Wolff on Hamilton's future: 'Lewis and I are disillusioned – but I hope he continues'

Toto Wolff says he understands and feels the pain that Lewis Hamilton is currently in, but that he finds the motivation to carry on next season


Will Hamilton wave goodbye to F1 before the 2022 season?

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

So what next for Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team? Since losing at the last hurdle in Abu Dhabi on Sunday we have heard very little from him.

After telling his team on the last lap that the race had been “manipulated” he said nothing further on the radio on the slowing down lap after the flag. In parc fermé he had a brief exchange with official interviewer Jenson Button, the chat mainly consisting of praise for new world champion Max Verstappen. It was dignified and classy performance.

He then skipped the usual Sunday night FIA press conference and TV pen duties while the furore about the outcome of the race played out, and his team launched its protests and subsequently, an appeal.

On Wednesday he resurfaced in Windsor, where he received his knighthood from the Prince of Wales. It was a long-standing engagement of course, but one that would have been so much more pleasant for Lewis had he gone there as an eight-time world champion. However again, he didn’t talk, other than to HRH himself.

Lewis Hamilton receives his knighthood from Prince Charles

Prince of Wales dubs Hamilton – but still no further comment from the seven-time championship on recent events


On Thursday morning we received the formal word from Mercedes that the team was withdrawing its appeal regarding the way Sunday’s race was finished. It was the final confirmation that any hope of changing the result were over, and that Verstappen was officially world champion.

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Essentially the decision to withdraw was a response to the previous evening’s announcement from the FIA to the effect that a commission was being set up to properly investigate the events in Abu Dhabi.

Shortly after the withdrawal of the appeal was confirmed Mercedes boss Toto Wolff spoke to the media, revealing for the first time since the race his own thoughts and those of the team.

And crucially he also gave us an insight into where Hamilton’s head is at after having a few days to process what happened last weekend.

He made it crystal clear that Hamilton, who has always been a stickler for ethics and honourable behaviour in racing both on and off track, had taken Sunday night’s events hard.

“Lewis and I are disillusioned at the moment,” said Wolff. “We are not disillusioned with the sport – we love the sport with every bone in our bodies. And we love it because the stopwatch never lies.

VER Cooper

Verstappen snatched victory – and Mercedes were left stunned

Grand Prix Photo

“But if we break that fundamental principle of sporting fairness, and authenticity of the sport, then suddenly the stopwatch doesn’t become relevant anymore, because we are exposed to random decision making, then it’s clear that you may fall out of love with [the sport.]

“You start to question if all the work you have been putting in, all the sweat, tears and blood, can actually be demonstrated in terms of bringing the best possible performances on track. Because it can be taken away randomly.

“So it is going to take a long time for us to digest what has happened on Sunday. I don’t think we will ever get over it. That is not possible. And certainly not [for Lewis] as a driver.

“I would very much hope that the two of us and the rest of the team can work through the events, we can together with the FIA and F1 utilise the situation to improve the sport going forward. But we will never overcome the pain and the distress that was caused on Sunday.”

HAM Horner

Hamilton was gracious in defeat, but is still said to be in immense “pain” by Wolff

Grand Prix Photo

For the first time Wolff provided an insight into the specific frustrations of Hamilton and the team: “To be honest I still today I can’t even understand what was happening. I’m in disbelief, and for me it still feels surreal.

“And when I re-think the situation that at 18:27 the right decision was being taken, that no cars will unlap themselves, and then four minutes later out of nowhere suddenly five cars were allowed to unlap themselves between Lewis and Max, and 10 seconds later the decision was taken that the safety car would come in this lap with handful of laps left, for me that still seems like a nightmare.

“The regulations are that all cars need to unlap themselves before the race can be restarted. And only the following lap, once all cars have unlapped themselves, the safety car may come in. None of that happened.

“Randomly cars were allowed to overtake and to unlap themselves. Why was Carlos Sainz not given the opportunity to win the race? Why were the cars left in-between there? Why was the safety car pulled in against what the regulations say?

“So the ad hoc decision-making has caused this mayhem. There was a variety of possible actions that would have followed the rules.”

Five years ago, just prior to the FIA prize giving, Wolff received the bombshell news that Nico Rosberg was planning to walk away from the sport after winning the 2016 title. The team boss was left scrambling to find another driver, eventually doing a deal to take Valtteri Bottas out of Williams.

Is there a risk that Hamilton could do the same after losing in such a frustrating manner? Intriguingly Wolff did not rule it out, giving us a clear indication of just how hard Lewis must have taken his last gasp defeat.

Having thought long and hard about continuing into 2022 and the era of the new regulations, he could well be considering his future in the coming weeks. Given his superhuman levels of motivation one can imagine him bouncing back in style next year, but you never know.

“We shouldn’t fall in the trap of thinking that this is the most important thing in the world. But it’s our little microcosm.” Toto Wolff

“From a human level, it’s extremely difficult,” said Wolff. “Because it is so disappointing. As I said before, we love the sport, and suddenly, you’re starting to question. I mean, you must never lose the big context of life. This is just F1, it’s just a sport, much worse things happen out there.

“And we shouldn’t fall in the trap of thinking that this is the most important thing in the world. But it’s our little microcosm. And it’s a microcosm that we have been part of, where we have created values and beliefs. And many of those values and beliefs were kicked on Sunday.

“So I would very much hope that Lewis continues racing, because he’s the greatest driver of all time. When you look at it from the point of view of the last four races, he was dominant on Sunday. There wasn’t even a doubt who won the race. And that was worthy of winning the world championship.

Bottas Valtteri (fin), 3rd of the FIA Formula One World Championship for Drivers, portrait with Allison James (Gbr), representing the Team AMG Mercedes, Winner of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship for Teams, portrait during the 2021 FIA Prize Giving Ceremony, at the Carrousel du Louvre, on December 16 in Paris, France - Photo Frédéric Le Floch / DPPI

Mercedes technical director and third-placed Valtteri Bottas represented Mercedes at the FIA prize-giving ceremony

Frédéric Le Floch / DPPI

“So we will be working through the events over the next weeks and months. And I think as a racer his heart will say, ‘I need to continue.’ Because he’s at the peak of his game. But we have to overcome the pain that was caused upon him on Sunday. He is a man with clear values, and it’s difficult to understand that that happened.”

Pressed on what he might have to do to convince Hamilton to continue he added: “I am in daily dialogue with him, but I also respect that there is not a lot to talk about at the moment. Each of us copes in their own way, with the feelings that we have at the moment.

“And I just need to do the utmost that I can to help him to overcome these imminent feelings that he has, in order for him to return stronger, or to return strong, with a love of the sport and a trust in the decision-making of the sport next year. We wish very much that this would be the case.”

To no one’s surprise Hamilton opted to skip Thursday evening’s FIA prize giving in Paris, which is usually compulsory for the top three finishers in the championship, albeit something of a chore for those who finish second and third.

“No, both of us won’t be there,” said Wolff. “And I won’t be there because of my loyalty to Lewis, and because of my own personal integrity.

“But we will be represented as a team by James Alison, who will be taking the trophy on behalf of all the people in Brackley and Brixworth, who should celebrate our eighth consecutive World Championship title, who deserve to be celebrated, because it’s a fantastic achievement that we are very proud of.

“And in a way I’m trying to compartmentalise the anger on the outcome of the F1 drivers’ World Championship, and on the other side the pride and the joy of having achieved something unprecedented. And that needs to be celebrated.”

Wolff wasn’t asked if Mercedes as a brand had questioned its involvement in the sport. CEO Ole Kallenius was in the middle of the action in the team offices in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, and he backed the decision to protest, and he clearly won’t have enjoyed the way things panned out.

Now the FIA has to provide some answers not just on what happened last weekend, but how things can be improved.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 12: Toto Wolff, executive director of Mercedes-Benz during the Grand Prix Formula One of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Irwen Song ATPImages/Getty Images)

Wolff hopes Hamilton finds the motivation to return next year

Irwen Song ATPImages/Getty Images

“I expect the commission to not only come up with words, but with actions,” said Wolff. “And we will hold them accountable for the actions.

“Because we cannot continue in a sport that is meant to be sport followed by entertainment, and not the other way around, [and where] we are held ransom by ad hoc decisions in every field – in technical and sporting.

“And therefore there needs to be clear measures in place before the start of the season, so that every driver, every team and the fans understand what it is on, and what is not on.

“The FIA needs to decide how they are going forward. We had a good dialogue with the FIA over the last few days. The commission that it has set in place I have trust and faith that we will formulate, together with all of our competitors and the drivers and the other teams the right decisions and actions to avoid such a scenario in the future.