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Was there another factor behind Hamilton's radio silence?

With Lewis Hamilton announcing he is "back", RacingNews365.com's Dieter Rencken ponders why he went missing for so long. Could there be more to it than simply a lengthy case of the sulks?

While there are absolutely no doubts that Lewis Hamilton felt aggrieved and was bitterly disillusioned with the final outcome of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - and rightly so in the eyes of his legions of fans, who view him as a moral (record-setting) eight-time World Champion - could there have been a commercial reason for his silence? If his graciousness in defeat in the immediate aftermath of the season finale was utterly admirable, his subsequent prolonged total radio silence was ultimately nothing short of totally baffling, particularly his refusal to respond to messaging from incoming FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who had zero input into the finish of his 'home' Yas Marina Circuit, having been elected to the role five days after the race. Asked immediately after his election on 17 December whether he had heard from Hamilton, Ben Sulayem, the first non-European elected to the top office in the FIA's 117-year history and thus fully committed to further improving the governing body's diversity programmes - a topic extremely close to Hamilton's heart - said he had reached out to the Mercedes driver but no reply had been forthcoming. "I don't think he is 100 per cent ready to respond right now; we don't blame him," said Ben Sulayem, a multiple regional rally champion and erstwhile WRC competitor. "I understand his position."

Hamilton's 55-day radio silence

Still, that was then, and this is written two months later – and various sources told RacingNews365.com the Emirati was visibly irritated when asked about the continued silence during his round of team boss meetings towards end-January. If there has been subsequent contact between the FIA boss and the driver this would surely have been revealed by now, as any misperceptions about the cold shoulder serve neither party. In any event, Lewis was surely brought up better than that – making his silence all the more baffling, unfathomable even, and suggests something other than prolonged sulking lay at the heart of his behaviour. Fact is: the result won't change; simply put, Lewis is sufficiently streetwise and more than intelligent enough to have grasped that. Expressed differently, it is what it is – and Max Verstappen, who on the day did absolutely nothing wrong and is as deserving of the title as was his opponent when measured across a year, is the first non-Mercedes champion since 2013, regardless of how long this silent protest prevailed. Indeed, in many ways the saga was F1's equivalent of "Never Ending Story" – rather fittingly, an eighties English-language, German-produced fantasy hit movie aimed at juvenile audiences. Just as that movie (and two sequels) ended, so has the Hamilton Saga now drawn to a close. That said, it is still not clear whether he is back in F1 or only back on social media… Ironically, though, the longer the aggrieved driver maintained his non-narrative, the more this intense gossip continued about his future; whether (or not) he would take a sabbatical, return to F1 in 2022 or even walk away without a backward glance. In the process, an artificial scarcity of bona fide Hamilton news was created, in turn fuelling wild and woolly theories on forums and in respected publications alike.

Was there more to it than meets the eye?

In marketing speak, this technique - frankly, the oldest trick in any well-thumbed marketing tome - is known as the Limited-Products Tactic and has over the years been most successfully applied by, amongst others, Ferrari in their road car division: production is maintained at levels well short of demand, thereby keeping interest buoyant. Mercedes-Benz are no stranger to the strategy, either. Applied to Hamilton's silence, the psychology is sound: it kept him top of mind, and for as long as folk spoke about Lewis they didn't much discuss Verstappen or Red Bull, indirectly robbing the Dutchman of being the talking point in F1 that he, as the de facto reigning champion, is fully entitled to. Thus, Lewis and Team LH44 moved the spotlight off Max the reigning champion and onto Lewis the 2021 loser. Now that Max's team are again in the headlines as they prepare to launch their car on Wednesday, and the World Champion hits the headlines after driving a Red Bull on ice, Lewis reappears – at the Grand Canyon. Mightily shrewd, whichever way it's sliced. That his Mercedes team exploited his silence is borne out by its posting of a series of intriguing social media teasers. These alluded to Hamilton, pretending to provide updates yet containing very little or absolutely nothing of true substance – as per this example , in which Hamilton appeared to have surfaced from his silence. The team later admitted to RacingNews365.com that the recorded message was almost two months old! There are many precedents, all similarly teasing and carefully curated to imply some or other message , such as Hamilton walking away from the sport, or a listing of his records as though in preparation for a farewell. Yet others appeared to show him preparing for 2022 – in all instances, these mixed messages toyed with his passionate fanbase, as attested to by hordes of reactions. Marketing is, after all, about emotion.

Where does Hamilton go from here?

All of which begs the question: was Hamilton's continued silence simply a marketing ploy dreamed up by marketing types - of which the Mercedes media and marketing machine has many - possibly even in cohorts with or led by Team LH44, which is a formidable marketing machine drawing on international talents? F1, too, could have been in on any such act: any talk about F1 keeps investors happy, while a positive outcome would send the FWONK share price soaring. The flipside is that if Lewis walks (still a possibility given his enigmatic message) the price heads south immediately; therefore the commercial rights holder would have needed to be on very solid ground had it been party to any of the marketing plans. When all is said and done, sulking for one week is understandable given the circumstances - although ignoring the FIA President is certainly not so under any circumstances - but two weeks was stretching the point to limits. Eight weeks, though, smacked of either downright churlishness by one individual or concerted efforts by a number of parties. I doubt Lewis could be accused of the former and have no hesitation he would play along with the latter given the number of boxes it ticks in various directions. Silence is, after all, golden… and all the more so if he stays for another season.

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