(Brackley) Lewis Hamilton surprised Toto Wolff when he announced at a lunch that he was joining Ferrari, but the Mercedes Formula 1 team principal said there were ‘no hard feelings’ between them, Friday.
Wolff was well aware of the rumors pointing to Hamilton’s departure, but he wasn’t convinced until the seven-time world champion formally confronted him with the announcement on Wednesday at his home in Oxford, United Kingdom. .
Hamilton will leave Mercedes for Ferrari at the end of the 2024 season. The Briton has been at the wheel of a Mercedes since 2013 and has won six of his seven crowns with the British team.
“The surprise was that I heard the rumors a few days earlier, but I wanted to wait until the breakfast we had planned, and it was Wednesday morning,” Wolff said. That’s when he broke the news.
“But, you know, you can be very direct with me because I am too. So once he said, “this is what I’m trying to do,” it was a fact. I didn’t try to convince him to stay. »
Wolff added that he still considers Hamilton a friend. “In the future we will discuss whether it could have been done differently or not, but I hold no hard feelings about it. »
The shock was real within the team. Wolff notably recounted how Hamilton’s longtime race engineer, Peter Bonnington – known as Bono in their radio conversations during races – responded, “Is it the 1er april ? » when he was told Hamilton was leaving.
Hamilton agreed to a two-year contract extension with Mercedes last summer, but included an escape clause after the first season.
The fact that Hamilton was looking for a new challenge was no surprise to Wolff, but the timing was. He said Hamilton was “rolling the dice” as the 39-year-old wants a chance to win an eighth world championship.
“We knew that by signing a short-term contract, it could be beneficial for both parties. We couldn’t commit for a longer period and he decided to leave. We totally respect the fact that you can change your mind, these are different circumstances. »
Mercedes will now be able to take their time to decide on Hamilton’s successor, who will team up with Briton George Russell next year. Wolff made a connection with the sudden departure of Nico Rosberg, who announced his retirement days after being crowned champion, in 2016.
“I always liked changes because change gives you opportunities, as was the case with Nico’s situation. And it was just as unexpected. »
Hamilton has not won a race since 2021, when he came close to winning the title ahead of Dutchman Max Verstappen. Since then, Mercedes has had difficulty adapting to the new regulations, which rely on ground effect.
In 2026, during Hamilton’s second season with Ferrari, new changes could once again shake up the established order within the peloton.
With this in mind, Wolff sees no problem with involving Hamilton in the development of the car. He has “no doubt” about Lewis’ integrity in sharing information.