Lewis Hamilton is “disillusioned” following the events of the Formula 1 season finale but Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff hopes he will continue racing.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton missed out on an eighth world championship after being overtaken on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by Max Verstappen in a controversial conclusion created by how a late safety car period was handled.
Mercedes has dropped its appeal of the outcome of the race – even though it felt in a normal court it would have been “almost guaranteed” to win – because it does not believe that would have resulted in the outcome of the race and championship being changed.
Hamilton, who had dominated the grand prix and was minutes from a record-breaking eighth title, said the race had been “manipulated” moments before it finished and was pictured sitting in his car for two full minutes post-race as he contemplated what had happened.
Apart from a brief television appearance immediately after, in which he congratulated Verstappen and thanked his team, Hamilton has not had any media engagements or commented publicly since.
“Lewis and I are disillusioned at the moment,” said Wolff on Thursday following Mercedes’ announcement it would not pursue the appeal.
“We’re not disillusioned with the sport, we love the sport with every bone in our body and we love it because the stopwatch never lies.
“If we break that fundamental principle of sporting fairness and the authenticity of the sport, then suddenly the stopwatch doesn’t become relevant anymore because we are exposed to random decision-making.
“You start to question if all the work that you have been putting in, all the sweat, tears and blood, can actually be demonstrated in terms of bringing the best possible performances on track because it can be taken away randomly.
“It’s gonna take a long time for us to digest what has happened on Sunday. I don’t think we will ever get over it. That’s not possible and certainly not [for Lewis] as a driver.
“I would very much hope that the two of us and the rest of the team can work through the events with the FIA, together with F1, to improve the sport going forward.
“But we will never overcome the pain, the distress caused on Sunday.”
Wolff said that Mercedes’ decision to drop the appeal was decided “together with Lewis”, as was the decision to protest in the first place.
He says “neither him nor us want to win a world championship in the courtroom”, although that is no longer a possible outcome.
Hamilton signed a new two-year deal with Mercedes keeping him with the team until the end of the 2023 season.
He will be joined by George Russell next season as Mercedes begins to plan for a future without Hamilton, who will be 37 when the 2022 season begins.
“I’m in a daily dialogue with him but also respect that there’s not a lot to talk about at the moment,” said Wolff.
“Each of us copes in our own way the feelings that we have at the moment.
“I just need to do the utmost that I can to help him to overcome this pain and feelings he has in order for him to return strong with a love of the sport and can trust the decision-making of the sport next year.
“We wish very much that this will be the case.”
Wolff said the final moments of the grand prix still feel “surreal” and “like a nightmare” and that he remains in “total disbelief”.
Nicholas Latifi’s crash sparked a late safety car that eliminated Hamilton’s lead and gave Verstappen a chance to switch to fresh soft tyres.
FIA race director Michael Masi initially said the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen would not be allowed to unlap themselves, giving Hamilton a crucial buffer – but he then instructed only those five cars to unlap themselves and then gave the order for the race to resume on the final lap but only by fast-tracking the removal of the safety car.
Had the safety car period ended in the manner prescribed in the rules, the final lap would have ended under caution and Hamilton would have won the race and the championship.
“I would very much hope that Lewis continues racing because he’s the greatest driver of all time,” said Wolff.
“When you look at it from the point of view of the last four races, he was dominant on Sunday.
“There’s not even a doubt who won the race and that was worthy of winning the world championship.
“We will be working through the events over the next weeks and months. I think as a racer his heart will say ‘I need to continue’ because he’s at the peak of his game.
“We have to overcome the pain that was caused upon him on Sunday, also because he is a man with clear values and it’s difficult to understand that that happened.”