Last week, just before Saturday’s qualifying session in Austria, Lewis Hamilton put pen to paper extending his stay at the Silver Arrows until 2023.
Both parties were keen on avoiding the same issues occurred last year: it took until January 2021 and an incredibly long number of articles, rumours and tweets before the British champion and Mercedes got into a deal for this season. Team Principal Toto Wolff expressed his wish to “get the contract out of the way” before the summer break this time – and so it was.
During the prolonged contract chats last season, there were endless speculative stories about salary demands – all of which Mercedes always denied. This time around, however, things were done “more quickly”, explained Wolff. There were “no sticking points” on money or any other topic.
“Because our discussions extended so long during the winter, we knew what was important for Lewis, Lewis knows what our boundaries are. There was no need to negotiate again, we already knew everything,” he said, “there was no difficult decision around money or terms”.
“It was basically a matter of copy and paste the previous contract and extending the terms to two more years”
“It was more about what activities we want to deploy, continue our foundation work, and carve that in the right way. And it was pretty much it.”
Mercedes Team Boss’ was asked whether Hamilton’s decision to stay in Formula One was dictated by the big regulatory change that will hugely modify the sport starting from next season.
“I think he never wanted to stop competing in Formula One”, Wolff said, “obviously you must always have options but he stopping was never an option”.
“It is clear that he's well informed and well aware of what's happening around the 2021 car, he knows our structure and has the confidence in what we do. Even if it is difficult there's still the wish of going forward”.
When the new deal expires, Hamilton will be one week short of 39 years old, but Wolff does not think that’ll be the end of the road for him.
“I’m pretty sure it’s not his last contract,” Wolff told Formula1.com, “I think he always flirts with the thought that this may be the last contract and in a way, it keeps the options open for the mind. [But] no that’s not going to be his last.”
Moreover, Wolff is convinced that with the change in rules coming up in 2022, “stability's important”.
“His experience, his speed, and having that in the team is really a great asset,” the Austrian Boss claimed.
The journey continues. ❤️— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) July 3, 2021
Lewis and Toto reflect on the new two-year extension, continuing a relationship that has become the most successful team and driver pairing in @F1 history! 👊 pic.twitter.com/bUZMggGFHl
If last year the disrupted calendar and the unpredictability of living in the midst of a global pandemic had been a big factor in deferring negotiations, this time around, Mercedes has found itself struggling to keep up with Max Verstappen and Red Bull. The challenge posed to the Silver Arrows’ dominance, which has been going on for the last seven years, has probably encouraged them to get the talks off the agenda as soon as they could.
“In a way, the tough championship has ignited even more fun with us to fight. Next year looks really exciting” explained Wolff.
“We talked about retirement and certainly it’s important to always have that flirt with retirement but equally be in control of your own destiny.
“And I think at that stage there is so much passion for the sport that I can see him going for a while.”
Lastly, Wolff was asked about the choice of Lewis’ teammate. Valtteri Bottas’ contract is due to expire at the end of this season and everyone in the paddock is speculating about George Russell being handled the Fin’s seat.
Russell has shown his worth several times this season – bringing his Williams into Q3 and almost achieving his first point in Formula One – and Toto Wolff admitted: “he [Russell] has done really well last week and even yesterday. The problem Williams had to their PU prevented him from getting to points and that’s a shame”.
“He’s not only very quick but also gentle with the tyres. So he’s doing everything he’s expected to do and probably something more.”
In terms of the timetable, Wolff expects “that decision” on who is going to occupy the second Mercedes seat is “going to be made during the summer” and “hopefully we’ll get it sorted before the end of the season”.