In any major decision, there is a complex web of push and pull factors that eventually lead to a choice being made. They generally refer to migration and economics as to why someone might leave their home city or country to take up new opportunities elsewhere, such as a new job. Sometimes though, it is about the job itself and whether our subject wants to continue doing the same thing they have done since they were a young child, and arguably, is the greatest to ever do it. That's the situation facing Lewis Hamilton and the evergreen questions about when he could retire from Formula 1, bringing to a close the most successful career Grand Prix racing has ever seen. While there are some strong pull factors keeping Hamilton tethered to a sport he had made his own - such as avenging that 2021 title loss and claiming the record eighth crown he believes is rightfully his, there are also some strong push factors edging him towards the paddock gates for the final time. But what are these push factors - and is it realistic to suggest that Hamilton will quit at the end of 2023?
The eighth title
Of the major F1 driver records, Hamilton holds all but two of them in his own right, having surpassed Michael Schumacher in terms of wins, poles, and podiums. The two that remain - held by Schumacher - have varying degrees of lure for Hamilton. First is the record for most fastest laps. The German holds that accolade with 77, while Hamilton is in second place on 61. It's fair to say the latter won't lose any sleep if he doesn't get to 78. The other is the tally for most World Championships - the two having been level since 2020. Hamilton looked set to eclipse that great mark in 2021 following a late season burst that left rival Max Verstappen largely unable to find answers, but the controversial safety car ending in Abu Dhabi sent the title to the Netherlands rather than Great Britain. Getting the eighth is the last great challenge of Hamilton's career - if he can do so in 2023, he would have completed Formula 1, if it can ever be completed, that is. For a driver who has overcome every challenge and every rival up until this point, wrestling back one final title from Verstappen, and fuelling the debate of 'who is the best driver in the world' in the process could lead to that press release from Mercedes dropping and Google Trends seeing a drastic uptick in searches for 'Lewis Hamilton.' It would be a Nico Rosberg-esque moment, going out in a blaze of glory and meaning Hamilton would never lose the title again...
The Mercedes W14
Mercedes were going to drop the ball eventually. In the end, every great sports team is beaten and the question is, 'How do they rebuild to go again?' Ferrari are arguably still asking themselves that question since Schumacher retired in 2006, but the Mercedes of 2014-2021 are in that top echelon of teams throughout all sports, akin to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. And 2023 is arguably the biggest test they have ever faced following the slump with the W13, which definitely proved unlucky. A fundamental floor problem with the car, which was uncovered too late in the season, hampered the machine throughout, with Mercedes insisting that 2023's W14 would fix the problem and get them back into contention. We will find that out during pre-season testing in Bahrain and then the first race in Sakhir the week after. If the car is as uncompetitive as its predecessor, that's not exactly an incentive for Hamilton to stick around, slogging it out for odd podiums while Verstappen romps away to another crown. 2023 is the biggest year for the Hamilton/Mercedes partnership that for so long was the Pied Piper of Formula 1.
If Hamilton is the past and present of Mercedes, then George Russell is the future. He will be the man guiding the Silver (or should that be Black?) Arrows towards the 2030s long after Hamilton has actually retired. And so the most fascinating driver pairing on the grid is set for Round 2 after Russell left the favourite with a shock in the opening round. Russell was fourth in the 2022 standings, on 275 points, 35 points and two places clear of Hamilton who recorded his worst-ever result in the championship - but the facts don't tell the whole story. In the early part of the season when Mercedes were struggling to understand the W13, they used the most valuable piece of testing equipment they had: Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time champion was given the funky set-ups to try and get the machine into some kind of window where porpoising wasn't an issue whereas the less-experienced Russell was on more conventional ones, and was able to focus on maximising his race weekends. Mercedes will be hoping that a repeat is not needed in 2023, with the two drivers able to go at it on an equal footing, which in 2022 swung towards Hamilton once the radical experiments were scrubbed. If however, the season ends with Russell a healthy margin ahead of Hamilton or closer than he would like, it could lead to a decision needing to be made.
Contract talks with Wolff
The most unlikely of push factors, but should negotiations with boss Toto Wolff break down, Hamilton could decide to head for the Brackley and F1 exit. Relations between the two have strengthened considerably over past contract renewals, with Hamilton's current two-year deal only being signed in early 2021, well after teams like Mercedes would like their drivers settled in. The boss says Hamilton's age - he will be 39 before the start of the 2024 season - is not a factor in the talks which initial discussions have been held - pointing towards NFL star Tom Brady who finally retired, this time for real, after last season aged 45.
So, will he stay or go?
While it's unlikely Hamilton has the 1982 'Clash' favourite ' Should I stay or Should I Go?' in his head, one day he will. As long as there is fuel for the fire, he will stick around in F1, pushing those records as high as he can and as far away from Verstappen as possible before calling time. He will want to go out as a champion and race winner. That is what he is. Athletes like Hamilton don't settle for sixth in the championship and no wins in their final season. He will want to climb Mount Everest once again, being the King surveying all before him. Fate often doesn't allow great athletes to go on winning terms, but Hamilton is certainly one of the few who could buck the trend. One thing is for sure, he is closer to retirement than the start of his career, so until the day that the retirement announcement comes, questions over his future will remain.