Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff insists he will not “hold a grudge” against Lewis Hamilton after the seven-time world champion announced he will be joining rivals Ferrari.
Hamilton is entering the first year of a new two-year deal with Mercedes worth £100million but the 39-year-old has activated a release clause in the agreement and signed a multi-year contract with Ferrari which starts in 2025.
Wolff was told of Hamilton’s decision at a breakfast meeting on Wednesday and said he made no attempt to change his star driver’s mind.
“When we signed the contract with Lewis we opted for a shorter term so the events are not a surprise, maybe the timing,” Wolff said.
“My first thought was practical. The team’s mind kicked in. When are we communicating this? What are the pressure points? How are we managing the season going forward and what are we going to do in terms of driver line-up?
“Now, having slept a few nights on it, it means our professional journey comes to an end, 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 in 10 years without being able to brainstorm with me and therefore I will always respect the difficulty of the situation that he faced.
“In the future we will discuss whether this could have been done in a different way but I hold no grudge.”
“We have 2024 together, we want to make it the most successful we can,” Wolff said.
“Is it realistic we are competing for a world championship against Max [Verstappen] in a Red Bull? If I’m a probability person the odds are against us. But nevertheless we will give it our best shot.
“There’s a friend side in me that says he should have an eighth [title] because that was taken away from him so if he wins that in 2024 that would be a great thing.
“Going forward, competing on track, I’d rather us win.”
Wolff refused to be drawn on who would replace Hamilton in 2025 but praised current team-mate George Russell as a lead driver in waiting.
“George has the potential to be the next lead driver in the team and I couldn’t wish for a [better] new team leader when Lewis leaves,” Wolff said.
“We have such a solid foundation, such a quick and talented and intelligent guy in the car. We just need to take the right choice for the second seat and it’s not something I want to be rushed in.
“I guess that a few contracts have been signed a few weeks ago that we would have looked at that could have been interesting, but in a way I always like change because change provides you opportunity.
“Maybe it’s a chance to do something bold.”
Russell tweeted his message to Hamilton on Friday morning, writing: “It’s been special racing alongside you, @lewishamilton. Let’s make this season one to remember.”