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Lewis Hamilton’s departure was a ‘surprise’ at breakfast meeting, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton surprised Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff when he broke the news over breakfast that he was leaving the F1 team for Ferrari but there is “no grudge” between them, Wolff said.

Wolff said he had heard rumors that Hamilton might leave but didn’t know for sure until the F1 great confirmed it in a meeting over breakfast at Wolff’s home in Oxford, England.

Hamilton is leaving Mercedes at the end of the upcoming season to join Ferrari for 2025 in a move. Hamilton has raced for Mercedes since 2013 and won six of his seven titles with the team.

“The surprise was that I’ve heard the rumors a couple of days earlier but wanted to wait for the breakfast we had planned, and it was Wednesday morning, and this is when he broke the news,” Wolff said.

“But, you know, you can be very straightforward with me because I’m very straightforward too. So once he said, ‘This is what I’m trying to do,’ that was the fact. I didn’t try to convince him otherwise.”

Wolff added that he still considers Hamilton a friend. “In the future, we will discuss whether this could have been done in a different way or not, but I hold no grudge.”

In a glimpse into the shock within the wider Mercedes team, Wolff said Hamilton’s longtime race engineer Peter Bonnington -- known as ‘Bono’ in their conversations over the radio during races -- replied “Is it April 1?” when told Hamilton would leave.

Hamilton only finalized a two-year extension with Mercedes at the end of August but is activating a release clause that allows him to leave after a year.

Wolff said the fact Hamilton was seeking a new challenge wasn’t a surprise but the timing was. He suggested Hamilton might be “rolling the dice” as the 39-year-old driver seeks another shot at what would be his eighth F1 title.

“We knew that by signing a short-term contract, it could be of benefit for both sides. We couldn’t commit for a longer period and he is taking the option to exit. We totally respect that you can change your mind, it’s different circumstances,” he said.

Mercedes can now take its time deciding on a new driver to partner George Russell for next year, Wolff added. He likened Mercedes’ need for a new driver to dealing with the sudden departure in 2016 of Hamilton’s then-teammate Nico Rosberg, who retired from F1 days after winning the title.

“I always like change because change provides you opportunity, and in the same way we’ve embraced the Nico situation,” he said. “And that was equally like from one moment to the other, unexpected.”

Hamilton has not won a race since 2021, when he narrowly — and controversially — missed out on the title to Verstappen at the season finale in Abu Dhabi. Mercedes struggled to adapt to new “ground effect” aerodynamics reintroduced for 2022 and Russell’s victory in Sao Paulo that year is the team’s only win since then. In 2026 — which would be Hamilton’s second season of a “multi-year” deal with Ferrari — a new set of rules is expected to shake up the grid.

Wolff said he has no concerns about involving Hamilton with Mercedes’ car development, even with Hamilton due to join a rival. “I don’t have any doubt in Lewis’ integrity in terms of sharing information,” Wolff said.

Hamilton has been linked with Mercedes for most of his life, ever since he signed with McLaren as a 13-year-old champion in karting. Mercedes was McLaren’s engine supplier at the time and Hamilton was part of what was then known as the McLaren-Mercedes program for developing young drivers.

In more recent times, Mercedes has also been a key supporter of Hamilton’s efforts to improve diversity in F1. In 2021, he and the team joined together to set up the Ignite initiative to give more opportunities for people from a diverse range of backgrounds who are looking to enter careers in areas like motorsport, science and engineering.