Thursday’s stunning news that Lewis Hamilton will be leaving Mercedes at the end of the 2024 Formula 1 season to join Ferrari rocked not just the F1 world, but the sports world in general. The move kicks off what will be a fascinating F1 season, filled with speculation about who will step into the seat once occupied by the seven-time World Champion at Mercedes.
On Friday, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff had his first comments on the news. Wolff met with media members earlier in the day, and then sat down with CNBC’s Sara Eisen on “Squawk on the Street” to outline his thoughts on the present, and future, at Mercedes.
As Wolff noted, the decision from Hamilton to leave Mercedes at the end of 2024 was not a complete surprise.
“So last year when we signed a new deal, we wanted to keep it short to see what the future will hold. And that was an agreement we had with Lewis. We knew that this would eventually end maybe two years down the line, but we knew there was the option for a one year deal,” said Wolff. “And insofar the timing was a bit of a surprise, but the decision in itself didn’t come out of nowhere.”
In his mind, Hamilton’s decision was driven at least in part by a desire for change, and to try something new before his career winds down.
“So I think eventually a racing driver’s career ends and I believe that for Lewis he wanted some change, and he wanted to do something, to try something new. But the team has managed a situation like this before, we’ve had that change in driver lineups.
“And we have a full year to go I’m going to give it everything now,” added Wolff. “Of course, you know, on one side, you’re saying we were pushing flat out and we want to have success this year with both of are drivers but then we need to look into 2026 and 2025 and 26 and that’s going to play in our mind.”
In the hours since the stunning news broke, there has been growing speculation that Hamilton’s decision was a reflection on the W15, the team’s challenger for the upcoming F1 season. Hamilton has not won a grand prix since the end of the 2021 campaign, and the team struggled to get the physics right with the W13 (their 2022 challenger) and last season’s W14.
Wolff noted that there is a gap to Red Bull, but that the team believes they can find more performance with the W15, this season’s challenger. “Well, it’s clear when you have stable regulations is always a difficult thing to catch up with [Red Bull] … they’ve been in a league of their own and pretty much us – and we’ve finished second last year in the World Championship and then there’s Ferrari and McLaren – and we’ve just got a little ramp up the game and find more performance, more lap time. And this is what we’re going to do with George and with Lewis the car, this is the kind of the single aim I’m having at the moment when looking at the short and medium term.”
As for what the future holds, Wolff knows that he now holds the key to one of the most coveted seats in motorsport. Will the team look for a veteran option, or try and promote a younger driver from within the organization?
In Wolff’s words, the team has a chance to be “bold” with that upcoming decision.
“Yeah, as you can imagine, we’ve been looking already about the option there is – we like the opportunities and maybe we are going to be bold as well,” said the Mercedes boss.
“Yeah, I think it’s the full spectrum,” continued Wolff. “We have, as you can imagine, the first day yesterday had quite a lot of phone calls and WhatsApps. And we’re going to take our time. I think the spectrum is from the very young talent which could be the future for a long, long time to all the way to the other spectrum, lots of still performance and knowledge. So I’m not sure where this is going to end. But the next few months are going to be interesting in evaluating all those options.”
Silly season is already upon us, before the cars even have a chance to take to the track.
You can view Wolff’s entire segment on “Squak on the Street” here.