Toto Wolff opened up about a “turning point” in his relationship with Lewis Hamilton at a Christmas party, where the pair had clear-the-air talks, unearthed accounts show. Wolff and Hamilton’s Mercedes have lodged an intention to appeal the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix result after a controversial finale to the F1 season.
The British driver appeared in complete control of Sunday’s race and on course for a record-breaking eighth World Championship. Yet a safety car decision enabled Max Verstappen to dramatically overtake Hamilton on the final lap for victory in the race and the drivers’ championship standings.
Despite the controversy surrounding the victory the newly crowned world champion Verstappen revealed that both Wolff and Hamilton had congratulated the Dutchman over his victory. He said: “Toto sent me a text ‒ congratulations on the season and that I deserved the win, that was very nice. “Lewis is a great sportsman in general.” Verstappen added in the BBC interview: “Lewis came to me and congratulated me. It must have been very tough in that last lap. It also shows the respect we have for each other.”
Hamilton’s high-pressure battle with Verstappen has caused drama and controversy throughout a memorable F1 season. However, there has been less tension and venom between the pair than Hamilton encountered with previous rivals.
In 2016, Hamilton’s competitiveness with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg severely disrupted the harmony of the team as Rosberg beat the British driver to claim his first ever championship. The pair’s relationship became increasingly toxic, to the point where the duo’s place on the team was threatened if there was a repeat of the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix crash which caused DNF’s for both drivers.
In an unearthed interview with Wolff, the Mercedes team principal opened up about his strong bond with Hamilton which developed during an intense discussion with the British driver a month after Rosberg’s victory and subsequent retirement. Speaking on the Beyond The Grid podcast in 2018, Wolff said: “What is inspirational with Lewis is that he is a personality who tries to grow on and off the track. All the time he analyses his shortcomings.
“Over the six years I’ve been working with him his personality has become stronger, he knows what he wants and he’s obviously become older also. “But for me the most important point in our relationship was a discussion we had after a falling-out he had with Nico at the end of the 2016 season.
“We ended up in my house after the Christmas party of the team and discussed everything, the inconvenient truths, and it ended up in a few hours of conversation. “Since then our relationship has become very strong and we speak to each other many times every week and we’re able to just discuss things even if they’re awkward to discuss.” Wolff, who is also CEO of Mercedes, added: “Because our relationship has become multi-dimensional we’re not only talking about racing and the organisation. “We talk about his fashion venture and my investments and family and this is important. “The better you know the person with whom you’re on the same journey, the stronger the relationship gets.”
After this year’s dramatic finale between Hamilton and Verstappen, Mercedes lodged two unsuccessful protests against the way race director Michael Masi conducted the final laps. The team have lodged their intention to appeal, and have until 7:00pm GMT on Thursday to make a decision on whether to press ahead. Mercedes believed that Masi had not followed the normal protocols governing the operation of the safety car. The safety car period saw Hamilton, on worn-out old tyres, exposed to Verstappen, who had just fitted fresh ones. Mercedes could not risk fitting Hamilton with new tyres when the safety car was deployed as it would have cost them the lead, and the team believes if the rules were followed, the race would not have been restarted.