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Lewis Hamilton: Toto Wolff says Mercedes driver's 2025 move to Ferrari was 'not a surprise' and he holds 'no grudge'

Lewis Hamilton will be leaving Mercedes at the end of the 2024 season after 12 years to join Ferrari, where he will partner Charles Leclerc in a blockbuster line-up; Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says he holds "no grudge"; watch every F1 race in 2024 live on Sky Sports F1

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Toto Wolff shares how Lewis Hamilton first told him that he would be leaving Mercedes to join Ferrari in 2025.

Toto Wolff says Lewis Hamilton's switch to Ferrari did not come as a surprise to Mercedes and insists he holds "no grudge" against the seven-time world champion for leaving to join a rival.

Ferrari on Thursday stunned the sporting world by announcing that Hamilton will join for the 2025 season, despite the Brit having just five months earlier inked an extension with Mercedes that had been expected to keep the 39-year-old with the team until the end of the 2025 campaign.

Addressing the media in a virtual briefing on Friday, Mercedes team principal Wolff explained that the nature of the deal with Hamilton, which included a break clause after the 2024 season, had left him in little doubt that what will finish as a 12-year partnership was coming towards its end.

Wolff said: "When we signed the contract with Lewis, we opted for shorter term. So the events are not a surprise, maybe the timing."

Asked what had changed since Hamilton's final Mercedes contract was announced on August 31, Wolff replied: "I cannot tell you exactly. We were very aligned when we went into the Christmas period and I think we've said that in public and in the team. You need to ask Lewis why he changed his mind.

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"How he framed it to me is perfectly understandable, that he needed a new challenge, that he was looking for a different environment, and that it was maybe the last possibility to do something else.

Hamilton, who has won six of seven drivers' titles at Mercedes, was offered a "multi-year" deal by Ferrari that will keep him on the grid until at least 2026, a date further into the future than his current employers were willing to commit to.

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"We're big boys," Wolff said. "We knew that by signing a short-term contract it could be of benefit for both sides. We couldn't commit for a long period and he's taken the option to exit.

"We totally respect that you can change your mind, there's different circumstances. And switching for Ferrari maybe for the last bit of his career, maybe rolling the dice a little bit - I can follow that decision.

"Clearly the timing was surprising to us. But I guess what he tried to do is maybe to give us a long time to decide what we want to do next year going forward."

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As to why Mercedes had not been willing to commit to Hamilton, Wolff said that the team wanted to keep its own options open in regard to the drivers market, hinting that he had interest in McLaren's Lando Norris and Hamilton's future Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc, both of whom signed contract extensions last week.

"When we decided, Lewis and us, to go for a very short-term contract, we knew why we were doing it," Wolff said. "And it was to leave him options open and at the same time, us.

"There's an exciting situation at the end of 2024 with some drivers becoming available. Others just signed a few weeks ago - so these ones would have been opportunities. So that timing, if it would have been six weeks earlier, there would have been more opportunities, but it is what it is."

'I hold no grudge'

Wolff, who has developed a close relationship with Hamilton during their time working together, was adamant that the friendship will endure and "no grudge" is being held.

Wolff revealed that Hamilton had told him over breakfast at the Austrian's home on Wednesday of his decision.

"When he told me first, my next thought was pragmatic. What does it mean? When are we communicating this? What are the pressure points? How are we managing it this season going forward? And what is it we're going to do in terms of driver line-up? The team's mind kicked in.

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"Now having slept a few nights on it, it means that our professional journey comes to an end, working together, but it doesn't mean that our personal relationship ends. I've found a friend, we've built a relationship over the last 10 years.

"He faced a very, very difficult situation, taking a decision of where to drive, maybe for the first time in 10 years without being able to brainstorm with me. Therefore, I will always respect the difficulty of the situation that he faced. In the future, we will discuss whether this could have been done in a different way or not, but I hold no grudge."

As he turns his focus to finding a new team-mate for George Russell for the 2025 season, Wolff insists that he is not "hurt" on a personal level by Hamilton's exit.

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"It doesn't hurt, because I need to keep the calm and decide how we're going to best manage the 2024 season and what the decisions need to be going forward. It's not like someone that I like a lot is disappearing, it's just changing the team," he said.

"We've been very conscious in signing the contract that it could happen. Maybe the timing was a surprise, but I've had many black swans swimming in front of me, the unexpected. And I think in F1 it's all about agility, being able to embrace change of circumstances."

'I'd rather we win than Lewis gets eighth title at Ferrari'

Hamilton was cruelly denied a record eighth title at the final race of the 2021 season when a controversial ruling from race director Michael Masi gifted Mav Verstappen a maiden drivers' crown.

The Dutchman has since dominated the sport, with Red Bull winning all but one race in a historically dominant 2023 campaign.

While Wolff admits "the odds are against" Mercedes outperforming Red Bull in 2024, he insists the team will remain motivated to avenge Hamilton's 2021 pain during his final season with the team.

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"We have a year to go, we have 2024 together," Wolff said. "We want to make it the most successful we can.

"Is it realistic that we are competing for a world championship against Max in a Red Bull? You know I'm a probability person, and the odds are against us. But nevertheless, we will give it our best shot."

Wolff did, however, clarify that once Hamilton has left, the Brit securing an eighth title will no longer be his priority.

"When we talked about giving it all for an eighth, that is Lewis in a Mercedes. Lewis in a different car is obviously a totally different story.

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"We will be giving it everything we have to win drivers' and constructors' championships in the years to come in the same way as we want to win it in 2024, but maybe with another driver.

"But it doesn't take anything away from historic legacy that will always exist. This journey together will be in the history books, as much as the next journey of a Mercedes driver will hopefully also be there.

"The friend side in me that says he should have an eighth because that was taken away from him. So if he wins that in 2024, that would be a great thing. Going forward, competing on track, I'd rather us win."

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