Toto Wolff says that Lewis Hamilton’s switch to Ferrari was not a surprise for Mercedes and insists that he does not hold a “grudge” against the seven-time world champion for leaving for a rival.
On Thursday, Ferrari announced that Hamilton would join the team for the 2025 season, despite the Briton having signed a contract extension with Mercedes just five months earlier.
Speaking to the media in a virtual briefing on Friday, Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, explained that the nature of the agreement with Hamilton, which includes a termination clause after the 2024 season, left him in little doubt that what will end as a partnership of 12 years are coming to an end.
“When I signed the contract with Lewis, I opted for a shorter term. So the events are not a surprise, maybe just the timing,” he said.
Asked what had changed since Hamilton’s final contract with Mercedes was announced on August 31, Wolff replied: “I can’t tell you exactly. We were very aligned going into the Christmas period and I think I said that publicly and within the team. You have to ask Lewis why he changed his mind,” Wolf said.
“The way he presented the situation to me is perfectly understandable, that he needed a new challenge, that he was looking for a different environment and that it was perhaps the last possibility to do something else,” the official said.
Hamilton, who has won six of his seven drivers’ titles at Mercedes, has received a “multi-year” offer from Ferrari that will keep him on the grid until at least 2026, a little further into the future than they were willing to accept. his current employers are hiring.
“We’re big boys,” Wolff said. “We knew that by signing a short-term contract it could be beneficial for both parties. We couldn’t commit for a long period of time, and he took his option to leave. We fully respect the fact that he can change his mind, there are different circumstances. And to go to Ferrari maybe for the latter part of his career, maybe rolling the dice a bit – I can agree. Clearly the timing was surprising for us. But I think what he tried to do is maybe to give us plenty of time to decide what we want to do next year, moving forward.”
As for why Mercedes were unwilling to commit to Hamilton, Wolff said the team wanted to keep its own options open in the driver market, hinting that it was interested in Lando Norris from McLaren and Hamilton’s future teammate at Ferrari, Charles Leclerc, both signing contract extensions last week.
“When we decided, Lewis and I, to go for a very short-term contract, we knew why we were doing it,” said Wolff. “And it was to leave options open for you and at the same time for us. There is an interesting situation at the end of 2024 with some drivers becoming available. Others have just signed a few weeks ago – so they would have been opportunities. So that moment, if it had been six weeks earlier, there would have been more opportunities, but it is what it is.”
Wolff, who developed a close relationship with Hamilton during their time working together, is adamant that the friendship will last and that there is “no grudge”.
Wolff revealed that Hamilton informed him on Wednesday, at breakfast at the Austrian’s home, about his 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 do we handle it this season, going forward? And what are we going to do about pilots? The team mind kicked in. Now, after a few nights sleep, I realize that this means our professional journey is over, but it doesn’t mean our personal relationship is over. I’ve found a friend , we have built a relationship over the last 10 years. He faced a very, very difficult situation, making a decision, perhaps for the first time in 10 years, without being able to brainstorm with me. Therefore, I will always respect the difficulty of the situation with that he faced. In the future, we’ll discuss whether or not this could have been done differently, but I don’t hold a grudge against him,” Wolf added.
As he turns his attention to finding a new team-mate for George Russell for the 2025 season, Wolff insists he is not “personally hurt” by Hamilton’s departure.
“It doesn’t hurt, because I have to keep calm and decide how we can best manage the 2024 season and what are the decisions that need to be made next. It’s not like someone I like a lot is going away, it’s just that the team is changing.” , he said.
“We were very aware when signing the contract that it could happen. Maybe the moment was a surprise, but I had many black swans that swam in front of me, unexpected. And I think that in F1 it is about agility, the ability to embrace the change in circumstances,” he added.