Lewis Hamilton said he “lost a little bit of faith” in the fair policing of Formula One after missing out on last year’s title in controversial circumstances at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton was beaten to the 2021 title by Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi after race director Michael Masi bent the FIA’s own rules to ensure a safety car restart on the final lap that handed a significant advantage to Verstappen.
The Mercedes driver did not speak to media after the race and then opted not to post on social media for two months while he “unplugged and switched off” over the winter.
At Mercedes’ 2022 car launch on Friday, Hamilton made his first appearance in front of media since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and while he said he had not considered retiring from F1 at the end of last year, he had revaluated his relationship with the sport.
“Of course, I think at the end of a season you think [about the future] and the question is whether you’re willing to commit the time, the effort it takes to be a world champion,” he said.
“I think a lot of people underestimate what it takes to be a world champion and there are so many moving parts. It is not just turning up and driving the car.
“So the question is, do you want to sacrifice the time, do you believe you can continue to punch at the weight you’re punching, and so that’s a normal mental process for me. Of course this one was compounded by a significant factor, and I think ultimately a sport I’ve loved my whole life, there was a moment where I obviously lost a little bit of faith within the system.
“But I am generally a very determined person and I’d like to think to myself… while moments like this might define others’ career I refuse to let this define mine. So I focused on being the best I can be and coming back stronger.”
On Thursday, the FIA announced structural changes to the “refereeing” of the sport in response to the events in Abu Dhabi. Masi has been removed from his role as race director and extra support will be given to his replacements in order to take pressure off race control.
Asked if his faith would be restored by the changes, Hamilton said: “I’d probably put faith and trust alongside each other. Trust obviously can be lost in the blink of an eye or the flick of a finger, but to earn trust is something that’s built over a long, long period of time.
“This first announcement yesterday is perhaps the first step of that, but it doesn’t necessarily change everything just yet. We have to see actual action.
“I think it will take a bit of time. I’m not really focused necessarily on that area at the moment. I’m just putting absolutely every ounce of my energy and time into making sure that I’m the best you’ve ever seen.”
He added: “It’s good to see the FIA are making steps, accountability is key, we have to use this moment to make sure this never happens to anyone else in the sport ever again.
“We need to, even everything said by the FIA, I welcome that, but we have to make sure we keep a close eye and are seeing those changes and rules are applied fairly and accurately, consistently.”
Hamilton said he would come back stronger this year and warned his rivals that he would be on better form this season than he was at the end of 2021 when he won three of the last four races.
“I feel great, I feel fit,” he added.
“Naturally when you have an extra year of experience that always helps. I always feel like through these sorts of experiences you can turn that emotion into strength and power, it’s what I’m doing, putting into my training, into my work with the men and women here. If you thought what you saw at the end of last year was my best, wait until you see this year.”