Bernie Ecclestone has claimed Lewis Hamilton is no longer the fighter he once was and has made too many mistakes in his drive for a record-breaking eighth world championship.
In an interview with the PA news agency ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix, F1’s former supremo said Hamilton could yet walk away from his new two-year £80million Mercedes contract, praised the Briton for standing up against racism and took aim at his successors for “messing around with history” ahead of the sport’s first Sprint race at Silverstone.
Hamilton will head into his home event on a five-race winless streak which leaves him 32 points adrift of Red Bull rival Max Verstappen.
The seven-time world champion drove superbly to win three of the opening four rounds, but he fell off the road at a rain-hit Imola in April and threw away an unlikely win at last month’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix when he fluffed his lines at the restart.
He finished fourth on his last outing in Austria after damaging his Mercedes.
“I have spoken to lots of people about this and perhaps Lewis is not quite the fighter that he was,” said Ecclestone.
“There are lots of occasions this year where he could have done better and he hasn’t. He hasn’t had any competition, the equipment has always been super, and he hasn’t really had to make the effort. But now maybe he is thinking that he better take it a bit easier.
“At the beginning of the year I thought he would look to win the championship and then retire. But it appears not, even though I wouldn’t rely too much on contracts. He can escape from that.
“He probably had a look at the clothing range and music but realised that it is not as easy to make money there as it is in Formula One.”
Last year, Hamilton labelled Ecclestone “uneducated and ignorant” after the 90-year-old said in a CNN interview that “in lots of cases, black people are more racist than white people”.
Do they still speak? “On and off,” Ecclestone replies. The last occasion? “Around the time of his support of Black Lives Matter,” he continues.
“Lewis thought I was against it but he was wrong because I know what he is trying to do.
“He called me because I spoke to his father, Anthony. I said the trouble for Lewis is that he has gone out of his way to wave the flag for Black Lives Matter and that people are making an awful lot of money out of this, and not him.
“As soon as the passion wears off, he will be left with it being his fault. And all he has ever done is try to do something to support it.”
Hamilton and the majority of the grid continue to take a knee before the races to highlight the fight against racism.
Ecclestone continued: “It is the same thing with football where these things have become the fashionable thing to do to make it look as if you are interested in doing something. But I wonder what people actually do apart from talking about it?
“Lewis has done more than most for this. I don’t know what the footballers have actually done other than support each other.”
Hamilton, who remains the sole black driver in F1, commissioned a 10-month study to improve diversity in motor racing. The report, which was published this week, highlighted wider societal issues and barriers within motorsport.
Just one per cent of F1 employees are from Black backgrounds. On Wednesday, F1 bosses announced a scholarship, apprenticeships and intern placements for underrepresented groups.
“I said to Lewis it would be good to do something together to give a lot more races the possibility in Formula One rather than it basically being white and English,” added Ecclestone.
“Lewis has done a lot but now it needs to go farther than that and everybody else needs to think about doing something because I am quite sure there are a lot of people from other nations that have drivers, mechanics and engineers as competent today as the white people.
“If Ron Dennis had not got hold of Lewis when he was a kid and believed in Lewis and supported him throughout, Lewis wouldn’t have made it.
“Lewis’ father believed in him and was behind him completely, so we have to find families where the parents are well behind the kids and are prepared to make sacrifices so the children get an opportunity.”
On track, Hamilton will take part in F1’s maiden Sprint race on Saturday in the biggest change to the sport’s schedule of the modern era.
A third-distance of a normal race, the finishing order will determine the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix, while the top three will score points that count towards the championship. The winner of the Sprint will be credited with a pole position on their record.
But Ecclestone, who governed Formula One for four decades before Liberty Media’s acquisition of the sport in 2017, said: “I don’t agree with it. The minute you start mucking around with these things, the history disappears and that is not a good thing.
“People would say somebody has 70 pole positions but that has gone now. There is no such thing as a pole position.
“I don’t think it is going to work and I don’t think it will continue. It is an unnecessary confusion for no reason. Qualifying has always been an interesting part of the weekend and now we will just have another race.”