IMOLA, Italy, Nov 2 – Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff may revise his role as leader of Formula One’s record seven-time champions, but he does not believe that his glorious partnership with Lewis Hamilton is set to end.
The Austrian boss made this clear late on Sunday after the six-time champion’s record 93rd career victory clinched this season’s teams’ title – following comments by Hamilton that suggested he may be considering retirement.
“I think we go together in a way. We have symbiosis and obviously it’s important where our heart is and our mindset is for next year,” Wolf said.
“But I’ve said that this is my team. I’m in a very proud corner with Mercedes and I’m not going anywhere.
“My role may change – and that’s something that he’s asked me – and I think nothing is ever secure.
“We want to continue this journey. We are not finished. Lewis and I and all the team – we are not finished.”
Speaking earlier, after a race in which he came home ahead of his ‘Black Arrows’ team-mate Valtteri Bottas, extending his lead over him in the drivers’ title race to 85 points, Hamilton had said there was “no guarantee” he would be in F1 next year.
Asked about Wolff’s desire to put in place a long-term succession plan in readiness for his exit, Hamilton had said: “I don’t even know if I’m going to be here next year so it’s not really a concern for me at the moment.
“I’m very aware of where he is, mentally, and we share a lot of and carry a lot of the weight together I think.
“I’ve been here a long, long time. I can definitely understand wanting to pull back a little bit and giving more time to family and those things.”
– ‘Opportune moment’ –
Wolff suggested Hamilton’s comments had come “in the heat of the moment” and he went on to explain why both men had delayed signing new contracts with the team for next season and beyond.
“With Mercedes and I, we are pretty much clear. It’s just down to putting pen on the paper at the right moment,” Wolff said.
“I was concentrated on bringing these championships home and it always feels not right to spend days with lawyers and M&A [mergers and acquisitions) people when I’m so focused on just what’s happening on track.
“I think that this is where Lewis and I are very similar. It just didn’t feel the right opportune moment to sit down before those championships were done.
“There will be a moment now, when the drivers’ championship is going to be decided, to sit down. And then we have a few months before the first race happens in Australia.”
Hamilton is likely to seal his record-equalling seventh drivers’ championship triumph at the Turkish Grand Prix later this month before switching his attention to a possible new contract.
That landmark title, added to his other record achievements, will increase his commercial and professional value at a time when Mercedes, and F1, have expansive plans and a salary cap for drivers is under serious consideration.
Cynics may believe his perplexing comments on Sunday to be part of a mood-changing strategy for any upcoming contract negotiations — with the sport’s ruling bodies, as much as Mercedes, sensitive to the damage his departure would create.
If he were to walk away, it would create havoc in the drivers’ market – a possibility Mercedes may not have countenanced seriously – and leave a gaping hole at the top of the bill as the sport’s only global superstar.
There are, however, no other active multiple record-beating world champions available.