Mercedes Formula One principal Toto Wolff said Lewis Hamilton’s decision to move to Ferrari in 2025 took the team by surprise and revealed the seven times world champion announced the decision to him over breakfast at the boss’s home.
The move that rocked the sport was announced to the world by both teams on Thursday evening, a day after the Briton had informed Wolff.
The Austrian told reporters in a video call on Friday that while the switch to Ferrari was not a shock, as a topic discussed between them over the years, the timing came as a surprise.
“Formula One and my previous life have made me resilient to surprises. I’ve been confronted so many times in my life with black swans, but it was a surprise,” said the Austrian.
“We knew that maybe it could be a year, it could be two,” he said of the two year contract extension with a release clause that Hamilton and Mercedes signed only last August.
“The surprise was that I’ve heard the rumours a couple of days earlier but wanted to wait for the breakfast we had planned and that was Wednesday morning. This was when he broke the news.”
Wolff said Hamilton, 39, told him he needed a new challenge.
“He said to me that he has decided to race for Ferrari in 2025. And that was basically it. We had a good hour of conversation.
“How he framed it to me is perfectly understandable… that he was looking for a different environment and that it was maybe the last possibility to do something else.
“We totally respect that you can change your mind with different circumstances.”
Wolff, who addressed the team via video link on Thursday, said he had not tried to persuade Hamilton to change his mind.
He said Hamilton’s race engineer Peter ‘Bono’ Bonnington replied “Is it April 1?” when told the news. Wolff added that whether the engineer went with Hamilton to Ferrari was to be discussed.
The principal indicated Mercedes could be ‘bold’ in their choice of replacement and said change also brought new opportunities.
Mercedes failed to win a race last season although they finished overall runners-up to rampant Red Bull and Max Verstappen.
Wolff said he had no bad feelings towards Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur, an old friend, for luring away his driver and recognised Formula One was a cut-throat environment at all levels.
“It’s a little bit like rugby. We punch each other on the nose but we are able to get off the pitch and have a respectful relationship,” he added.
Wolff said his personal relationship with Hamilton would also remain intact, even if their professional journey together would end.
“I’ve found a friend,” he said. “We’ve built a relationship over the last 10 years and he faced a very, very difficult situation taking a decision of where to drive, maybe for the first time since 10 years without being able to brainstorm with me.
“I will always respect the difficulty of the situation that he faced and in the future we will discuss whether this could have been done in a different way or not. But I hold no grudge.”