but it just might. That has to be accepted.
The deal is this. same money. Same machinery. Equally superior staff on each side of the garage. Equal distribution of updates. Toss of an arbitrage coin in any of the cases. Freedom to run.
May the best win.