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‘I hold no grudge’ – Wolff on Hamilton’s Ferrari move, how he was told and the search for a replacement

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto
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Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton sat down for breakfast in Wolff’s home in Oxford, UK, on Wednesday morning. The meeting had been in the diary for a while, pencilled in as their annual get-together.

Typically, this catch-up acts as their first face-to-face meeting after parting ways to head off for winter break and recharge ahead of the following season. They would then discuss their year ahead.

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But as Wolff said on Friday – speaking for the first time since the news broke that Hamilton was leaving after more than a decade to join Ferrari for 2025 – this breakfast turned out to be very different.

“What happened is that we got together for coffee in my place in Oxford, with him returning to the factory [this week], and he said to me that he has decided to race for Ferrari in 2025,” said Wolff. “That was basically it and we had a good hour of conversation and this is where we are.”

Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes before the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in Spa,

Lewis Hamilton will make a sensational switch to Ferrari for the 2025 season

Wolff didn’t try to hide the fact he was surprised by the news. After all, Wolff said they were “very aligned” when they headed off on holidays last winter.

Even when he heard rumours a few days before, it didn’t trouble him too much as he admitted he was happy to wait until their prearranged meeting to discuss.

“In a way, Formula 1 and my previous life have made me imperious to surprises,” said Wolff. “I’ve been confronted so many times in my life with black swans that it was a surprise, but we went open-eyed into this phase of our relationship. We knew that it could be a year, it could be two; we knew that it would come to an end at the latest the end of 2025.

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“The surprise was that I heard the rumours a couple of days earlier, but I wanted to wait for the breakfast we had planned. This is when he broke the news.

“But you know with me you can be very straightforward, because I’m straightforward too, so once he said: ‘this is what I’m trying to do’, that was the fact and I didn’t try to convince him otherwise, but just looking forward: ‘OK, what are we doing about communications? What’s the timing? How do we protect the team best? And how do we protect this 2024 year to be successful together with our two drivers without causing too much awkwardness?’”

Toto Wolff speaks out about Hamilton's shock exit from Mercedes

Wolff taking pragmatic approach to news

Wolff and Hamilton became friends very quickly in their 12-year-long professional relationship, so you imagine it will have hurt the Mercedes team boss that his star driver wanted a break-up. Wolff, though, said it didn’t because he needed “to keep calm” and manage the 2024 season. His executive mindset kicked in.

“When he told me first, my next thought was pragmatic, what does it mean? When are we communicating this? What are the pressure points? How are we managing this season going forward, and what is it we are going to do in terms of driver line-up,” he said.

“That was the mind, the Mercedes, the team’s mind, kicked in. Now, having slept a few nights on it, it means that our professional journey comes to an end, working together, but it doesn’t mean that our personal relationship ends.

“I’ve found a friend, we’ve built a relationship over the last 10 years, and he faced a very, very difficult situation, taking a decision of where to drive, maybe for the first time since 10 years without being able to brainstorm with me. And therefore, I will always respect the difficulty of the situation that he faced. And in the future, we will discuss whether this could have been done in a different way or not. But I hold no grudge.”

ANALYSIS: Why Hamilton decided now was the time to jump from Mercedes to Ferrari

Short deal was designed to give both sides options

When Mercedes came to renew Hamilton’s contract, there were differences in what each side wanted. Hamilton is understood to have been keen for a three-year deal, Mercedes wanted to offer only one to keep their options open.

They knew that, at some point, they would have to switch Hamilton out to bring the next generation in. So, they agreed on a one plus one contract, a guaranteed year with options on both sides to extend it into the next season. It was a risky approach, but one that made sense given what Mercedes was trying to manage.

“When we decided Lewis and us to go for a short-term contract, we knew why we were doing it,” said Wolff. “It is to leave him options open and at the same time us. It’s an exciting situation at the end of 2024 with some drivers becoming available, others just signed a few weeks ago (Charles Leclerc extended with Ferrari and Lando Norris did the same with McLaren) so these ones would have been opportunities.

“If it was six weeks earlier, there would have been more opportunities, but it is what it is. But in 2025 and beyond, the driver market is very interesting and we need to look out to the future. Who is it that we can partner with George? What’s the best combo? What’s the best combination? And I think in terms of the drivers who could hopefully join, that could join, there are a variety of options. At that stage, I wouldn’t want to commit to 'this is when we’re going to do it'. I want to take my time.”

Stars & Cars, Stuttgart, 29.11.2014 Pressekonferenz Christian "Toto" Wolff Lewis Hamilton (Photo by

Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton (pictured here in 2014) have enjoyed tremendous success together at Mercedes

The search for a replacement begins

While Leclerc and Norris are tied up – along with reigning world champion Max Verstappen – for the foreseeable future, Mercedes do still have a plethora of options available to find a team mate for George Russell.

They could do a straight swap and draft in Carlos Sainz, whose seat Hamilton is taking, or the highly-rated Alex Albon if they can extricate him from a contract that is believed to run to the end of 2025. Double world champion Fernando Alonso is available, as is Esteban Ocon – whose career is still managed by Mercedes despite him driving for Alpine.

Wolff could even recall Valtteri Bottas, who played a key role in Mercedes’ streak of constructors’ championship, or tempt race winner Daniel Ricciardo. For now, though, Wolff is remaining tight-lipped on their plans.

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“First of all, having George in the seat is great for the team,” he said. “He’s been going toe to toe with Lewis the last two seasons. There was nothing between them and knowing that we have a driver at that level makes the decision for the second seat much more comfortable.

“I haven’t really properly reflected with the team on where we want to go. From a rookie to very experienced because I don’t know yet what is the best for any potential driver coming or for the team going forward.

“Let me say if you told me two days ago that Lewis would be going to Ferrari I didn’t think it was possible. Situations and things can change quickly. Contracts are only as good as the driver or the teams want to race and who knows what’s happening in the driver market that could be unexpected or opportunities for us.”

George Russell of Mercedes during the Formula 1 post-season test at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu

Focus will now turn to who will race alongside George Russell for Mercedes from 2025

He added: “I’m really looking forward in taking the right decisions for the team together with my colleagues in who’s going to be in the seat next year, and maybe it’s a chance to do something bold.”

Mercedes junior Kimi Antonelli has been making a name for himself in junior formulae, the Italian skipping F3 to make his debut in F2 – which is one level below F1 – this season.

The thinking is that providing he continues on this curve, he’ll be in Formula 1 in the near future – and ideally in a Silver Arrow. If he is successful this year, he could in theory step up next year. Wolff, though, moved to cool talk of the team’s protégé’s future.

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“Kimi has been with Mercedes since he was 11,” he said. “He's been in the junior programme and his career was very successful. I think most important at that stage is he focuses on F2.

“If we start to spin his mind or unleash rumours that’s not going to help his F2 campaign. He’s just stepped out of karts a few years ago. He’s not even 18. I would rather not start any speculation about Kimi going into F1 at this stage.”

Instead, Wolff was keen to move the focus back onto the here and now and the prospect of running Hamilton alongside Russell for one final season.

“We need to say our main focus is on the 2024 season now,” he said. “We have two excellent drivers, we have Lewis in his final year at Mercedes and George, eager to go back in the car and perform. We need to put the car on the track that has more pace than last year’s car and we know how difficult it will be to compete, not only with Red Bull but also the other ones.”

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