Toto Wolff
Toto Wolff has finally broken his silence over Lewis Hamilton's controversial decision to join Ferrari in 2025. ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/POOL via AFP

When the news broke about Lewis Hamilton's decision to join Scuderia Ferrari from the 2025 season onwards, one of the biggest questions on everyone's mind was: "How does Toto Wolff feel about it?"

Over the past ten seasons, Wolff and Hamilton have built one of the most recognisable and successful partnerships in the history of Formula 1. Their efforts bore a total of six Drivers' World Championship titles for Hamilton, as well as eight consecutive Constructors' titles for Mercedes. Throughout that period, Hamilton drove alongside the likes of Nico Rosberg, who clinched the Drivers' title in 2016, as well as Valtteri Bottas and more recently, George Russell.

The news about Hamilton's decision broke late on Thursday last week, and Toto Wolff admitted that Hamilton gave him the news just last Wednesday. The pair had coffee at the team principal's home in Oxford, where Hamilton dropped the news.

Wolff had little time to wrap his head around the surprise before the official announcement was made by Ferrari. Hamilton, 39, had signed a new two-year deal with Mercedes just last August, but he opted to activate his release clause in order to join the Italian outfit next year.

Wolff was pragmatic about the whole situation and said that he did not try to convince Hamilton to change his mind. He also decided to look back the much-talked about contract negotiations that he had with Hamilton, stating that the short-term deal they signed left either party with the option to seize other opportunities.

"He felt he needed change and I can understand that," Wolff said, as quoted by the BBC.

"We have had a sensational journey together that will go down in the history books. We want to finish on a high in terms of his [Mercedes] career, but we will build another phase of success - and we will look back on this very good time with Lewis," he added.

Wolff was not wrong when he described his partnership with Hamilton as the "most successful the sport has ever seen", and as such he maintains that he holds no grudge despite the shock decision.

"We got together for coffee at my place in Oxford. He said to me he had decided to race for Ferrari in 2025 and that was basically it. We had a good hour of conversation," Wolff said about how he found out about the move.

The Austrian says that while he may have an opinion on how Hamilton's exit could have been handled differently, he still sees Hamilton as a true friend. He respects the driver's decision and hopes that the elusive eighth world title will come in 2024 while Hamilton is still with Mercedes.

"In the future we can discuss whether this could have been done in a different way or not, but I will hold no grudge."

The beginning of the end for Hamilton and Mercedes

Despite their highly successful run, Hamilton and Mercedes' dominance was dealt with a major blow in 2022, when the team failed to adapt quickly enough to the new F1 regulations. In contrast, Red Bull Racing found a number of ways to take advantage of the new regulations, allowing them to pull miles ahead of the rest of the field.

After winning six titles with the team and narrowly missing out on the championship on 2021, Hamilton found himself struggling to even make it to the podium in 2022 and 2023. He has not won a race since the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2021, meaning he has now gone two full seasons without taking the top step in the podium.

A measly sixth-place finish in 2022 was extremely frustrating for Hamilton, and even if he finished third in 2023, he was a whopping 341 points behind championship winner Max Verstappen.

Wolff admitted that Hamilton "needed a new challenge" after the disappointing results in recent years. "We knew by signing a short-term contract it could be of benefit to both sides. He is taking the option to exit. We totally respect that you can change your mind."

Mercedes looks at the bright side

Wolff may have been surprised to find out that he is losing one of his drivers, but he also sees a big opportunity to make a bold step. There is still one season left where Hamilton can contribute to the team, but beyond that, the team needs to make a huge decision in choosing the man who will fill that vacant seat.

George Russell has the potential to be the team's lead driver, but Wolff has not decided if he will need the guidance of a veteran or a younger, less experienced teammate.

"George has the potential to be the next lead driver in the team. We have such solid foundations so we just need to take the right choice for the second seat and that is not something I want to be rushed into.

"Knowing we have a driver at that level makes the decision on the second driver much more comfortable. I haven't reflected with the team where we will go, from rookie to very experienced," said Wolff.

Mercedes now have a full season to make that decision, with the silly season now expected to go the entire length of 2024 due to the massive move.

The driver market will surely be interesting, with Carlos Sainz one driver who is already in limbo after having been bumped off his Ferrari seat.