David Coulthard thinks Lewis Hamilton could call time on his place on the Formula One grid in the not too distant future, the BBC reports.
Hamilton, who is undoubtedly the UK's most successful ever F1 driver, starts his challenge for what would be a fourth world championship in next weekend's Australian Grand Prix - where he will also be joined for the first time by his new teammate at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas.
Channel 4 pundit Coulthard – who finished top of the podium 13 times in his career as a driver, as well as overall runner-up to Michael Schumacher in the 2001 season – fears that Hamilton could emulate last year's champ Nico Rosberg and wave the chequered flag on his F1 career in finishing on top.
The Scot is quoted as saying: “How long before he retires? It could be sooner than maybe we would all want.
“Like anything in life, to keep things fresh and exciting over a 10 or 20-year period is tough. He could ‘Do a Rosberg’ and walk away if he wins the title this season, absolutely.
“When things are going well, Lewis is the most recognisable face on the grid and there are moments when you see the pure enjoyment, the little boy in the man.
“As long as that light’s getting switched on from time to time, he’ll continue to show up and do it. But when the passion goes, you can fool others but not yourself.
“That could happen at the end of the year, it may even happen during the season."
Hamilton start next weekend as the undisputed favourite for the driver's championship, with nearly every bookmaker making him odds-on to finish top of the pile come the end of the season.
Only the German Schumacher (91) boasts more finishes at the top of the podium than Hamilton (53), with Coulthard warning that Hamilton could become disenchanted with the current pack:
“Every sportsman has his peak, and if he doesn’t stop there then decline will set in.
“Maybe Hamilton’s met his match, though the evidence of Bottas at Williams suggests he’s not at the same level as Lewis."
Coulthard went on to suggest that Hamilton could severely miss the electrifying nature of what was effectively a Mercedes civil war with Rosberg, which was often seen to challenge both drivers to continually strive to be the better driver - with no apparent bad blood between Hamilton and Bottas:
“I don’t suppose they really know each other. I never really liked any of my team-mates.
“Lewis has speed and won’t fear Bottas. What we are losing this year is the light and shade of Nico and Lewis not liking each other.”