Toto Wolff believes Lewis Hamilton needs to consider leaving Mercedes if it fails to help him win again in Formula 1 “in a year or two”.
Hamilton is in the final year of his current Mercedes contract but is expected to agree to a new deal.
That is despite the seven-time F1 world champion still waiting for Mercedes to restore itself to its title-challenging pomp after tripping up in the first year of new technical rules in 2022 and getting it wrong again this season.
Mercedes F1 boss Wolff wants to keep Hamilton and George Russell beyond this season and believes Hamilton’s commitment is a formality, saying he is “absolutely confident” Hamilton will continue.
A new Mercedes deal could be Hamilton’s last in F1, given he turned 38 before the start of this season, and Wolff doubts Hamilton would ever leave.
“He’s at the stage of a career where we trust each other, we have formed a great bond among each other and we have no reason to doubt each other, even though this is a difficult spell,” said Wolff.
“But so nice it will be when we come out of this valley of tears and come back to solid performances.”
But Wolff has left the door open to Hamilton joining another team in the future.
“As a driver, nevertheless, if he wants to win another championship, he needs to make sure that he has the car,” Wolff continued.
“And if we cannot demonstrate that we’re able to give him a car in the next couple of years, then he needs to look everywhere.
“I don’t think he’s doing it at that stage, but I will have no grouch if that happens in a year or two.”
Wolff’s slightly different framing of his usual answer about Hamilton’s future, indicating that Hamilton may eventually have to be selfish and leave, is most likely a sincere and quite magnanimous acceptance that Hamilton has to do what is best for him.
For years, it has been a no-brainer that this means staying with Mercedes. As it continues to lag behind Red Bull and other teams in this ground-effect aero era, though, that may not remain the case long-term.
Hamilton declared ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend that he will win again in F1 and it is clear his loyalty lies with Mercedes, and his motivation to help the team become world champion again appears absolute.
But his patience is being tested the most since joining the team. Last year was the first time he failed to win a race in a season with Mercedes – and, in fact, in his entire career – and Mercedes does not look like a more competitive prospect in Saudi Arabia than in the Bahrain season opener, where it had the fourth-fastest car.
Hamilton had a particularly disappointing Friday as a chunk of time lost in the opening sector left him half a second adrift in pure laptime to Russell in FP2, while on the high fuel runs afterwards he complained he could not drive the car safely because the rear was so loose.
He cut a downbeat figure afterwards, claiming the car was “pretty much the same” as last year’s disappointing W13 – in which Hamilton was eliminated in Q1 in Saudi Arabia.
“I’m a second off or whatever it is,” he said. “I definitely struggled in the session, struggled in both sessions.
“We just continue to go into the details, try to improve the balance of the car to make it easier to drive. It’s just a tough car to drive.
“I know everyone is working so hard at the factory. Just a matter of time, have to be patient.”