In a revealing and candid discussion, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff opened up about Lewis Hamilton’s recent announcement to join Ferrari in 2025. The revelation, marking a significant shift in Formula 1’s landscape, was delivered personally by Hamilton to Wolff who admitted he was taken by surprise.
Hamilton shocked the F1 world by announcing a decision to leave Mercedes just months after signing a new two-year deal with the Silver Arrows. The seven-time champion executed a clause in his contract to leave the team after one year, and as such will link up with Charles Leclerc at Ferrari from 2025.
According to Wolff, the decision was a surprise but not entirely unexpected due to the short-term nature of Hamilton’s most recent contract with Mercedes.
“It was a surprise,” Wolff told the press. “We went open eyes into this contract, into this phase of our relationship. And we knew maybe, you know, it could be a year could be two, we knew that it would come to an end latest at the end of 2025.
“And so the events are not a surprise, maybe the timing. So what happened is that we we got together for coffee in my place in Oxford, and him basically returning to the factory. And he said to me that he has decided to race for Ferrari in 2025.
“And that was that was basically it. Then we had a good hour of conversation. And this is where we are.
“The surprise was that I’ve heard the rumours a couple of days earlier. But wanted to wait for the breakfast we had. We had planned and it was Wednesday morning. This is when he when he broke the news.”
This contract allowed for flexibility but also acknowledged the potential for change, which ultimately culminated in Hamilton‘s decision to seek a new challenge with Ferrari.
Hamilton wanted a new challenge
Wolff recounted Hamilton‘s rationale for the move, emphasising a desire for change and new challenges as key factors in making the decision to join Ferrari.
“He felt he needed change… And I can I can understand that,” Wolff said. “We’ve been together I believe it was 12 years. I don’t know if any other driver has ever been that long with a team. We’ve had tremendous success.
“And I think we looked, we shared the opinion when we decided to sign a short term contract that the media opportunities for him and for for us.
“I think was maybe one of the consideration was the opportunity to sign a long term contract with Ferrari and give it a really big goal. At the end of his career we didn’t talk about whether the opportunity was better there, or with us, because I don’t think you can say.
“It means that our professional journey comes to an end, but it doesn’t mean that our personal relationship [ends] and I found a friend, we’ve built a relationship over the last 10 years. And he faced a very, very difficult situation.
“Taking taking a decision of where to drive, maybe for the first time since 10 years without being able to brainstorm and therefore, I will always respect the difficulty of the situation that that he faced.”
What changed for Hamilton?
Given Hamilton signed a contract with Mercedes in August 2023, and even before he had driven the new car for the 2024 F1 season, Wolff was at a loss to rationalise why Hamilton’s position on Mercedes has changed.
“I cannot tell you exactly what changed,” Wolff explained. “I only know that we were very aligned when we went into the Christmas period. And I think that we’ve said that in public and in the team.
“You need to ask Lewis why he changed his mind. How he framed it to me it’s perfectly understandable that he needed a new challenge that he was looking for, for different environment, that it was maybe the last possibility to do something else.
“We’re big boys. We knew that by signing a short term contract. It could be a benefit for both sides. We couldn’t commit for a long period. And he’s taking the option to exit. So in a way, we totally respect that.
“You can change your mind in different circumstances. And switching to Ferrari maybe for the last peak in his career, maybe rolling the dice a bit. I can follow that decision.”