Updated February 3rd, 2024 at 10:25 IST
Lewis Hamilton's departure a 'surprise' at breakfast meet, says Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff
Toto Wolff claimed he had heard rumours about Hamilton's departure but didn't know for sure until the F1 legend confirmed it during a breakfast meeting at his Oxford, England, home on Wednesday.
Lewis Hamilton surprised Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff when he broke the news over breakfast that he was leaving the F1 team for Ferrari, Wolff said Friday.
Wolff said he had heard rumors that Hamilton might leave but didn't know for sure until the F1 great confirmed it in a meeting over breakfast on Wednesday at Wolff's home in Oxford, England.
Hamilton is leaving Mercedes at the end of the upcoming season to join Ferrari for 2025 in a move announced Thursday. Hamilton has raced for Mercedes since 2013 and won six of his seven titles with the team.
“The surprise was that I've heard the rumors a couple of days earlier but wanted to wait for the breakfast we had planned, and it was Wednesday morning, and this is when he broke the news,” Wolff said Friday.
“But, you know, you can be very straightforward with me because I'm very straightforward too. So once he said, ‘This is what I’m trying to do,' that was the fact. I didn't try to convince him otherwise.”
Hamilton only finalized a two-year extension with Mercedes at the end of August but is activating a release clause that allows him to leave after a year.
Wolff said the fact Hamilton was seeking a new challenge wasn't a surprise but the timing was. He suggested Hamilton might be “rolling the dice” as the 39-year-old seeks another shot at what would be his eighth F1 title.
“We knew that by signing a short-term contract, it could be of benefit for both sides. We couldn’t commit for a longer period and he is taking the option to exit. We totally respect that you can change your mind, it’s different circumstances," he said.
Mercedes can now take its time deciding on a new driver to partner George Russell for next year, Wolff added.
Hamilton has been linked with Mercedes for most of his life, ever since he signed with McLaren as a 13-year-old champion in karting. Mercedes was McLaren's engine supplier at the time and Hamilton was part of what was then known as the McLaren-Mercedes program for developing young drivers.
In more recent times, Mercedes has also been a key supporter of Hamilton's efforts to improve diversity in F1. In 2021, he and the team joined together to set up the Ignite initiative to give more opportunities for people from a diverse range of backgrounds who are looking to enter careers in areas like motorsport, science and engineering.
Published February 3rd, 2024 at 10:25 IST