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Mercedes ruled the F1 roost and Hamilton ruled Mercedes for so long that it became the default setting for the sport. At the start of every season, there was an assumption that Hamilton would have the quickest car and that his skills behind the wheel would do the rest.

Every dynasty fades in the end though – even the most powerful – and so it has come to pass at Mercedes. The Red Bull of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez has left them and the rest for dust. It is so dominant it could conceivably win every race this season. Already it is clear the rest are fighting for the minor places.

When a driver has won the world championship seven times, finding himself in such a position is unedifying. In the circumstances it is no surprise that Hamilton has yet to sign the new contract in front of him. He says he has no intention of leaving Mercedes but if he isn’t privately thinking about a future elsewhere at the end of the season maybe he should.

The ease with which Verstappen flashed past him as the Dutchman picked his way through the field in Saudi Arabia last weekend made for a sad comparison with the dogfights between the pair of a couple of seasons ago. If it wasn’t quite flying machine against milk float, it was not a fair contest.

Hamilton professes that he is happy to roll up his sleeves and fight the good fight again – as he was forced to do last season with inferior machinery. This is as it should be – the boot was on the other foot for long enough. Having signed for this season he is committed to delivering his best efforts.

But, after 11 years, perhaps it is time to make one last move in his career. Of course Mercedes would fight tooth and nail to prevent that happening. Toto Wolff has good reason to want to keep him. Even approaching 40, Hamilton is still a very, very fine driver – and he has an added value to them with his profile and his huge social media following.

His delay in re-signing may well be to buy time to see how much improvement the promised upgrade can squeeze out of the car. But the harsh truth for Hamilton is that it is still unlikely to be a patch on a Red Bull that has left rivals open-mouthed.

Mercedes went down a design cul-de-sac with their car and having stubbornly doubled down on it this year, they have been left as caterers at the Red Bull feast this season. Maybe the Mercedes will be better next season, maybe not, but the lustre of the glory days has faded.

Hamilton has a big decision to make and for the first time since he joined, he should seriously be considering the end of the affair. The dream scenario for race fans if he went would be a switch to Red Bull and a weekly head-to-head with Verstappen. Best man, with best car, wins. 

It would offer Hamilton his only chance of reaching the magic number eight and becoming the most successful driver in F1 history. For a number of reasons, uppermost that Verstappen would prefer to race blindfold than let it happen, that is a highly unlikely scenario.

No, the switch that Hamilton should be considering is to Ferrari. For Hamilton, as for anyone else with F1 in their blood, the prancing horse has an animal magnetism. He has openly admitted to an attraction in the past and it is not as if he would be divorcing a life-long partner to move there given his own start at McLaren.

Having given his best years to Mercedes he could move with conscience clear. To round off his incredible career with a final season or two at Ferrari would be a beautiful ending. It may not have the fastest car on the grid – it is certainly not the most reliable – but when all is said and done it is still Ferrari.