Toto Wolff: Lewis Hamilton will end career at Mercedes
Hamilton heads into tomorrow’s Monaco Grand Prix six points adrift of title rival Sebastian Vettel in his bid to become the first Briton to win four championships.
The 32-year-old is now in his fifth campaign with Mercedes – a relationship which has yielded an incredible 34 victories and two championships – but one that has not passed without controversy.
Wolff, however, is hopeful that Hamilton, who is in the second of a three-season deal, will see out his time in the sport with the Silver Arrows.
“If you would have asked me the same question one year ago, I would not have been very optimistic, but now it is different,” said Wolff. “I have the feeling that it can’t be much better in a different place. For him and for us.
“This is very strong now, and I am not speaking only about on-track performance because there are going to be difficult moments, but I am speaking about the relationship.
“After five years, this relationship has become so strong in a way that it wasn’t last season. For Lewis it will be important to see whether we are competitive or not, but at the moment there is such a solid basis that I can imagine it going on forever.”
While Hamilton has enjoyed great success in his time at Mercedes, his fractious relationship with former team-mate Nico Rosberg had a detrimental effect within the team which has dominated the sport in recent seasons.
Indeed Hamilton’s disregard of team orders at the concluding race of the season in Abu Dhabi – a race in which Rosberg ultimately clinched the title – led Wolff to suggest he could take disciplinary action against the Briton.
But Rosberg’s sudden retirement and the ensuing arrival of Valtteri Bottas has led to a change in Hamilton’s mindset, according to Wolff.
“I have known Lewis now since 2013 and he has developed every year,” Wolff added. “As a racing driver he is almost faultless.
“Definitely the biggest positive development I have seen between 2013 and now happened over the winter and after Nico left the team.
“Drivers are sometimes viewed within teams as contractors and they will always look after their own agenda rather than the team’s interest, but Lewis is now in his fifth year with us and that has changed. He has become a part of the team.
“I would not use the word team player because that goes against the DNA of a racing driver, but I think he has realised, acknowledged and respects the whole effort that is happening in the team. It has become natural – he towards the team, and the team towards him. We have built a trustful relationship.”
Rosberg’s sudden departure forced Mercedes to hire Bottas from Williams. The 27-year-old Finn has quietly impressed – out-qualifying Hamilton at two of the opening five rounds this season and winning the first race of his career in Russia. Bottas, however, signed only a one year-deal at Mercedes, and with Vettel’s contract up at Ferrari at the end of the season, there have been suggestions the German could join Hamilton in 2018.
“Taking Sebastian out of the equation at this stage would be silly, but equally it is not on the table right now,” Wolff said. “I don’t see a reason why Sebastian should leave a team that probably have an equal package with us at the moment.
“He would not be the only one to look at. We have our young drivers that are developing well and I like both of the Red Bull drivers. When the time comes to assess I think there could be up to ten drivers we would look at more closely.
“But if the season were to continue like it was now, with Valtteri’s performance ramping up all the time and him being an important and well-performing part of the team, I don’t see a reason for change.”