Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff admitted Lewis Hamilton’s decision to join Ferrari in 2025 was a “surprise” but said it could be an opportunity to “do something bold”. .
Hamilton, 39, only signed a new two-year contract with Mercedes in August last year.
Over a scheduled breakfast at the Austrian’s home on Wednesday, he announced his decision to leave Wolff after 11 years.
Wolff said he held “no grudge” against the seven-time world champion and had no intention of changing his mind.
“He felt a change was needed, and I understand that,” Wolff said Friday.
“We have had great success. When we decided to sign a short-term contract, we shared the view that there might be an opportunity for him and us.
“Maybe one of the things to consider was the opportunity to sign a long-term contract with Ferrari and take on a big challenge at the end of my career.
“We have been through a sensational journey together that will go down in the history books and we want to finish on a high note regarding his performance.” [Mercedes] Although the career is over, we will build on another stage of success and look back on this very good time with Lewis. ”
“Our professional journey has ended – but I have found a friend”
Wolff oversaw six of Hamilton’s world titles since the start of his relationship with Mercedes in 2013, and led the team to unprecedented success with eight consecutive constructors’ titles from 2014 to 2021. paved the way for the period.
The 52-year-old said Hamilton’s partnership with Mercedes was “the most successful in the history of the sport” when the team confirmed the driver’s departure on Thursday.
Wolff said he had heard rumors about Hamilton’s future earlier this week, but wanted to wait until he had a chance to hear it in person.
“We met for coffee at my house in Oxford and he told me he had decided to race a Ferrari in 2025 and that was basically it. We talked for about an hour,” Wolff said.
“F1 has made me more tolerant of surprises. [But] That was a surprise. Once he said, “This is what I’m going to do,” and that’s what it was. I didn’t try to convince him otherwise.
“This means our professional journey ends, but it doesn’t mean our personal relationship ends. I found a friend. We have been together for the past 10 years. We have built a relationship over the years.
“He was facing a very difficult situation. It’s probably the first time in 10 years that he hasn’t been able to brainstorm with me,” Wolf joked.
“I will always respect the difficult situation he faced. We can discuss in the future whether it could have been resolved differently, but I will not hold a grudge.”
“Hamilton chose to roll the dice.”
Hamilton and Mercedes’ dominant partnership has wavered in recent years in the face of competition from Max Verstappen and Red Bull.
The British driver has not won a race since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The race preceded the controversial title decider in Abu Dhabi, with race directors failing to follow the rules correctly, costing Hamilton his record eighth world title.
Hamilton finished sixth in 2022 and third last season, leaving him 341 points behind champion Verstappen, who is aiming for his fourth straight driver’s title this year.
“He needed a new challenge. He was looking for a different environment and it was probably his last chance to do something else,” Wolff said.
“We knew it would be beneficial for both parties to sign a short-term contract. He has chosen to leave and we fully respect him being able to change his mind.”
“If you switch to Ferrari and roll the dice a little bit, you’ll be able to live up to your decision.”
It was only in August, after signing a new contract, that Hamilton said he and Mercedes had “unfinished business” in F1.
But Hamilton made a shocking decision in his pursuit of an eighth title, which he believes he is already entitled to. Having had time to reflect, Wolff said it was “totally understandable.”
“When we signed Lewis, we opted for a short-term contract, so this incident is not surprising, but perhaps the timing was good.” [is]” Wolff said.
“My friend side says he should win eighth place because that’s what was taken away from him. If he could win it in 2024, that would be great. But , we want to win from now on.”
“An opportunity for Mercedes to be bold”
Wolff described his initial reaction to Hamilton’s news as “realistic”, with attention rapidly turning to what decisions needed to be made in the team’s best interests.
Wolff’s focus is on a successful 2024 season before Hamilton’s departure, while Mercedes’ search has begun to identify George Russell’s next team-mate.
Wolff said this was an important opportunity to “do something bold” and hoped Mercedes would seize the opportunity to usher in a new era of success.
“In F1, it’s all about agility and being able to accept changing conditions,” Wolff said.
“George has the potential to be the team’s next lead driver. We have solid foundations so we just need to make the right choice for the second seat and that’s something I don’t want to rush into.
“It makes the decision on the second driver a lot easier because we know we have a driver at that level. From rookie to veteran, we haven’t thought about where the team is going yet.”
By informing the team of his decision before the start of the 2024 season, Hamilton has given Mercedes valuable additional time to find a replacement.
Wolff said that Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and McLaren’s Lando Norris were expected to agree new contracts recently, and that the news came too late to consider some “interesting” options, but that exciting He added that he is hopeful that opportunities will arise.
“If I had been told a few days ago that Lewis would go to Ferrari, I would have thought it was impossible. Things can change quickly. You never know what will happen in the driver market, but it is expected. It may not be possible,” Wolff said.
“At the end of 2024 drivers will be available and it’s an exciting situation. From 2025 onwards, the driver market will be very interesting.
“I always like change, because change gives you an opportunity. Maybe it’s an opportunity to do something bold.”