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‘I didn’t see it coming’ – Toto Wolff on facing up to losing Lewis Hamilton
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‘I didn’t see it coming’ – Toto Wolff on facing up to losing Lewis Hamilton

After what might be considered an enormously long honeymoon period, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are now handling the breakup. Yet on the eve of the British Grand Prix, the team principal, Toto Wolff, believes the relationship he and his team have forged with the seven-time champion will yet last the ages.

This weekend’s race will be Hamilton’s last for Mercedes at Silverstone as his move to Ferrari at the end of the season marches inexorably closer. He and Wolff both joined the team in 2013 and enjoyed unprecedented success together, Hamilton taking six titles and Mercedes eight constructors’ championships.

What has been most notable however is how close the pair have become over those 12 seasons; beyond the professional to a personal friendship, a bond highly unusual between principal and driver.

Little wonder then that when Hamilton told Wolff he was leaving before the season began it was painful. “I was surprised about the timing when he told me, I didn’t see it coming,” says Wolff. “That stung a bit.”

Time has been a healer and now almost at the midpoint of the season, Wolff and Hamilton have had the chance to adjust to their new circumstances. Hamilton in leaving the team with whom many had assumed he would see out his career and Wolff to a future without their talismanic driver and indeed, his friend.

Speaking before this weekend’s race, Wolff believes they have both adapted with maturity and care. “It’s almost like we are a couple that are working on it,” he says, “We have to actively, when you know you need to make sure the relationship works well and I think we are doing it from both sides.

“My motto is play hard, forgive quickly and apologise when you are wrong. So it’s not changed my feelings for him as a friend because I forgive quickly. My personal relationship to him is going to be much less affected than one would think.”

At Silverstone this week Hamilton was once more asked whether he was being edged sideways by the team. The process of beginning to exclude a driver from sensitive information relating to next year’s car but the 39-year-old insisted that his relationship with them remained entirely positive.

“I haven’t been excluded from any meetings,” he said. “We’re still working on this car and trying to get the car to the front, so it’s still very collaborative.”

Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff celebrate together on the podium in IstanbulView image in fullscreen

They will probably struggle to make the front at Silverstone where Red Bull and McLaren will have the advantage on the sweeping high-speed corners of the circuit. Nonetheless that they are still working well together is a point Wolff maintains has been a key part of the team beginning to unlock the pace in their car over recent races having stalled so badly since the regulation changes of 2022.

“If you asked me when Lewis said he was leaving how the year would be, it would have ingredients of it being awkward,” he says. “But since the car launch it has not been awkward at all. He has been a great contributor to the team’s resurrection. The dynamic and spirit in the team is high.”

Conjecture has been rife as to the reasons behind Hamilton’s decision to call it a day with Mercedes, with the team’s poor performances since 2022 considered a contributory factor. Yet Wolff will not allow himself to dwell on what might have been.

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“I never have regrets,” he says. “Things happen for a reason, people take decisions for good or bad. I always look at the opportunities, even though they look like a curveball. All of us here like the challenge of something new.

“I don’t see this as a goodbye from the Mercedes family, because he will always be part of that, part of our legacy and part of our history, something to be proud of.”

For Hamilton the British GP is always a homecoming, a celebration in which he takes genuine pleasure and he still speaks fondly of how he began to establish a relationship with the fans at his first win here, a masterclass in the rain in 2008.

He was in a league of his own that year, finding grip and pace where others were pirouetting off track with abandon in conditions the British driver seemed to thrive on. Hamilton has a poor memory of races but when asked this week, he recalled instantly that he won by a whopping 68 seconds that day.

“2008 will always be probably the most special, my first Grand Prix win here in the rain and my first real, I would say, engagement or the beginning of the journey with the fans here,” he said.

So it is a farewell to Silverstone with the silver arrows before a return in the red of the prancing horse next season. A poignant moment for Mercedes and Hamilton but as Wolff concedes, as nothing to when they bid goodbye at the close of the season.

“Will it be emotional at Silverstone? I can’t judge that,” he says. “But I think it will be emotional for the team and Lewis when it comes to the last race. That will not be an easy thing.”

Source: theguardian.com