Jenson Button delivers Lewis Hamilton retirement theory ahead of new F1 season
Jenson Button believes Lewis Hamilton may be tempted to retire if Mercedes once again fail to produce a car capable of race victories on a consistent basis.
After an eight-year period where Hamilton won six of his seven world titles from 2014-2021, Mercedes languished behind Red Bull and Ferrari last year after a change in regulations and the Silver Arrows’ unusual philosophical approach to the design of their car.
Hamilton failed to win a race in 2022 – the first time he has gone a season without standing on top of the podium – and concerns over the 38-year-old’s long-term future continue to linger with his £40m-a-year contract due to expire at the end of the season.
Speaking to The Independent, 2009 F1 world champion Button – who was team-mates with Hamilton for three years at McLaren – speculated that the Brit may well be having doubts while Mercedes languish behind their rivals.
“Drivers get bored of not fighting at the front - that’s normally why they retire,” Button says. “Even if they’re still at their best. That’s why I retired and others have stepped away including Kimi [Raikkonen] and Fernando [Alonso] when he initially stepped away.
“It’s easy when you’re winning to continue because it’s always great. When it gets tough, that’s when mentally and physically you think ‘have I got another season in me?’ It could be that way round for Lewis.
“He’s won so many championships in a row that to then have a tough year… it was so unexpected. I think it took him a bit to get up to speed last year because of that. But he might actually sign a contract if the car isn’t competitive this year because he wants to go out on a high.”
Mercedes, to the surprise of many, have persevered with their “zero-pod” philosophy which was unique on the grid last year, while changing the livery to an all-black design in an effort to save weight.
Despite the focus on marginal gains, Toto Wolff’s team struggled at the three-day pre-season test last weekend, with Hamilton at times complaining about the balance of the car and his team-mate George Russell forced to halt one session early due to a hydraulics failure.
Button, for one, is intrigued that Mercedes have stuck with the same aerodynamic approach this year after their struggles in 2022, when they finished third in the Constructors’ Championship and won only one Grand Prix.
“It surprises me because they’re the only team to have that philosophy,” he says. “Normally with a regulation change, after one season everyone mostly goes in the same direction with aerodynamics.
“But they obviously believe in it. When they started they were quite a bit off the frontrunners but they won a race at the end of last year. And I love that they’ve tried something different.
“We’re all hoping for that fight at the front with those first three teams – and I still think we might get it.”
Since retiring at the end of the 2017 season Button has switched his focus to punditry work, including raceday stints in the commentary box for Sky Sports.
While Martin Brundle is David Croft’s usual co-commentator, Button deputised at various races last year and with Paul di Resta having left Sky, the 43-year-old’s role with the microphone could increase.
Just don’t expect Button to be replicating Brundle’s famous grid walks anytime soon.
“I cannot even imagine doing what Martin does on the grid,” he says. “Walking up to random people, patting them on the shoulder and hoping they talk to you? That is definitely not for me!
“Martin can have that – he’s the expert and nobody is better than him.
“But what I enjoy the most is the post-race interviews. Being able to speak to the top drivers after the race, I can give them questions that maybe others can’t because I’ve been in their situation. There’s trust and respect and between us.
“The commentary box is also such a high. There’s such adrenaline – it feels like you’re out there yourself. I’ve lived the sport for so many years and I know what’s going on with the drivers on and off the track. If I see a mistake I feel I can pick it up very quickly because it’s my world.”
Despite leaving F1 more than five years ago, Button has not lost any of his competitive juices. As well as racing at the 100th anniversary of Le Mans in June and changing his training pattern to include weightlifting, Button set a new Guinness world record last month for the Batak board reflex test, widely used by F1 drivers to practice their reaction speeds.
Asked about the feat, he said: “What have I done today? I woke up and broke a world record! It’s been fun, it used to be perfect training for F1. I got 56 back in the day and now I’ve beaten it, and the official world record, with 58.
“A bit of a surprise as I’m 20 years on since I last did it. See, it’s good getting old!”
The entire F1 season can be streamed live on NOW from 3rd March as the lights go out first in Bahrain. For more information visit https://www.nowtv.com/watch-f1-online