Mercedes boss Toto Wolff surprised at Lewis Hamilton move to Ferrari but 'holds no grudge'

Seven-time world champion will leave Silver Arrows at end of 2024 season

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff admitted he was surprised when Lewis Hamilton told him of his intention to join Ferrari but insisted there is “no grudge” between them.

It was announced on Thursday that seven-time world champion Hamilton was to end his 11-year association with Mercedes at the end of the 2024 season.

And Wolff told reporters in a video call on Friday that while the switch to Ferrari was not a shock, as a topic discussed between them over the years, the timing came as a surprise.

“Formula One and my previous life have made me resilient to surprises. I've been confronted so many times in my life with black swans, but it was a surprise,” said the Austrian.

“We knew that maybe it could be a year, it could be two,” he said of the two year contract extension with a release clause that Hamilton and Mercedes signed only last August.

“The surprise was that I've heard the rumours a couple of days earlier but wanted to wait for the breakfast we had planned and that was Wednesday morning. This was when he broke the news.”

Wolff said Hamilton, 39, came to his house in Oxford and told him he needed a new challenge.

“He said to me that he has decided to race for Ferrari in 2025. And that was basically it. We had a good hour of conversation.

“How he framed it to me is perfectly understandable … that he was looking for a different environment and that it was maybe the last possibility to do something else.

“We are big boys. 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's taken the option to exit.

“In the future we will discuss whether this could have been done in a different way but I hold no grudge.”

Wolff also admitted on Friday Hamilton's decision had come too late for them to look at some obvious contenders, with McLaren's Lando Norris and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc signing new contracts last month.

“The timing bit us a bit,” he said. “But I always like change because change provides you the opportunity.”

The open driver market for 2025 still left plenty of options, with more than half the grid currently out of contract at the end of 2024.

Having race winner George Russell under contract also made the decision on the second seat “much more comfortable” and very different to 2016, when Nico Rosberg stunned F1 by retiring days after winning the title for Mercedes.

“Maybe it's a chance to do something bold,” suggested Wolff, who said Russell had the potential to be the team's next big driver after “going to-to-toe” with Hamilton.

“He is of the generation of Lando and Leclerc and some of the others and I couldn't wish for a (better) new team leader when Lewis leaves.

“We have such a solid foundation, such a quick and talented and intelligent guy in the car that we just need to take the right choice for the second seat. And that's not something I want to be rushed in.”

Meanwhile, said that he was “excited” and that the “time was right” for a move but the question remains whether his gamble, announced will pay off on the track.

Like Mercedes, Ferrari have not been able to keep pace with Red Bull in recent seasons. While Hamilton climbed from sixth in 2022 to third overall last season, Ferrari's star Charles Leclerc went the other way, dropping from second to fifth.

The Italian team's only real cheer in 2023 came when Carlos Sainz, the man who will make way for Hamilton, won in Singapore.

In a sport of large egos, Hamilton and Leclerc will have to find a way to work together.

The long-bubbling speculation linking Hamilton to the team of Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and Juan Manuel Fangio, exploded at the Monaco Grand Prix last May.

Sitting alongside Hamilton at a press conference, Leclerc was asked what he looked for in a teammate. He giggled and glanced across at the Briton.

“Hello Lewis,” he said. “I mean, a fast teammate, like everybody. We are in Formula One, and we love to be fighting against the best.

“I think anybody on the grid will love to have Lewis as a teammate, as everybody will learn a lot from him.”

Updated: February 03, 2024, 6:42 AM