Mercedes boss Toto Wolff explains the team’s decision to sign a one-year deal with Lewis Hamilton, adding on veto rumors, 2022, and more.
Hamilton’s contract, valid for only one season, came as a surprise when it was announced on Monday, with many expecting a contract which would include the 2022 season – the first year of the new regulatory era.
However, Wolff explains that team prioritized the 2021 contract after discussions became delayed late in the season, and so they’ve yet to strike a deal for the 2022 season. The Austrian thereby suggests that the one-year contract was not the product of an unwillingness to work continue to work together into 2022, as some have suggested.
“We jointly agreed on a one-year deal,” Wolff said to media including F1, Sky Sports, RTL, Motorsport Network, Racefans.net and more, also dispelling a rumor that Mercedes had forced Hamilton into such an arrangement. “First of all, there is a substantial regulation change in 2022. We also want to see how the world develops, and the company.
“Plus on the other side, it’s because we kept it very late. We wanted to discuss the contract at the end of the season between the Bahrain races and then obviously, Lewis didn’t feel well. And in the end, we started our conversation, just before Christmas. So it was important to get it done as soon as possible.
“And in that respect, we thought, let’s postpone the discussion about 2022 and onwards to a later stage in 2021. There are uncertainties in the world that affect the way that the sport can operate, that have an influence on our revenue, TV monies, and on sponsorship income. Daimler, Mercedes, is in a huge transformation towards electric mobility and that means investments.
“So we are living in a financial reality that is very different to what it was a few years ago. But having said that, we are totally inline, Lewis and me and the wider group at Mercedes about the situation. So there was never any discrepancy in opinion. It was just that we felt we could get a good signature on the 2021 contract because we just need to get going and then find some time during 2021, earlier than this time around, to discuss the future.
“And it’s not only specifically to 2022, but also beyond. And that is not something that we wanted to carve out via videoconferencing between Christmas and the end of January,” Wolff expressed, adding that there was never a moment that they thought Hamilton will not race for them, it was just about time.
He further dismissed the notion of a teammate veto – one which would have ostensibly been put in place to prevent the signing of Max Verstappen during Hamilton’s tenure – among other things. “There was never a moment where we thought he wouldn’t sign and there was never a moment where he doubted,” said Wolff.
“On the specific clauses that were out there in the media, I don’t know where they came from because none of that is true. I actually read about this, and I found it interesting, but the truth is that there was not one second of discussion about any driver specific clause,” Wolff insisted, going on to call the speculation ‘baseless’.
“He has never asked for that in the last eight years. And it’s a team decision. And the other clause about a revenue share. That came out of nowhere. That rumour was baseless, too. So none of that was ever part of our discussions.” Wolff adds that Mercedes intend to avoid delaying 2022’s contract negotiations as they did those of 2021.
Last year, the team’s plans to begin negotiations at the tail end of the season became derailed when Hamilton’s COVID infection meant he missed the Sakhir GP, before the Abu Dhabi GP and subsequent holidays made holding discussions remarkably difficult.
He says a decision to avoid this mistake was agreed upon by all involved parties. “It’s always tricky to find some time, whilst racing, but we have learned the lesson that there could be external factors that can delay discussions and we don’t want to end up in January again,” said Wolff.
“So probably we are going to pick up chatting about 2022 much earlier. We agreed jointly that we don’t want to drag it on as much or as long as we did this time around and we are going to try and find some time together during the season,” Wolff said, the contract’s contents and negotiations having been the center of a media frenzy in the off-season.
Elaborating on the 2022 discussions, Wolff stated that their first priority will be Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, even though there is the wave of George Russell. “Lewis needs to decide what his future holds for him,” the Austrian said. “Valtteri and Lewis have our 100 per cent commitment and loyalty for 2021, we will support them with everything we have.
“We will then look beyond this year and say: ‘what is the line-up that we imagine in 2022 and onwards?’ “Our first discussions are going to be with Valtteri and Lewis in respecting our values of loyalty and integrity but on the other side the young drivers are the future and therefore we need to consider how we want to set ourselves up for the years beyond,” summed up Wolff.
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