Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone is concerned that without a strong teammate in 2017 Lewis Hamilton will simply roar off into the distance and cruise to the world championship title, a situation that will be do little to appeal to fans.
Speaking to Sky Sports, “I think nobody would want to buy tickets and go to watch a race or watch on television Lewis disappearing from us when the lights go off and probably lapping the field a couple of times.”
“It would be bad for everybody and bad for Lewis as well, because I think he wants to win fair and wants to beat somebody. I don’t think anybody is going to beat Lewis,” predicted Ecclestone solemnly.
Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso were proposed as candidates for the Silver Arrows seat vacated by newly crowned champion Nico Rosberg.
“There is no good encouraging people because both those guys are under contract,” Ecclestone pointed out. “Whether or not… they’ve said they couldn’t have Fernando because his tanglement with McLaren and with them at the time [over the Spygate controversy of 2007], so it would be wrong to have him. So they didn’t try with him.”
Another obvious option is Max Verstappen, but it is highly unlikely that Red Bull will let go of their prized asset. The Dutchman is not for sale at any price.
Ecclestone said of the sensational teenager, “Verstappen has been super. When I say nobody, maybe Max in that car could hurry Lewis along a little bit. If he gets in the right car he will [win the title]. Even where he is now there’s possibilities.”
Mercedes have totally dominated the sport in the past three years, Ecclestone does not foresee a change to the pecking order, “The problem is a simple one: the Mercedes team, engine, everything, is perfect and they’ve got the best driver in the world. I’m not so sure to win the Constructors’ Championship, but certainly to win the Drivers’ Championship.”
“I hope I’m completely wrong in my assessment of the championship with Lewis. I hope I am wrong and whoever goes and sits in the same team can beat him or hurry him up that he makes mistakes. My personal opinion is that it’s not going to happen,” added Ecclestone.
Mercedes appear to have given up hope on Vettel and Alonso. They have a policy not to interfere with contracted drivers, however they are reportedly amid negotiations with Williams to obtain the services of Valtteri Bottas.
The last option for the Silver Arrows is to promote Pascal Wehrlein, who has been pat of their young driver development programme, alongside Hamilton.
But this year’s best rookie is unlikely to be a challenge to the triple World Champion and would trigger the scenario that Ecclestone fears the most.