Mercedes F1 Team Principal Toto Wolff has stated he harbors no ill will towards Lewis Hamilton for his decision to join Ferrari at the end of the year.
The team announced yesterday that Hamilton would be leaving at the end of this season, having driven for them since 2013. Hamilton and Mercedes have enjoyed the most successful partnership between a driver and a team in F1 history, winning eight Constructors’ Championships together, while Hamilton has clinched the Drivers’ Championship six times.
In August, Mercedes announced they had agreed on terms for Hamilton to continue driving for them in 2024 and 2025. However, yesterday, it was confirmed that Hamilton had utilized a clause in his contract to leave the team.
Wolff said Hamilton’s decision was not entirely unexpected.
“When we signed the contract with Lewis, we opted for a shorter duration,” he told the media today at a conference to explain.
“So the events are not a surprise. Perhaps the timing. It was Wednesday morning. I had heard rumors two days before already but wanted to wait until we were at my place. He probably did too. That’s when he told me the news in Oxford, over coffee. Once he said that was what he was going to do, it was done, I didn’t try to convince him otherwise.”
Hamilton informed Wolff of his decision two days ago over coffee at the Mercedes director’s home in Oxford.
“He told me he had decided to race for Ferrari in 2025. And that was essentially it. Then, we had a conversation, and that’s where we stand.”
Hamilton told Wolff he had decided to take on a new challenge and wanted to change his surroundings. However, Wolff also believes that Hamilton, who will be 40 next year, is seizing what could be his last chance to race for F1’s most historic team.
Wolff Understands Hamilton’s Need for Change
“The way he presented the situation to me is perfectly understandable, that he needed a new challenge, was looking for a different environment, and this might be the last chance to do something else.”
“We are grown men, we knew that by signing a short-term contract, it could be beneficial for both sides. We couldn’t commit to a longer period. And he chose to opt out. So, we fully respect the fact that you can change your mind. There are different circumstances. And moving to Ferrari, maybe for the last transfer of his career, maybe rolling the dice a bit, I can understand that decision.”
After experiencing unprecedented success for much of their time together, the team has been in crisis for the last two years, during which Hamilton has not won a single race. Even though Hamilton continued to assert his commitment to the team and extended his contract to drive for them, Wolff stated he “harbors no ill will” regarding his decision to leave.
“It doesn’t hurt because I have to stay calm and decide how we will best manage the 2024 season and what decisions need to be made for the future. It’s not as if someone I care deeply about is disappearing; it was just a team change.”
“By signing the contract, we were very aware that this could happen. Perhaps the timing was a surprise. But I’ve had many black swans [unexpected events] in front of me, the unexpected, and I think in Formula 1, it’s all about agility and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.”
Wolff said his first reaction to Hamilton’s decision was to figure out how to manage its implications for the team.
Wolff Reflects on Hamilton’s Farewell Decision
“When he first told me, my next thought was pragmatic. What does this mean? When do we communicate this? What are the pressure points? How are we going to handle the upcoming season and what are we going to do in terms of driver pairing? So, the team’s mindset got into gear.”
“After some reflection, it means that our professional journey together is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean our personal relationship ends. I’ve found a friend in Lewis, we’ve built a relationship over the last 10 years, and he’s been faced with a very, very difficult situation, making the decision of where to drive, perhaps for the first time in 10 years without having to think about it.”
“Therefore, I will always respect the difficulty of the situation he was faced with, and in the future, we’ll discuss whether it could have been done differently or not. But I hold no grudge.”
Wolff admits he was not sure what had prompted Hamilton to leave Mercedes so soon after signing his new contract.
“I can’t tell you exactly. I only know that we were very aligned when we went into the Christmas period in what we said publicly and within the team. Why that changed afterward? You’ll have to ask him! But as I’ve said, the idea of the last challenge before closing his F1 career makes sense.”
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