Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2021

Hamilton never tells me who he wants for a team mate – Wolff

2021 Styrian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton has never indicated a preference for who his team mate should be, according to Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff.

The seven-times world champion confirmed yesterday talks have begun over his next deal to drive for the team. He also addressed speculation Mercedes might replace Valtteri Bottas in their line-up, saying “he is a fantastic team mate and I don’t necessarily see that it needs to change”.

However Wolff said the identity of Hamilton’s team mate has not been part out their contact talks. “We have never discussed preferences about line-up,” Wolff told Sky. “That is never something that is part of his thinking.”

Mercedes junior driver George Russell has been named as a potential replacement for Bottas. Wolff said the team was not wedded to continuing with two drivers of different nationalities to maximise their marketing impact.

“Nationality has never played a role,” he said. “We are an international company and we are global and we want to choose the best drivers.”

Speaking in today’s FIA press conference, Wolff said any discussions regarding who will drive alongside Hamilton at the team will be held openly but primarily with whichever driver would fill that role.

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“Lewis is part of the team and has always been in the inner circle of decision making because simply we value his opinion,” Wolff said. “And in the same way, when we’re talking about drivers, there’s nothing we’re not sharing with him. It’s transparent.

“But the other way around, too, when I speak to Valtteri, it’s open. When I speak to George, it’s very much open because I don’t want to have any hidden agendas.

“And we need to evaluate the situation for the future. Valtteri had some really good weekends but he also had some off weekends and we just need to minimise those.

“Then we will take a decision and whatever decision we will be taking, Valtteri or George, the person that’s involved in that, will be hearing that first. And that is the driver.”

Hamilton is “very hungry” to continue in Formula 1, Wolff believes. “It’s a very new situation for him, [the championship] is so tight, in the battle with another team and another driver. And I see him in very good spirits.”

Their contract talks have been “pretty laid back because it’s going well,” said Wolff. “We are discussing, there is no stumbling blocks.”

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Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...
Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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33 comments on “Hamilton never tells me who he wants for a team mate – Wolff”

  1. someone or something
    25th June 2021, 14:47

    Wolff’s 5 stages of Dealing with Things that are Obviously True:
    – Denial
    – Denial
    – Denial
    – Denial
    – Denial

  2. Do I believe LH can’t tell TW/Mercedes who to hire or retain? Yes

    Do I believe LH sings VB’s praises of all the peace and love on the team to TW just like he does all the time in public, knowing VB is no threat to him on the track? Yes

    Problem for LH is that TW wanted more of the LH/NR pairing but for NR’s retiring, and this year will be highlighting to him why he needs a better driver than VB for the WCC points, not to mention the greater assistance for LH on the track, in part thanks to Checo’s recent strong form.

  3. Both Hamilton and Wolff would like Bottas to be faster than Perez. This would help secure both championships. And if Bottas can’t be faster, Hamilton and Wolff would want a faster driver in the other car.

  4. Why would he, if he tells him who he doesn’t want.

  5. “Lewis never tells me who he wants as a team mate. ”

    “Lewis is part of the team and has always been in the inner circle of decision making because simply we value his opinion,” Wolff said. “And in the same way, when we’re talking about drivers, there’s nothing we’re not sharing with him. It’s transparent.”

    So…. he’s in the inner circle of decision making and you value his opinion but he refuses to share his opinion with you?

    1. @petebaldwin I think there is a nuance here that needs to be put under a microscope. I think the headline is not an exact quote of TW’s, and the first line of the article takes a bit of license too, imho.

      Of course LH provides his opinion all the time, as TW says, but I believe that means under normal conversational circumstances. I think TW is being specific when he implies that when they are sitting down putting ink to paper for contractual purposes, that is when LH does not try to work a teammate preference into the actual contract, and nor would TW or Mercedes agree to that either.

      I”ll say again as I have elsewhere…TW and Nico and re-signed for two more seasons after 2016, only for Nico to retire. If LH had any say contractually in who his teammate would be, one would think he would have pulled out that clause then.

      No, I genuinely believe LH has no say in his teammate contractually, nor does he try to get that written in, for he knows TW/Mercedes wouldn’t go for it anyway, but yes of course LH likely spends considered and calculated time praising VB’s virtues when they are not at the bargaining table, and of course TW would know why he does that.

      So I don’t really believe the first line of the article entirely, in that of course LH indicates a preference, at a minimum by his constant praise of VB in private and in public, but just not at the bargaining table.

      1. Should read…”TW and Nico ‘had’ re-signed…”

      2. @robbie I think Hamilton decided early on with Bottas that his best policy was to avoid giving any reason for the kind of infighting seen with Rosberg. From everything people have said, the rivalry was bad for the team as a whole and something Mercedes/Wolff never want repeated. So praising Bottas just makes Hamilton’s life much smoother without it really meaning much. I do think people read far too much into these comments and the situation overall.

        1. @david-br Given that TW wanted two more years (at least) through 2018 of the LH/NR rivalry I have never bought into the ‘bad for the team’ rhetoric. Locking out the front row every race is bad for the team? No, while it may have been a headache for TW particularly, and LH, that is obviously a headache he was willing to bear given the end results.

          No I think the ‘bad for the team’ rhetoric was an easy and convenient thing to say once Nico was gone, but if that was really an issue they would not have re-signed Nico mid-2016 for a two year extension.

          Sure I agree with you though of course it worked out perfectly for LH, and why wouldn’t he imply ‘this is so much better now.’

          1. @robbie But we don’t know what conditions were attached to Rosberg staying, or really why he went back on that contract and left suddenly. Add the fact Hamilton also talked about wanting to walk away at one point and I think it wasn’t just rhetoric to cover up when NR left: rather, he left because it was still a toxic situation all round, as everyone indicated, and he didn’t think that the ‘solution’ would favour him enough to make it worth him staying.

          2. @david-br I do see what you are saying but to me the fact that TW and NR agreed a contract speaks volumes. By all accounts TW/Mercedes were very much caught off guard with Nico’s retirement.

            I think another nuance to this is that a stronger teammate for LH now would certainly not have to by default mean another ‘toxic’ rivalry. Anybody but VB doesn’t equal toxic. LH and NR’s relationship was unique and would very likely not be duplicated with GR.

      3. I couldn’t disagree with you more. Hamilton obviously has a say in who his teammate will be or won’t be.

        He clearly let it be known to the media ALO “would never happen” as the situation would be too toxic for him.
        He didn’t want another ROS situation. He wanted a rear gunner and let it be known BOT would be a good choice or his choice.

        If Max, LeClerc or RIC would have been candidates, he would have let it be known he didn’t want that and Merc would have obliged. For that reason I’ll be surprised if Russell gets the seat next year even though he is better than BOT.

        He wants a soft teammate and it is understandable why. If someone like Max gets the seat, it will be back to the ALO and ROS environment – too competitive.

        It’s hard enough for HAM to be possibly lose a WDC to Max but at least it would be against a car that is competitive – quite another to be beaten by a up and coming youngster in equal machinery.

        Mercedes is in a precarious situation. If they kowtow to HAM and resign BOT, the WCC could be at risk. And that’s where the money is.

  6. Firstly, I don’t necessarily see that it needs to change does not mean I don’t see that it needs to change. That ‘necessarily’ makes a big difference and actually indicates a change may be necessary, depending on factors Hamilton doesn’t mention.

    Secondly, does everyone really think it hasn’t occurred to Mercedes that Hamilton may not know which is best either? Bottas who is never a real threat or a faster team mate who could take more wins and points off him, but may also push him more and take points of other teams? It really is a tricky question. But Mercedes have a driver program, Russell is (or was) their main rising star, and if they fail to promote based on talent, they will cause problems for themselves down the line with the best drivers deciding they’re better off with other teams like Red Bull and Ferrari who have promoted young talent. Personally, I can’t see any reason not to promote Russell and announce this ASAP. Bottas has had plenty of time and opportunity, Mercedes need better when Hamilton leaves, Russell may be a genuine option to compete with the likes of Verstappen, Leclerc and Norris. Hamilton may not like the challenge as much, but that would apply to any driver however good – even the likes of Senna, Schumacher, Prost, Alonso (as we know) or Verstappen over at Red Bull now. What Mercedes need to know is that the situation won’t go sour like with Rosberg. But that’s not likely. They’re isn’t the same adolescent rivalry as a back history.

    1. @david-br Only thing I really disagree with is announcing GR’s promotion ASAP. While I don’t think VB would go rogue out of disillusionment or what have you, and would still do his utter best for his own self-pride, reputation, and worth on the market, I think Mercedes would be better off with him thinking he still has a chance, while taking GR aside privately and telling him he has the seat for next year but if he leaks anything he risks said seat.

      I remain very highly convinced there will be a driver swap with VB back to Williams, and I think that could be really exciting for us and newly-owned Williams as well, not just GR going to Mercedes. All orchestrated by TW. No need for hard feelings. VB has had his chance, and he’ll remain in F1 with a new challenge using his vast experience to better Williams and be out from under LH’s shadow. He might do relatively more with less there than he is doing less with more now.

      1. @robbie I just think promoting Russell is very much the right decision, and it’s just more honest and fairer to VB to get this done soon so he has more options for next year. A swap back to Williams doesn’t sound great TBH. He’s better than that.

        1. @david-br You could be right, but then where else would VB go? I’m envisioning this new driver vs driver, budget cap, better money distribution chapter as a great challenge for all the drivers, including a VB that could go to Williams and help see them up the grid rather than be locked out of the points in this chapter, sat in everyone’s dirty air. Is he better than that? I think, given his options, it might be the best place for both he and Williams.

          1. @robbie I think he’s in the top half of the drivers on the grid, put it like that. As good as Ricciardo (now) let’s say. OK, he could be a ‘rescue driver’ for Williams, I can see the theory. It’s hard to think he wouldn’t see it as a massive demotion though.

        2. @david-br For sure it’s a demotion, but he’s earned that imho, and if it happens I think he, TW, and Williams will look upon it as a new challenge at least to the media and fans. Oh I don’t mean to be so harsh to say he’s earned being sent to the bottom, but as I say I’m not sure what else better might be available, and he was there before. It might be the best compromise for him, assuming TW is taking on GR of course. And it will be his task to get them off the bottom…er…second from bottom vs Haas. I honestly think there is a chance, given the new regs, that VB could launch Williams into the midfield next year and look the hero there.

          1. @robbie It’s plausible and it could indeed turn out like that.

          2. Out of the bottom teams Williams seem to have the money and the desire to move up the grid. I would say No 1 at Williams isn’t to be sneezed at.

      2. You’d be a good team principal I think!

  7. On the other hand, he’s not recommending Fernando Alonso or Max Verstappen for that second seat :)

    On a more serious note, RBR has put Mercedes under real pressure with its RB16B and by signing Sergio Perez. The decision to sign Bottas has already backfired this season since Mercedes and for the first time in the hybrid era is not leading the WCC at this stage of the season.

    Wolff doesn’t want to upset Hamilton by signing a more capable driver than Bottas. However, he doesn’t either have that 1s a lap advantage over the competition to justify signing Bottas for another year. He is just waiting to see how things will develop with regard to the championship to make a decision. If Mercedes will pull another gear and beat RBR in both championships then he will re-sign Bottas otherwise he’ll sign Russel out of necessity so he will not upset Hamilton.

    1. Yes, sometimes drivers can see the need to take a stronger “number 2” driver, see how verstappen pushed to have perez, a more competitive team mate than the past 2, and pretty similar to ricciardo so far I’d say.

  8. When Toto denies something twice, it’s a sure thing.

  9. He only tells you which driver he doesn’t want 🤔

  10. “Nationality has never played a role,” he said. “We are an international company and we are global and we want to choose the best drivers.”

    *casts mind back to 2010 – 2012 when Mercedes ran two German drivers…

    1. Mercedes F1 team is now owned one third German car maker, one third Wolff and one third British chemical company.

  11. the person that’s involved in that, will be hearing that first. And that is the driver.”

    So probably the Ferrari style, the way Vettel knew he was replaced because the “driver” new first.

  12. Hamilton cares so much who they get as his team mate, as he’s made it part of his contract: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/dec/15/lewis-hamilton-f1-mercedes-valtteri-bottas-fernando-alonso-williams

    “Basically, once they’ve dwindled it down to five drivers, or whatever it is, the shortlist, contractually they have to discuss with me,”

    1. @balue That’s interesting. Couple thoughts. If this is still something he is insisting on for his likely last contract with them, discussing doesn’t mean he can say no to their choice, just that he isn’t to be surprised with a deal having already been done with a driver, before he knows about it. They wouldn’t just hire someone out of the blue that they know would cause friction with him anyway, and as well that was 2016.

      Winding the clock to now, I would say LH will certainly be made aware of their consideration of GR, likely has for at least a year now, and I think there is nothing in GR for LH to veto anyway. Can’t think of GR as a Nico or an Alonso to LH. As well, it seems to me it’s either going to be VB or GR, so not quite the same scenario as 2016 when they had a sudden decision to make and suddenly rumours were aswirl. There were rumours that were just that, and then when it came down to it, having done their due diligence after working with Williams, they presented LH with one name…VB.

  13. Normally it’d be an interesting comment, but if a person known as a liar says something like this it could easily mean hamilton tells him who he wants as a team mate, so that makes it a no-story.

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